Hot off the heels of their debut, Led Zeppelin wasted no time in recording their follow up, Led Zeppelin II. The first album had sold in the millions (not bad for a record that cost less than 1800 quid to record), and set the standard for all future hard rock wannabes. It was also the group’s first introduction to Eddie Kramer, a name synonymous with Jimi Hendrix, whose records Jimmy Page greatly admired. Cut at a variety of disparate studios, due to the band’s intense touring schedule, predominately across America, Zeppelin’s second LP was issued a mere eight months after their debut, and incredibly received advanced orders of half a million copies, eventually overtaking the Beatles’ Abbey Road on the charts. Not bad for a band who had only been around for less than a year.
They waste no time in getting down to business on the erotically orgasmic rocker “Whole Lotta Love”, which is essentially five and a half minutes of virility wipe out. Although the music itself was arranged by all four members, Plant took lyrical inspiration from Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love”, a tune which in reality bore little resemblance to Zep’s own creation, nevertheless a lawsuit was initiated. The Frankenstein, almost schizophrenic middle section is perhaps what will linger in the mind of most listeners, with Plant’s orgasmic wailing and Page’s dystopian sound effects. In complete contrast is “What Is and What Should Never Be”, a rather druggy, dreamy number, on which Page’s superb stereo production is particularly engaging, especially the flanging toward the end.
Whether due to ignorance or just plain arrogance, the group failed to officially acknowledge the debt they owed to the blues masters whom they so admired. “The Lemon Song” is essentially a reconstructed interpretation of “Killing Floor”, based on the Chester Burnett, aka Howlin’ Wolf, classic. Jimi Hendrix famously performed his own rendition at The Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and would continue to perform it throughout the remainder of his brief career, so it’s little wonder that Page wanted to do a version of his own. Plant even borrows a few lines from Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen” for good measure, with his references to “squeeze my lemon”.
On “Thank You” Plant expresses to his wife his eternal devotion, mind you I keep getting this image in my head of a husband declaring his attachment while three other blokes play out on their instruments behind him. Don’t know about you, but I doubt if I’d want John Bonham playing the drums in my bedroom. “Heartbreaker” is pure rock bombast at its demolishing best. Forget all those heavy metal arseholes from the early 1970’s onwards, this is the real shit. The Page and Plant penned “Living Loving Maid” is a bit if hard rock filler, and a misogynist one at that, yet somehow turned out to be a popular radio hit on some US radio stations.
Now if anyone is interested to know the origins of Messrs Page and Plant’s penchant for Tolkien-esque lyricism look no further than “Ramble On”, a brilliant track on which the group demonstrate their unique and supreme ability to both soothe and assault the senses in equal measure. Next is “Moby Dick”, an instrumental where Bonham establishes himself as was one of the finest percussive drummers in the business, so much so that Ginger Baker might have had to toss away his cigarette, roll up his sleeves, and get down to take things somewhat more seriously, had there have been a competition between them.
We end with a near rip off of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Bring It On Home”, especially after the vocal/harmonica beginning, until the band really tear it up and blow out the walls and windows. If you ever want to get back at your neighbours, crank up your stereo, and blast this bastard out, preferably around midnight; and if they’ve got young kids, even better. Weeknights are preferable, but Sundays are even more effective. Page plays a mean, melodic riff, while the rest of the band fire cannon balls through what’s left of your living room.
Jerry Wexler, President of Atlantic Records, described Led Zeppelin II as “a masterpiece”, an album that was every bit a product of the British blues boom as it was Page’s own distinct ambition to form a band that would fulfil his ultimate purpose, whatever that might have been. What turned out would prove to be the template for just about every heavy metal outfit that followed hence, and an inspiration to this day. On this album Led Zeppelin set a standard that has never been bettered, that’s for sure, far more than Van Halen, Def Leppard or Iron Maiden combined. Even the band’s title itself is iconic. Whether one calls it hard rock, heavy metal, maybe even blues-thrash, Led Zeppelin II is the equivalent of the Book of Genesis when it comes to writing the Holy Scriptures, and is the one which many refer to.