Led Zeppelin II
Released: November 1969
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 98
Certified Gold: 11/10/69
Hey, man, I take it all back! This is one fucking heavyweight of an album! OK -- I'll concede that until you've listened to the album eight hundred times, as I have, it seems as if it's just one especially heavy song extended over the space of two whole sides. But, hey! you've got to admit that the Zeppelin has their distinctive and enchanting formula down stone-cold, man. Like you get the impression they could do it in their sleep.
And who can deny that Jimmy Page is the absolute number-one heaviest white blues guitarist between 5'4" and 5'8" in the world??? Shit, man, on this album he further demonstrates that he could absolutely fucking shut down any white bluesman alive, with one fucking hand tied behind his back too.
"Whole Lotta Love," which opens the album, has to be the heaviest thing I've run across (or, mor accurately, that's run across me) since "Parchmart Farm" on Vincebus Eruptum. Like I listened to the break (Jimmy wrenching some simply indescribable sounds out of his axe while your stereo goes ape-shit) on some heavy Vietnamese weed and very nearly had my mind blown.
Hey, I know what you're thinking. "That's not very objective." But dig: I also listened to it on mescaline, some old Romilar, novocain, and ground up Fusion, and it was just as mind-boggling as before. I must admit I haven't listened to it straight yet -- I don't think a group this heavy is best enjoyed that way.
Anyhow... Robert Plant, who is rumored to sing some notes on this record that only dogs can hear, demonstrates his heaviness on "The Lemon Song." When he yells "Shake me 'til the juice runs down my leg," you can't help but flash on the fact that the lemon is a cleverly-disguised phallic metaphor. Cunning Rob, sticking all this eroticism in between the lines just like his blues-beltin' ancestors! And then (then) there's "Moby Dick," which will be for John Bonham what "Toad" has been for Baker. John demonstrates on this track that had he half a mind he could shut down Baker even without the sticks, as most of his intriguing solo is done with bare hands.
The album ends with a far-out blues number called "Bring It On Home," during which Rob contributes some very convincing moaning and harp-playing, and sings "Wadge da train roll down da track." Who said that white men couldn't sing the blues? I mean, like, who?
- John Mendelsohn, Rolling Stone, 12/13/69.
Led Zep II stomps and powers its way onto CD with a new-found vitality. Particularly effective are the subtle echo and reverb pasted over heavily pan-potted tracks which whirl around the stereo image. The production craft is easily overlooked on vinyl as is the creation of entirely new guitar sounds (in "The Lemon Song") through the use of intentionally heavy distortion. Any hiss that is heard tends to be from the guitar amplification and not from the master tape. Bass is especially well handled and puts to shame even high-quality import LP pressings in this respect.
Supplementing cherished LPs of the first two albums with these new CD masterings should be statutory.
- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.
The album was not all about volume. But even the softer moments, lie the lazy lullaby-blues interludes in "What Is and What Should Never Be" and the light-hearted acoustic trot of "Ramble On," sizzled with anticipation of the atomic blast sure to follow. And when it came, there was nothing like it on record anywhere -- the pelvic grinding of "Heartbreaker" suddenly erupting into a full psycho-Yardbirds gallop; the rousing martial stomp of "Bring It On Home," with a massed chorus of Page guitars blasting the riff like Roman trumpets; "Whole Lotta Love," the definitive Zeppelin studio orgasm, its goose-step nightmare sounds before abruptly announcing its return with a mighty roll of Bonham drum thunder.
"It seems as if it's just one especially heavy song extended over the space of two whole sides," sneered Rolling Stone reviewer John Mendelsohn in his December 1969 review. In fact, like the band's bulldozing stage act, Led Zeppelin II was not so much a program of songs and hummable riffs as a series of big bangs, orchestrated with a combination of stage wallop ("The Lemon Song," cut live in the studio with only one overdub) and studio ingenuity (the descending slide-guitar sound treated with backward echo in "Whole Lotta Love") to rocket you into a sex-beat frenzy over and over and over.
Though it wasn't recorded in concert, Led Zeppelin II was very much a road album, a reflection of the band's own alternating spells of hotel weariness and blazing stage frenzy during its grueling series of 1969 tours. "It was quite insane really," Jimmy Page said at the time. "We had no time and we had to write numbers in hotel rooms. By the time the album came out, I was really fed up with it. I'd just heard it so many times in so many places, I think I had lost confidence in it."
Recording Led Zeppelin II was like a tour in itself, as engineer Eddie Kramer told Zeppelin biographer Stephen Davis in Hammer of the Gods. "We mixed it A&R Studios in two days on a 12-channel Altec console... The tapes were from everywhere; "Whole Lotta Love" had been recorded in Los Angeles, some were from London, Robert had done voice-overs on the run in Vancouver in a studio with no headphones and some, like "What Is and What Should Never Be," I had recorded myself in New York and obscure studios like Groove Sound and Juggy Sound, any place we could scrounge studio time. We overdubbed a lot, and recorded solos in hallways. We scrambled all over New York trying to find studio time. It was a wild scene, and the band was very boisterous."
Yet the harried circumstances under which Led Zeppelin II was recorded, Page admitted, had a lot to do with the album's undeniable might. It' had "the feel of playing all the time.... There wasn't much time to sit back and think about it." More than any other Zeppelin album, Led Zeppelin II, crackled with a rabid ferocity and physical intensity that mirrored the band's hunger for mega-stardom; it announced the birth of a new monster sound that would blow teenage minds for years to come.
Led Zeppelin II was chosen as the 83rd of "The 100 Best Albums of the Last Twenty Years" by Rolling Stone in 1987.
- Rolling Stone, 8/27/87.
Heavy metal doesn't get any heavier than this -- Jimmy Page gutting old blues chord progressions with machine-gun soloing, and flame-thrower riffs; Robert Plant's operatic wail shooting in and out of the clouds like a Messerschmitt on fire; John Paul Jones's cannonball bass and John Bonham's jackboot drumming blowing a hole in your rib cage. Led Zeppelin II was like the Book of Revelation scored for an electric boogie quartet, a vision of high-decibel holocaust that combined the torrid, animalistic raunch of old Chess and Sun records with the futuristic scream of rock's latest technology pushed to the brink.
Although it was released in 1969, Led Zeppelin II exerted its greatest influence in the next decade, when it became a blueprint for a new kind of hard rock: heavy, bluesy and resoundingly electric. To this day, it remains a cornerstone of album-oriented rock, a format that dominated FM radio in the Seventies. Led Zep was not a singles group, and although "Whole Lotta Love" went to Number FOur,the group frowned on its Top Forty success and the editing necessary to make the longish track suitable for AM airplay. Led Zeppelin II sold 5 million copies in the U.S., based on a sound that was big, bottomless and unabashedly raunchy. With rock splintering in many directions, Led Zeppelin remained rock solid -- and amassed a huge, loyal following as a result.
Led Zeppelin II was chosen as the 22nd "Top Album of the Sixties" by Rolling Stone in 1990.
- Rolling Stone, 8/23/90.
Chosen by a panel of critics in Rolling Stone (August 27, 1987) as one of the hundred best rock albums released between 1967 and 1987, it was described by the publication as "The Book of Revelation scored for an electric boogie quartet." It did codify the monster sound that rapidly became a sound heard around the world. This was rock's primal message of rebellion expressed in elementary form -- almost pure deafening noise. Young male teen rockers understood it loud and clear, as have legions of heavy metal successors who have recombined Zeppelin's explosive sonic blast and occult preoccupations into a consistently successful commercial form. While not a concert recording, the album was cut in various locations during the band's initial touring phase, with resultant variation in its sound, which sometimes includes mike hum and tape hiss and often sounds dampened as if it were recorded in a padded cell; which, come to think of it.... B-
- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.
Perhaps the definitive heavy metal album, featuring "Whole Lotta Love." * * * * *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II represent an awesome output for a single year, the latter rating slightly higher due to the arresting "Whole Lotta Love." * * * * 1/2
- Gary Graff, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
When Led Zeppelin waxed Led Zeppelin II, they were still in the process of proving themselves to the American critics and public. The going had been rough for the young Brits, but slowly they were gaining their wings, establishing a reputation as an electrifying live attraction that carried out its assault with ruthless aplomb. Already their tours were legend as they made their way across America for the first time like Vikings storming into the nearest village to pillage everyone and everything that stood in their path. Led Zeppelin II was, in many ways, the triumphant vindication of these excesses, and it established a precedent for the band that they'd continue to build on halfway through the next decade as they established themselves as perhaps the preeminent rock royalty, and the prototype heavy metal band, making the way for everyone from Queen to Aerosmith to AC/DC.
The band's first album, Led Zeppelin, released earlier in 1969, was still a continuation of Page's work in the Yardbirds -- at least a couple of the songs dated from that period, and the approach was still bluesy (albeit much more intense). By the time of Zep II, the blues had become supersonic -- the opening chords of "Whole Lotta Love" told the story: Singer Robert Plant coughs, an arrogant gesture in itself, as Page begins hammering out a staccato guitar riff that would serve as one of the all-time metal prototypes (right up there with Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" and Aerosmith's "Walk This Way"). Meanwhile, the sentiment was menacing -- the swaggering guitars and Plant's white-cat-in-heat howl underscored what was essentially an old blues number. John Bonham's thundering percussion, miked so it sounded as if he was sitting right in the middle of the ensemble (thus adding "gravity"), only reinforced the macho swagger. This was a whole new kind of rock -- it wasn't about seduction, it was about dominance. Above all, it was about brute force.
The great rock critic Lester Bangs once suggested that the root of heavy metal was musicians trying to come to terms with all the technology that they now had at their fingertips mixed with the raw emotions of encroaching "manhood." Hormones run amok, filtered through heavily amped distortion devices, created a guttural howl worthy of mythic warriors -- or barbarians. Led Zeppelin II was the quintessential LP of this kind of chest-beating stud-rock. Just listen to "Living Loving Maid (She's Just a Woman)," a contemptuous ode to a New Orleans streetwalker featuring a prototypically metallic Page guitar riff; or the lunging "Heartbreaker," which staged its attack in blistering chunks of malevolent fury. Perhaps the most absurd example of Zep's blues bastardizations was "Bring It On Home," which took a standard blues motif -- replete with Robert Plant blowing harmonica -- and turned it into a hyper-sonic riff of skull-pounding proportions. Page's unique production methods added depth to the proceedings so that the bottom never fell out. Coming as it did at the tail end of the sixties, this album still contains vague psychedelic ("What Is and What Should Never Be") and folk ("Ramble On") traces, but, pound for pound, Led Zeppelin II was as "heavy" as it got.
Led Zeppelin II was voted the 43rd greatest album of all time in a VH1 poll of over 700 musicians, songwriters, disc jockeys, radio programmers, and critics in 2003.
- Joe S. Harrington, VH1's 100 Greatest Albums, 2003.
This album opens with one of the most exhilarating guitar riffs in rock & roll: Jimmy Page's searing stutter in "Whole Lotta Love." But, Page told Rolling Stone , "On the LP, you can hear the real group identity together," by which he meant the unified might of his own white-blues sorcery, John Bonham's hands-of-God drumming, Robert Plant's love-god howl and surprisingly tender lyrics (the gorgeous "Thank You"), and John Paul Jones' firm bass and keyboard colors. Other great reasons to bang your head" "The Lemon Song," "Heartbreaker" and "Ramble On."
Led Zeppelin II was chosen as the 75th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.
- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.
Led Zeppelin's second album is all the more remarkable for the lack of time its creators had to perfect it -- Led Zeppelin II was laid down in brief breaks between shows, while they were on tour in America. In some ways, it is obvious how the rushed schedule made the album better: the songs "Whole Lotta Love," "The Lemon Song," and "Bring It On Home" are all based on vintage blues standards and retain a rawness that might have been polished with the luxury of time and budget.
Even more impressively, the band manage to retain plenty of subtlety despite the live bludgeoning they engaged in every night: newbies to Led Zep should listen to "Ramble On," a beautiful, multilayered acoustic ballad with a weighty chorus that epitomizes the band's primary strengths -- riffing heaviness and fragile economy. "Thank You" is another expertly executed acoustic workout, but Led Zeppelin II remains a superb album, its greatest asset the huge sounds emitted by Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham.
"Whole Lotta Love" in particular has stood the test of time, employed as the long-running theme to to the perennial British TV music show Top Of The Pops and a stalwart on any rock lover's playlist. In fact, songs such as this one have entered and re-entered the rock canon so many times that they have passed the point of cliché and become enshrined as items of musical vocabulary. All of which makes it even more awe-inspiring that Led Zep's second album is so full of light and shade. Its place on this list is well deserved.
- Joel McIver, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.
Led Zeppelin II is an example of how, in the rock and roll business, necessity really can be the mother of invention. Led Zeppelin (singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham) erupted out of England in January 1969, with a hard-edged record that suggested much of the preceding activity in British blues-rock had been child's play. The debut generated intense demand for the band to tour and to record again -- a problem since Zeppelin hadn't written much material. A make-do solution was brokered: The band would record intermittently, at stops during tours scheduled for January through August.
Rather than compose entirely new songs, Plant recast lyrics and melodic ideas from old blues standards -- the opening track, "Whole Lotta Love," drew several lawsuits asserting that it was a thinly veiled copy of Willie Dixon's "You Need Love/Woman You Need Love," a tune often associated with Muddy Waters. These suits were settled out of court; subsequent pressings credit Dixon as a co-composer. But even the most diehard blues apologist has to recognize that Led Zeppelin did something totally different with the source material -- transforming often-appropriated blues tropes into a startlingly visceral, grab-you-by-the-throat sound that changed rock forever.
The hard-rocking tunes on II foreshadow the basic guitar attack of heavy metal -- as well as the campier blues riffage of bands like Aerosmith. The lighter, folk-tinged tunes, such as "What Is and What Should Never Be," anticipate the mystical airs Zeppelin would pursue later, most successfully with the epic "Stairway to Heaven" (from IV). Even the other blues "borrowings" are notable for their audacious steps: "The Lemon Song," which interpolates Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor," lifts the flatted-third "Moan" that is common currency in the blues to a level of sublime invention.
As both a soloist and creator of dense guitar textures, Page is tremendous here, his playing may be a personal best in a career with many candidates. He gets help, of course, from the rhythm section, which follows him closely and is audibly energized by what he's doing. They didn't write all the songs, but on this monumental work the members of Led Zeppelin come to fully "own" them. Following in the tradition of generational borrowing that defines the blues, they radically revamp the outlines of the music until it speaks with a bold, sometimes brutal fury. An attack that could only have happened in the heady times of 1969, it's plenty startling, still.
- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.
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