Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II (1969)
Here we go! Week 2 of Led Zeppelin Month with the second album in the I-IV series. Led Zeppelin II is often cited as one of the band’s best works, was a board-topping album around the world, and sold over 12 million copies. The production cycle on this album was unusually short at nine months, even by the standards of the late 1960s where bands would often release an album every year or twice per year. The material for the album was written and recorded while the band was still touring to support their first album. Led Zeppelin II was actually recorded at a few different studios, and that contributed to the audible differences in quality on some of the tracks. Listen to “Heartbreaker,” and you can hear how fuzzy it sounds, but then “Living Loving Maid” follows it up and the sound instantly sharpens up. This is just one example, but the audio differences can be heard across the album.
Despite the fact that there were only nine months between Led Zeppelin’s first and second releases, there is a distinct evolution in the band’s sound over that period. I noted in my earlier review of Led Zeppelin that the band had two volumes; loud and less loud, and that while the band was clearly influenced by the blues rockers that came before them, it was oftentimes very forward. Led Zeppelin II is a course corrects on all of my criticisms from the first album. The band shows a more dynamic playing ability, particularly on songs like “The Lemon Song” and “Whole Lotta Love,” and tones back the blues sound to use it as a base for their songs without relying on a blues structured song. There is one exception on “Bring It on Home,” but I’ll give it a pass since it’s the only song on the album that is that bluesy, and it doesn’t feature for the whole song. This album starts to show some of the experimentation with expanded diversity of sounds and musicality that the band would become known for in the hard rock genre. Led Zeppelin II is an absolute classic, and I had never listened to it from side-to-side before this review, only the highlights. There’s a whole lotta more to love about this album though than the big tracks, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown
Whole Lotta Love: What a way to open an album! Led Zeppelin open with one of their most well-known tracks, and if you listen to the song out of context on the radio, I don’t think it does the song enough justice. When you put it in the context of an album opener, it says, “Hello, I’m here to rock!” “Whole Lotta Love” is immediately different from the work on their last album. The sound effects included in the overdubbing during the interlude are haunting, but then you’re brought back to earth by a shattering guitar. Where the band showed very little dynamic playing on their first album, they blew this song out of the water, taking you through highs and lows that are a joy to listen to. Dad’s Rating 9/10
What Is and What Should Never Be: This another great example of a dynamic track. One of my primary criticisms on Led Zeppelin was that the band didn’t know how to play a proper ballad, but this song shows more comfort with playing softly and letting their talent shine through. John Paul Jones gets a shoutout for being the driving force on this song. His bass playing is melodic and enrapturing on this song. I was actually more lost in that than in rest of the action. Dad’s Rating 7/10
The Lemon Song: I wasn’t sure what to think of “The Lemon Song” at first. It presents itself as a stereotypical rock track with a shredding solo, but then it calms back down into almost a round robin jam session! Plant gets time to freeform some vocals, Jones gets a funky bass line, Bonham gets a groovy drum part, and Page gets to do a call and response on the guitar with Plant. During this it’s actually easy to forget that you’re listening to a Led Zeppelin album, until you’re yanked out by the guitar. This is an interesting track that has a lot to offer, and after listening to it a few times, it started to grow on me. I enjoyed the funkiness of the breakdown, but it doesn’t compromise anything that the band had worked to build. Dad’s Rating 8/10
Thank You: This is a beautiful track that shows how you do a ballad. It’s not often that I get caught up in the lyrics of a song, but Plant does a great job of making sure that they tenderly shine through. The acoustic backing is a great break from the rest of the album and doesn’t make the rest of the record feel overloaded with heavy rock songs. “Thank You” is the perfect bridge between two hard rocking songs. Dad’s Rating 7/10
Heartbreaker: Who doesn’t love “Heatbreaker?!” This is one of my favorite Zep songs, and I believe it features THE stereotypical guitar solo. Think about a what a guitar solo sounds like, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? What does it sound like? I’d be willing to bet that “Heartbreaker’s” solo is pretty close to what you imagined. If that’s not enough for you, the riff on this song is HEAVY! The opening chords let you know this is going to be a rocking song, and it doesn’t fail to deliver. “Heartbreaker” is best-described as “An Exercise in Showing What Jimmy Page Can Really Do.” Enjoy the practical lesson rockers. Dad’s Rating 10/10
Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman): “Living Loving Maid” is one of those tracks that doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the album. It’s not quite a hard rocker, it’s not a showcase of musical talent, and it doesn’t show any musical experimentation. I feel like it’s a filler song; there’s not much special about it. It’s forgettable and a shame that it was sandwiched between “Heartbreaker” and “Ramble On.” It honestly sounds more like a song by The Doors than Led Zeppelin. Do yourself a favor and press skip. Dad’s Rating 3/10
Ramble On: “Ramble On” shows the best of Led Zeppelin. Everything the band wanted to be at this point and everything they were going to become; this is like the teaser for that. I see this as the precursor to some of the band’s more musically complex works like “Black Dog” and “Stairway to Heaven.” Both of those show a depth that is rarely displayed and “Ramble On” shows some of the first flashes of that experimentation and complexity. The soft verses with the acoustic guitar for accompaniment juxtapose beautifully with the hard rocking verses. The acoustic opening is a highlight of the album because, to me, it shows how much the band learned between their first and second releases and is musically, very pleasant to listen to. I’m not going to ramble on, so just enjoy the song! Dad’s Rating 10/10
Moby Dick: “Moby Dick” is one of the deep cuts on this album that doesn’t get a lot of attention, and that’s not even remotely fair to this track. This instrumental immediately caught my ear. Bonham’s drumming skills are the main feature, and I can’t say that I’ve listened to many albums that place a drum solo front and center. While he was known for being an energetic drummer, “Moby Dick” really shows that Bonham can play a more melodic, emotional piece as well. It’s really neat that both Bonham and Page got time to shine on this album, Page’s being the solo on “Heartbreaker.” To another point, the guitar riff on this song is fantastic and I almost wish they had picked a different one so that it could have featured more on another song. Dad’s Rating 9/10
Bring It on Home: I’m not a fan of how blues-forward the band is at the start of this song, but once you get past that, “Bring It on Home” brings the album home! They continue into a classic Led Zeppelin heavy rock sound, for which they would one day be synonymous. I feel like this track really does bring the band home in a way. It shows us where they started with their influences and shows us where they’re going in the future. Make sure to come back for Led Zeppelin III! Dad’s Rating 7/10
The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.