Another all-time personal favorite of mine comes next, the second album from Led Zeppelin, aptly named “Led Zeppelin II”. Released just nine months after their first album was recorded as the band toured non-stop across America, quickly building their brand and reputation. By 1970, they surpassed the Beatles as the most popular band in the Melody Maker polls, and like their first album, the second release was another massive success. It is rated as album #123 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Led Zeppelin broke new ground with some of the filthiest guitar riffs ever, and this album is full of them, from beginning to end. The album opens with “Whole Lotta Love”. Jimmy Page’s opening riff, bolstered by John Bonham and John Paul Jones, with Robert Plant still at his most powerful at the high end of his range, this is truly an epic rock song. Next comes the funkier “What Is and What Should Never Be”, a mellow drifting jam that explodes in perfect sync at the chorus. On this song, and in particular the next, “The Lemon Song”, you can fully appreciate that each of the four members of Led Zeppelin are among the very best at their craft. John Paul Jones is just insane on bass on these songs, and I give credit to Jimmy Page for giving each of his band mates a spot in the spotlight. “The Lemon Song” is a remade blend of “Travelling Riverside Blues” by Robert Johnson and “Killin’ Floor” by Howlin’ Wolf, and is another example of Led Zeppelin doing two things they became known for: playing blues rock at a previously unreached level, and unfortunately, not providing appropriate songwriting credit in part for this song. While I will always wish they had been more transparent in this aspect of their recording, it doesn’t change the fact that nobody, and I mean nobody, could play hard blues rock like this. Not before, and not since. The first side ends with “Thank You”, a simple (perhaps too simple) ballad that has never been a favorite of mine, but widely appreciated nonetheless.
Side two opens with another ridiculous riff, “Heartbreaker”, and the middle solo piece by Jimmy Page was one of many moments where he claimed his guitar god status. “Living Loving Maid”, which always accompanies “Heartbreaker” on radio play, is a bit of a throwaway song, one of their least inspiring songs, even though the bass line from Jones is a keeper. Next comes “Ramble On”, one of many stellar Led Zeppelin songs that radiates a concept Page refers to as “light and shade”. What he means is a song that blends the mellowest of vibes with the contrasting hard rock intensity few others can deliver. Fully inspired by “The Hobbit” like many of Plant’s lyrics, this song has evolved into one of my top five favorite Led Zeppelin songs of all time. Then we have John Bonham’s drum solo song, “Moby Dick”. Honestly, this studio version is pretty tame and not a true representation of his greatness. Watch the live version of “Moby Dick” from their 1970 performance at Royal Albert Hall, and I guarantee you will see why John Bonham is the unchallenged king of rock drumming to this day. The album ends with another really dirty riff, the blues intro of “Bring It On Home” bursting into all four of the band rocking in a groove that is truly unforgettable.
As a Led Zeppelin fanatic, I recognize my view of this album is biased, but it really is a mostly great album with a few brief stall-outs. I remain fascinated by the fact that four guys in their early twenties could create these first two albums and play over a hundred live shows in their first year, immediately surging to the very top of the crowded perch of guitar rock bands looking ahead to the 1970s. Like the first album, this is the band at their early and most pure form, before fame, drugs, and other questionable choices began to take their inevitable toll.