Led Zeppelin II (1969)




Basic

The first of the Zeppelin masterpieces, it is a surprise how the album was recorded at all. Performing on a demanding and often painful American tour from January to August 1969, the band’s second album was recorded in studios whenever they found themselves free from performances. Their live prowess had, however, jumped in leaps and bounds, attributes they brought with them into the five studios stated across the UK and USA (one of which, as Jimmy Page later recalled, lacked headphones!).

‘Led Zeppelin’ (1969) had shown potential, yes, but it was largely because of Jimmy Page’s guitar playing, while Robert Plant took a less meaningful role. Here, he very much proved himself Page’s equal, receiving writing credits on eight of the nine tracks and creating a vocal style that changed rock forever.

Singing over Page’s beautiful crescendo ( a tuning called DAGGAD, one which would be used on their studio zenith ‘Kashmir’), Plant’s sexual deviance on ‘Whole Lotta Love’ pushed any forbearance rock may have held before into the depths of hell. ‘I want to be your back door man’ he screams during the song’s coda, a phrase that pushed sexual come ons into the mainstream. A bright opening track (its riff would be voted ‘Best Riff’ by BBC listeners in 2014), its topic would be pushed further again on the lecherous ‘The Lemon Song’.

The album’s third by-gone rocker ‘Heartbreaker’ featured a guitar solo that Iron Maiden and Van Halen would make a career out of, though neither of those band’s got the different musicality ‘Heartbreaker’ alone featured. Underneath Page’s metallic riff, John Paul Jones played an amplified bass solo, garage rock to Page’s metal, the sound Jack White would use to great effect on his monster hit ‘Seven Nation Army’ thirty strange years later.

If Page and Jones provided the songs with the juice to lubricate the music, John Bonham’s drumming provided the backbone. Truly into a league of his own, Bonham’s groove is what set the band except everyone else. From the colossal banging echoing in ‘What Is And What Should Never Be’ to the tenacious swing on ‘Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman)’, Bonham’s playing proved irreplaceable, as the band themselves found following his untimely death in 1980. Strangely, it’s only during his drum solo ‘Moby Dick’ that he disappoints, providing an unattractive clatter of noise. Otherwise, the drums sound fantastic, both in the way Bonham played and in the manner that Page miked the drums to sound in addition as they did (something he considered one of his finest achievements as a producer- and he’s right!).

The band eschewed electric playing on two acoustic tracks, the Tolkien inspired ‘Ramble On’ (which showed Page’s fine folk style playing at its peak) and the sombre ballad ‘Thank You’ (Plant’s first composition for the band). Both provide the shade and respite from the playing, a trick used already more effectively on album closer ‘Bring It On Home’ which starts slowly with Plant’s blues wailing and harmonica playing, before being enclosed by a wall of guitar sounds, a trick Page would perfect on their fourth album on album opener ‘Black Dog’ and closer ‘When The Levee Breaks’.

If the album falters in one area, it is the album’s without of polish, something Jimmy Page would perfect when mixing future albums. But when the singing sounds so honest, the drumming this tight, the bass playing this powerful and the guitar riffs so exciting, it is a qualm easily forgiven!




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