Top of the Pops: Led Zeppelin II

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January 8, 2014 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

The first of three masterpieces, Led Zeppelin II, is a lot like X-Men’s “The Dark Phoenix”.  Being nine tracks and nine issues, both are outright masterpieces wherein the whole is doubly greater than the sum of its already perfect parts.  But, both are also able to be broken down into thirds where the trios can stand on their own.  It’s only when they’re put together that they go from being great to being masterpieces.  Kinda like the Megazord.

Because Led Zeppelin II is so perfectly constructed into digestible thirds, it automatically eliminates the problem of the album ever dragging, which was the biggest issue plaguing Led Zeppelin I.  At no point during Led Zeppelin II is the listener ever bored.  Between Jimmy Page’s, innovated guitar work on cuts like “Whole Lotta Love” and “Heartbreaker”, Robert Plant’s ever growing confidence, which seems to increase as the album goes on, and John Bonham’s meticulous insanity on the drums, Led Zeppelin II¸ is the prototype for all hard rock albums that came after it.

Kicking off the album is “Whole Lotta Love” a song that needs very little description.  What “Whole Lotta Love” really is, is simply a song from Led Zeppelin I that is more confident in its intention.  Throw in the orgasmic wails of Robert Plant during the middle section of the song, with Jimmy Page taking full advantage of recording in stereo and “Whole Lotta Love” becomes one of the greatest opening tracks of all time.

“What is and What Should Never Be”, is a song about Robert Plant’s infidelity….with his wife’s sister….who he would eventually have a child with.  Just as “Whole Lotta Love” experiments with sound distortion and stereo production, “What Is” plays with tempo, changing altering from slow verses to hard and fast choruses.  It’s a tug of war between the calm and withdrawn verses opposing the maniacal chorus that goes on until the outro which sees the victory of the heavy and fast chorus characterized by Plant’s inane proclamations.

Following the descent into frenetic madness that is the end of “What Is” comes “The Lemon Song”, a song that official cements Led Zeppelin as the best blues rock band in the world.  “The Lemon Song” is the song that after one listen, you immediately understand that these guys know exactly what they’re doing and that everyone else is just a cheap imitator.  This is Led Zeppelin at their bluesiest.  Everything from Plant’s howl begging his woman to “squeeze my lemon, til the juice runs down my leg” to Jones’ bouncing bass groove that serves as the backbone to the song, to Page’s mastery of timing and precision makes this the ultimate blues song in the band’s catalogue.

Where do you think Metallica got the idea of making the fourth track on their albums a ballad?  Predating Ride the Lightning by 15 years, the fourth track on Led Zeppelin II, is “Thank You” which is very literally a marriage proposal from Robert Plant to his wife….the same wife who’s sister he was also screwing.  Even though it wasn’t the first ballad the band had done, this was certainly their most sincere at that point; as a result the song is softer than “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”.  “Thank You” serves as the complimentary song that pulls on your heartstrings that would become a staple on all future albums.  The only problem with the album, however, is found in this song as there is literally no reason for the song to continue on in a muted reprise for a whole minute.  This harmonically delightful sounds ends in a nonsensical drag for no apparent reason.

Cranking it back up to the furious rock that the album has become is the back-to-back hit and run on “Heartbreaker” and “Living Loving Maid”, which synchronize themselves as perfect compliments.  Simplistically titled, both songs are far from being simply constructed rock ditties.  You have “Heartbreaker”, which asserts Page’s prowess with a guitar, which goes through at least three tempo changes, only to reset itself at the end, and then there’s “Living Loving Maid” the sister piece to “Communication Breakdown” that’s far catchier than it should be.  These are the fun tracks on the album, tracks that can be heard in levity, that while very entertaining aren’t grounded in the grandiosity that is Led Zeppelin.

It’s very difficult to pick a favorite third of the album, because the case could be made for any of the three, but Led Zeppelin II is an album that ends much strongly than it begins.  Opening up the final third of the album is “Ramble On”, which is a song that I’ve blasted out the radio in my car multiple times, weather be damned.  This is the theme song for any Tolkien reading, hippie Casanova out there.  “I’m gonna ramble on, sing my song….and find the queen of all my dreams”, all of which are noble pursuits.  This is all to say nothing of the music behind the lyrics.  “Ramble On” serves as the most explicit usage of the band’s experimentation of changing tempos, and altering audio filters that is ever so prevalent on the album.  The key to really enjoying Led Zeppelin II is in loving “Ramble On” because at heart that’s what the band was, a bunch of ramblers just trying to sing their song and find their girls….with the occasion Tolkien reference.

Preceding the furious ending, is the drum solo “Moby Dick” which showcases Bonham’s innovation at playing the drums.  Because they can’t record a 35 minute drum solo and put it on an LP, this’ll just have to do.  But it does set the stage for the closing opus “Bring it on Home”, which begins with Robert Plant doing his impression of a toothless, 70 year old man who’s done nothing but sing the blues his entire life.  And the guitar, bass and drums come in, and the whole song explodes in every which way.  The drums roll like an avalanche and the guitar squeaks in a way that makes you think “this is exactly what a banshee would sound like if it was a duck”.  This is the best example (on an album rife with optimal choices) of the band infusing blues and hard rock, and it leaves you so desperately wanting more.

When we think of Led Zeppelin as the hard and fast gods of rock, it’s Led Zeppelin II that we think of.  At the surface level, this is Led Zeppelin; take away all the effects, grandiosity, and musical expansion, and at the end of the day Led Zeppelin II shows us that these are just a bunch of guys who grew up listening to American blues.  This album is their homage to that, and ironically enough II has now become an album that guys like Eddie Van Halen and Kerry King pay homage to.  Just remember hard rock started with Led Zeppelin II.  Now boarding.             

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