“Kashmir” is a song by the English rock band Led Zeppelin. Included on their sixth album Physical Graffiti (1975), it was written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant (with contributions from John Bonham) over a period of three years with lyrics dating to 1973.
The song became a concert staple, performed by the band at almost every concert after its release. The song has been described as one of Led Zeppelin’s two most overtly progressive epics.
The riff for the song uses a non-standard guitar tuning, influenced by Page’s interest in modal tunings and Arabic and Eastern music. The song combines different rhythmic meters – the guitar riff is in triple meter, while the vocal is in quadruple meter. Plant felt that the drumming was an important component of the song and that Bonham did not overplay his part.
Page recorded a demo version with drummer Bonham late in 1973 when John Paul Jones was late for the recording sessions. Plant later added lyrics and a middle section and, in early 1974, Jones added orchestration. Page and Plant had previously travelled to Bombay in 1972 and worked with various Indian musicians, gaining production ideas from recording sessions of “Four Sticks” and “Friends”. Session players were brought in for the string and horn sections for “Kashmir”, but Jones also used a Mellotron.
The lyrics were written by Plant in 1973 immediately after Led Zeppelin’s 1973 US Tour. Although named after Kashmir, a region disputed by India and Pakistan, none of the group members had visited the area. Instead, Plant was inspired during a drive through a desolate desert area of southern Morocco.
“Kashmir” was played live at almost every Led Zeppelin concert from its debut in 1975. One live version, from Led Zeppelin’s performance at Knebworth in 1979, is included on the Led Zeppelin DVD (2003). The surviving members also performed the song at the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary concert in 1988. It was again performed at Led Zeppelin’s reunion show at The O2, London on 10 December 2007 and later released on Celebration Day in 2012. That concert’s rendition of the song, was nominated in 2014 for the Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance at the 56th Grammys.
Page and Plant recorded a longer, live version, with an Egyptian/Moroccan orchestra for No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded (1994) and performed the song with an orchestra on their 1995 tour.
All four members of Led Zeppelin have agreed that “Kashmir” is one of their best musical achievements. John Paul Jones suggested that it showcases all of the elements that made up the Led Zeppelin sound. Led Zeppelin archivist Dave Lewis comments:
Unquestionably the most startling and impressive track on Physical Graffiti, and arguably the most progressive and original track that Led Zeppelin ever recorded. ‘Kashmir’ went a long way towards establishing their credibility with otherwise skeptical rock critics. Many would regard this track as the finest example of the sheer majesty of Zeppelin’s special chemistry.
In a retrospective review of Physical Graffiti (Deluxe Edition), Brice Ezell of PopMatters described “Kashmir” as Physical Graffiti’s “quintessential track”. Ezell called “Kashmir’s “doomy ostinato riff and rapturous post-chorus brass/mellotron section” as “inimitable moments in the legacy of classic rock”.
The 1988 Schoolly D song “Signifying Rapper”, which samples “Kashmir”, was the target of lawsuits following its use in the 1992 film Bad Lieutenant. In 1994, Page and Plant successfully sued Home Box Office to have the song removed from televised showings of the film and Live Home Video and distributor Aries Film Releasing were ordered to destroy any unsold copies of Bad Lieutenant as part of a copyright infringement ruling.