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Signature Sound

Led Zeppelin II—8

 

Released: 1969

1) Whole Lotta Love  2) What Is And What Should Never Be  3) The Lemon Song  4) Thank You  5) Heartbreaker  6) Living Loving Maid (She's Just A Woman)  7) Ramble On  8) Moby Dick  9) Bring It On Home 

 

As a result of Led Zeppelin’s three separate tours of the States to support their first album in 1969, the band’s debut reached the Top Ten on the American charts.  Somehow their shows were enough to corral the teenagers to buy their music, despite the fact they had not had a hit single.  Even at this early stage, that Zeppelin legend…that mysticism…started to take flight.  

 

Their tour etiquette was already reaching superhyped status with the Shark Incident, Jimmy’s reported use of a whip, and other Groupie abuse stories.  Their ridiculous binge drinking and sweet tooth for very young teenaged girls were also making the rumor rounds, as was Jimmy Page’s obsession with Aleister Crowley, Black Magic, and Satanism.  Their manager, Peter Grant, was bullying his way through promoters and dealing with the concert halls himself, making Zeppelin earn more money than any band before (providing the finance to support their mayhem).  And while it was true that their shows were as rowdy and monstrous as any rock fan had seen, their reputation was beginning to dominate their sound as their material gave into the demands of their audience. 

 

Like all sophomore efforts, “Led Zeppelin II” was written in hotel and dressing rooms and recorded and mixed in multiple studios in between shows.  What has given this album its landmark status though, is that it started the 1970s.  The band took the blueprint of “Zeppelin I” and tweaked it just enough to get the extreme elements the fans were looking for…a harder, more intense sound, giving the kids of that era something to embrace…something besides their older brother’s music.  The hard rock sleaze of KISS, Aerosmith, and Bad Company can be directly attributed to the arrogant push that surrounds “Zeppelin II.”  That cocky ruthlessness that they only hinted at on their debut is pressed to the very limit on this effort.  Page’s riffs are dirtier, Plant’s voice is wilder, Bonham’s drumming is heavier, Jones’s bass is moodier, the songs are louder, and the attitude is so much brasher…this album is just flat-out balls-to-the-walls rock and roll.  Even the cover is grimy, unpolished haziness.

 

It all starts with a cocky little laugh, leading into the primal, obscene wailing of “Whole Lotta Love.”  Page’s most famous riff, Plant’s most fraudulent lyrics, that infamous middle organism break…this was the band’s finest interpretation of the blues to date because it isn’t the blues anymore.  They took the template established by “How Many More Times” and perfected hard rock with this tune.  It doesn’t matter that they shamelessly stole the song without giving credit to Willie Dixon…this song is as raw and raucous as Zeppelin got.  It was also their first big hit, reaching number four on the singles charts in the States (the band, setting a precedent, flat out refused to release singles in England).      

 

What Is And What Should Never Be” follows and alternates between a deliberate, almost delicate plea into a thundering warning.  This song is obviously a rethread of the “heavy and light” technique used on “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” and while it can’t compare, it is still a great rock song and an outline for many future Zeppelin classics in which they begin the song tranquil and acoustic, and then explode into electric shock thumping.  The Lemon Song” is next and is another hard rocking interpretation of ancient blues wanderings.  It doesn’t matter that the band stole the tune from Howlin’ Wolf and the most famous line about “squeezing my lemon” from Robert Johnson without giving them credit …this might just be the band’s most swaggering, soiled song.  It was an obvious rethread of “You Shook Me” from their debut, but it has so much more grit.  Yeah it’s too long, yeah it’s too slutty, but sometimes you have to lower your standards and have a good time.  

 

Thank You,” Robert’s mushy ode to his wife, brings things to a grinding halt.  It is an obvious rethread of “Your Time Is Gonna Come” and is the first song Plant and Page ever wrote together, but it’s less than stellar.  There is a certain charm behind the track, the kind of tune that a red necked-tobacco spittin-NASCAR lovin-minimum wage earning-white trash guy would pick for his wedding song to his no-toothed wife, and the fade out/fade back-in organ solo is eerily pleasant, but overall it is out of place and set the stage for the hair metal bands in the 80s writing their own cheesy ballads. 

 

Fuck, shit, ass, cock-sucking whore.  Heartbreaker” is just filthy.  Turn up the volume…this is the riff.  Better than “Whole Lotta Love” to my ears.  Page’s solo starts when the band stops and bends and moves and makes me want to solicit sex from an undercover police officer just to get punished like the bad, bad boy I am.  This flows directly into “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman),” a more poppy rethread of “Communication Breakdown.”  Actually it is more funk than anything else, but it is two-minutes of ridiculously mindless catchiness (reaching number sixty-five on the charts as the B-side to “Whole Lotta Love”). 

 

Ramble On,” is an obvious rethread of “What Is And What Shall Never Be.”  Slightly more charming and melodic, this paves the way for “Zeppelin III,” but still has enough of that hard rock feel to not seem out of place on this album.  The closing section where Plant sings swirls around himself is cool, and Page’s solo is strangely alluring, but Jones bass is absolutely phenomenal here.  In fact, he is the instrumental star of this entire album, performing a clinic in rock bass playing.  The infamous “Moby Dick” follows, starting off with another stunning riff from Page, but eventually giving way to a three-minute drum solo by Bonham.  Eh… it pretty much sucks ass, which is fitting for an album as vulgar as this.  The botarded banging segues directly into “Bring It On Home,” an energetic, misbegotten classic.  The tune begins and ends with a slow, acoustic, traditional blues murmur that was stolen from Sonny Boy Williamson without giving him credit, but in between those pilfered bookends, the band reaches its hard rock climax: Bonzo sounding far more impressive than the previous song, Jimmy soaring, Robert blaring, and Jones putting the stamp on his signature album.

 

It doesn’t matter that this is nothing more than a rocked out version of their debut.  It doesn’t matter that a third of the album is less than gleaming.  It doesn’t matter that the band totally gave into their fans, making music that sacrificed soul for swagger.  None of that matters because “Zeppelin II” created cock-rock.  This is the album that transformed Led Zeppelin into legends of their time and the album that they forever tried to distance themselves from.

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