[Review] Led Zeppelin II (1969)

The band’s second album manages to be both lighter and heavier than their first. And also, magnificenter.

Kronomyth 2.0: A whole lotta Led Zeppelin.

The disappointing followup to their debut finds Led Zeppelin recycling old blues songs and mixing in a couple of weak acoustic folkie tunes from Robert Plant. Just kidding. Led Zeppelin II is even more magnificent than their first album. If the group had indeed made a deal with the devil to be the world’s greatest rock & roll band, Old Nick had held up his side of the bargain.

The whole thing kicks off with Whole Lotta Love, an orgasm of the senses that takes the psychedelic blues-rock of Cream to a whole new level. The band turns their amps down from eleven for the next track, What Is and What Should Never Be, at least for a minute, and the dichotomy sets the stage for an album that alternates perfectly between brimstone fury and a cool breeze. The Lemon Song is blues-infused, sexual rock n’ roll with Jimmy Page’s guitar and Robert Plant’s vocals engaged in the musical equivalent of a heated threesome. Side one closes with an acoustic love song from Plant, Thank You, this time prominently featuring John Paul Jones’ organ.

Heartbreaker hits the reset button with another brilliant heartstopper that deserves its own pedestal in the heavy metal hall of fame. Living Loving Maid, while not one of the band’s favorites, is one of mine, since I like irregular rhythms and catchy melodies. Ramble On is even better, starting out as an acoustic song before exploding into maximum rock and roll. (The acoustic/electric split-song is its own subgenre, which would include “Over the Hills and Far Away,” Rush’s “The End,” Gentle Giant’s “I Lost My Head” and a host of other magical moments.) Moby Dick is a mighty riff-driven instrumental featuring a John Bonham drum solo, and the album closes with an electrifying perversion of Willie Dixon, Bring It On Home.

Led Zeppelin II is a high-water mark in the legend of heavy metal, yet it also introduces acoustic elements and fantasy-fueled subjects (e.g., “Ramble On”) into the Zeppelin’s journey. That the band never released a bad album is an avowed fact (excepting perhaps The Song Remains the Same, which never excited me as an audio-only experience). As for choosing their best albums, it usually comes down to this, Zoso, Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti, which has led to more than one nonsensical list of “best Led Zeppelin albums.” Seriously, the only Led Zeppelin list you should have is a list of Zep albums you don’t already own, which would probably just include The Song Remains the Same and Coda. And, yes, you should really think about buying those albums too.

Original elpee version

A1. Whole Lotta Love (Jimmy Page/Robert Plant/John Paul Jones/John Bonham) (5:33)
A2. What Is and What Should Never Be (4:47)
A3. The Lemon Song (Jimmy Page/Robert Plant/John Paul Jones/John Bonham) (6:20)
A4. Thank You (3:50) (*4:47)
B1. Heartbreaker (Jimmy Page/Robert Plant/John Paul Jones/John Bonham) (4:15)
B2. Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman) (2:40)
B3. Ramble On (4:35)
B4. Moby Dick (John Bonham/John Paul Jones/Jimmy Page) (4:25)
B5. Bring It On Home (4:19)

Songs written by Jimmy Page/Robert Plant unless noted.
* CD track time

Original 8-track version
A1. Whole Lotta Love
A2. What Is and What Should Never Be
B1. The Lemon Song
B2. Heartbreaker
C1. Thank You
C2. Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)
C3. Ramble On (cont.)
D1. Ramble On (concl.)
D2. Moby Dick
D3. Bring It On Home

Bonus 2LP reissue tracks
C1. Whole Lotta Love (rough mix with vocal)
C2. What Is and What Should Never Be (rough mix with vocal)
C3. Thank You (backing track)
C4. Moby Dick (backing track)
D1. Heartbreaker (rough mix with vocal)
D2. Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman) (backing track)
D3. Ramble On (rough mix with vocal)
C4. La La (intro/outro rough mix)

The Players

John Bonham (drums, backing vocals), John Paul Jones (bass guitar, organ, backing vocals), Jimmy Page (guitars, theremin, backing vocals), Jimmy Page (Lead vocals, harmonica). Produced by Jimmy Page; executive producer: Peter Grant; director of engineering: Edwin H. Kramer; recording engineered by Edwin H. Kramer, Andrew Johns, George Chkiantz, Chris Huston.

The Pictures

Art work by David Juniper.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, 8-track and cassette on October 22, 1969 in the UK and Germany (Atlantic, K/K4 40037), the US, Canada and New Zealand (Atlantic, SD/M8 8236), France (Atlantic, ATL 40 037) and Japan (Atlantic, MT 1091) with gatefold cover. Reached #1 on the UK charts and #1 on the US charts (RIAA-certified 12x platinum record.)

  1. Re-issued on cassette in 1973 in Australia (Atlantic, M5 8236).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in Japan (Atlantic, P-8042A) with gatefold cover.
  3. Re-issued on elpee in 1975 in Australia (Atlantic, SD 8236) with gatefold cover.
  4. Re-issued on elpee in 1976 in Japan (Atlantic, P-10101A) with gatefold cover.
  5. Re-issued on elpee in 1977 in Brazil (WEA, 30035) with gatefold cover.
  6. Re-issued on elpee in Korea (Atlantic, OLW 012).
  7. Re-issued on elpee in the US (Atlantic, SD 19127) with gatefold cover.
  8. Re-issued on elpee in 1981 in Japan (Atlantic, P-6517A) and Mexico (Atlantic, LWA 5004) with gatefold cover.
  9. Re-released on remastered elpee in the US (Mobile Fidelity, MFSL 1-065) with gatefold cover.
  10. Re-issued on elpee in 1988 in Japan (WEA, 16P1-2024) with gatefold cover.
  11. Re-issued on elpee in 1992 in Japan (Atlantic, AMJY-2001) with gatefold cover.
  12. Re-released on remastered compact disc on July 19, 1994 in the US (Atlantic, 82633).
  13. Re-issued on compact disc on November 5, 1997 in Japan (Atlantic, AMCY-2432).
  14. Re-packaged with In Through the Out Door on 2-for-1 compact disc in 1999 in Russia (CD-Maximum, CDM 998192).
  15. Re-issued on remastered compact disc in 2003 in Japan (Atlantic, WPCR-11612).
  16. Re-released on expanded, 180g vinyl 2LP in 2014 in Europe (Atlantic, 8122796438) with 8 bonus tracks.

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