Led Zeppelin II

Led Zeppelin

Atlantic Records, 1969


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Not many sequels outdo the original -- but those that do, usually do so by treating the first in the series as a stepping-off point rather than a template.

On their sophomore release, Led Zeppelin pays respect to the industrial-strength electrified blues that was the foundation of their sound, but makes a quantum leap in terms of creativity, audacity and pure musical charisma. It might not be the first true heavy metal album, but it's surely one of the most influential of all time. More than another disc in their catalog, Led Zeppelin II is a mother lode of monstrously crunchy and delicious guitar riffs that slam into you like a sonic wave pool, one after another after another.

The opening salvo, "Whole Lotta Love," is a metal immortal built around Jimmy Page's dirty-sweet chugging riff, one of those timeless musical avatars that immediately burrows deep into some primal head-thumping corner of your subconscious. The psychedelic mid-song breakdown, Robert Plant's orgasmic cries and the boom-boom-solo guitar explosion that kicks the song back into gear… it's hard to capture in mere words the impact music this bold must have had in 1969, but the historical record shows it was huge.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The rest of side one (for those of you over 30) is a rich suite of amped-up blues numbers that each start slow but keep revving the engine until they explode into a chorus or a solo or some other form of pyrotechnics, as Plant and Page work voice and guitar into a sexually-charged frenzy. A line like "The way you squeeze my lemon / I'm gonna fall right out of bed" from "The Lemon Song" might sound a little goofy reading it on your screen, but under the spell of a band this focused and charismatic, it sounds nothing short of revelatory. (And don't miss John Paul Jones' shining moment holding the entire song together with his intricate bass line.)

Side two is where the hooks take over completely. It's hard to imagine the beginning guitar player who hasn't tried to learn the riff that kicks off "Heartbreaker" by the end of his/her first few months on the instrument. (As for the solo/jam that fill the song's rangy middle section. good luck with that…!) Like a train with no brakes, "Heartbreaker" barrels right into the propulsive "Living Loving Maid," not one of the group's most complicated tunes -- it's basically the same fat hook repeated about 50 times -- but definitely one of their most hummable.

"Ramble On" starts in with a palate-cleansing acoustic opening, a lilting verse that promises a wistful sweetness until drummer John Bonham kicks in the bottom end and another thundering hook is upon you. (Maybe the best thing Train has done in its short career is to reintroduce this song to hordes of twenty-something concert-goers.) This track also cemented the band's reputation for fantasy-tinged lyrics with its multiple Tolkien references.

And then there's "Moby Dick," which is a decent riff-rocking instrumental wrapped around -- God help us all -- a three-minute drum solo. In 30 years as a rock fan, the only times I have ever found a drum solo remotely interesting have been when I was standing within a few feet of the person playing it. Otherwise, it's a built-in bathroom break -- a reasonable idea for a concert, maybe, but for a studio album, not so much…

The boys close out II with a more direct nod to their roots in "Bring It On Home," as Plant mumbles and wails over an opening acoustic-and-harmonica traditional blues verse, before Page kicks in with another thunderously fat electric riff that carries the middle section to a brief acoustic reprise/wrap-up.

The discs that followed II would find Zeppelin exploring the outer limits of the ideas heard here -- grinding blues, pastoral acoustic numbers, and abstract fantasy-tinged lyrics. There were many high points to come, but perhaps only one or two albums as consistently memorable as this one, and surely none with a greater impact on their musical peers.

Rating: A

User Rating: A-



© 2005 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.