While their debut album showed the world they had the ambition and the chops, Led Zeppelin upped the ante sharply with their second album, proving once and for all that they were a force to reckon with. Written and recorded on both sides of the Atlantic in the midst of a grueling touring schedule, Led Zeppelin II is a concerted and dynamic effort that showcases the bright and burgeoning talents of all four band members. Jimmy Page was quick to recognize that Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham were more than petty sideman to parlay his backhanded success with the Yardbirds to even greater heights. Plant was beginning to blossom as a vocalist and lyricist; Jones’ abilities as a bassist, keyboardist, writer and arranger were thoroughly invaluable; and Bonham would eventually become one of rock’s most powerful drummers. For all the textures, subtleties and nuances they would unhitch on subsequent albums, Led Zeppelin II stands as the group’s most definitive statement.
Led Zeppelin II is an album as innovative as it is derivative. Taking his cues from Jimi Hendrix, Page set out to mold a cohesive roar that was ostensibly meant to scorch the senses of anyone within earshot. It was this kind of muscle flexing that gave the album its heavy metal angst. Beneath all of the ferocity, Led Zeppelin was a simple blues band that borrowed hefty chunks of its arsenal from many of its blues forefathers. In some cases, they may have crossed the fuzzy line of integrity. With more than a passing resemblance to Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love” — rhythmically and lyrically, at least — Led Zeppelin’s signature “Whole Lotta Love” nonetheless blasts off into the stratosphere in all its surly and sexually charged splendor. Although the band never officially endorsed it, demand dictated that “Whole Lotta Love” be released as a single. It would zoom up to Number Four on the Hot 100, selling over a million copies in the process. Elsewhere, “The Lemon Song” generously swipes portions of Howlin' Wolf's “Killing Floor.” Fortunately, out-of-court settlements with Dixon and Wolf (aka Chester Burnett) managed to extinguish any further suspicions.
Still, elements of unsullied poignancy and originality are rampant throughout. “What Is And What Should Never Be” and “Thank You” are calculated, well-paced exercises of what would eventually become fully realized on “Stairway To Heaven.” Moreover, “Ramble On,” with lyrics influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit, is also an indication of what would flow from the pen of Robert Plant. The one-two punch of “Heartbreaker” and “Living Loving Maid” convincingly nullify any doubts regarding Page’s grasp of the guitar. It’s a similar situation with “Moby Dick,” which reminds its listeners that Bonham earned his stripes as a premier drummer. Released on October 22, 1969, Led Zeppelin II was pitted against no less than the Beatles’ Abbey Road and the Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed. Despite such intense competition, Led Zeppelin II, two months after its release, knocked Abbey Road from its perch and became the Number One album in the United States. After that, there wasn’t anywhere else the band could go except up.
~ Shawn Perry