Album Review: Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin II (1969)
By Sergio Ariza
The Hard Rock Bible
Led Zeppelin II opens with the mythical riff of Whole Lotta Love but manages not to lose strength and intensity in the almost 42 minutes it lasts. First comes Jimmy Page's Les Paul Standard Sunburst from 59, then he is joined by the bass guitar of John Paul Jones and a little later by the voice of Robert Plant. By the time John Bonham joins them at 32 seconds, like a bull in a china shop, it is clear that the most perfectly oiled machine of hard rock has been set in motion. It was October 69 but rock was officially entering the 70's and the mark that this record would leave on all subsequent music, including the totally obsessed Black Sabbath, would be enormous.
The album was released on October 22, 1969, a year before Jimmy Page’s band, still under the name The New Yardbirds, had given their first concert, but those 12 months had already given them time to release their first masterpiece, their homonymous debut, to conquer America with their concerts and, in between tours, to record one of the most important albums in the history of rock - this Led Zeppelin II of which we speak here. Composed and recorded on the road, Page clearly draws on old blues numbers for the skeleton of many of the songs but the result sounds totally new and original, continuing a historical tradition in the blues, bringing this genre to the hardest and heaviest limits.
The album opens with the monster of a song we talked about at the beginning, Whole Lotta Love, which is one of the most influential songs of all time. Jimmy Page proves that he could make magic both with the guitar and behind the mixing desk. Helped by Eddie Kramer, the guitarist waves his wand and gives Led Zeppelin their definitive sound, with a simple and wild riff (played with the guitar that would define Page’s career and that he had just inherited - the Les Paul of 59 that Joe Walsh got him). It's a ‘bright flare’ that requires your complete attention, as it is a taster of what's to come. Robert Plant copies the lyrics to Willie Dixon's You Need Love and the vocal inflections of Steve Marriott but manages to take it one step further than the Small Faces frontman, and lets rip as a soloist; it is clear that it was from this album that he began to really enjoy his role in the band. And then there is the incredible middle section, an orgy of sounds created by Page and Kramer which closes with a spectacular solo that leads back to the main part, supported by the best rhythm section in the history of rock, that of Bonham and Jones.
The Les Paul returns with a vengeance on What Is And What Should Never Be, an original composition by Page (this time around) to which Plant puts the lyrics, on one of the first occasions he does so in the band. It's a spectacular song, on which they harden the psychedelia until it becomes hard rock, then transform Howlin' Wolf's Killing Floor into The Lemon Song, with Plant appropriating that expressive phrase of Robert Johnson, "squeeze (my lemon) until the juice runs down my leg", in which neither of the singers was thinking about the fruit. The first side closes with a preview of the acoustic flavors of their next album with Thank You. John Paul Jones proves again that he is the secret weapon of the group by taking care of the Hammond, while Page plays several parts with different guitars, including a 12 string Vox Phantom and an acoustic solo, on which he once again proves his expertise.
Another mythical riff opens the B side of the album – Heartbreaker -, a song that contains one of Page’s most recognizable solos, representing the first time he used the combination of Les Paul and Marshall amp. With hardly any time to catch your breath, the exciting Living Loving Maid (She's Just A Woman) appears, about one of the many groupies that stalked the group. Then another of the band's great songs appears, Ramble On, with John Paul Jones playing great line son his bass and Plant making his first references to Tolkien's work, with Gollum and the Dark Lord trying to steal his girl. Musically it is much more interesting, playing with the dichotomy between the calm parts and the ‘electric attacks’, with a Page again in excellent form. The guitarist plays a beautiful solo based on psychedelia, with some soft and sustained notes that he took from his Les Paul with an effect built by Roger Mayer, the man that Jimi Hendrix described as "his secret weapon".
Moby Dick allows John Bonham to shine, I'm generally against drum solos but Bonham is Bonham... The album closes with ‘the Zeppelins’ showing the world their formula with Bring It On Home, an old song by Willie Dixon for Sonny Boy Williamson that the band plays faithfully in its first part to do it, as Sinatra would say, in its own way in the second part, demonstrating how you can take the Delta blues to new sonic grounds in one step.