Clearly, with their hot streak of three LPs, Creedence Clearwater Revival had the most impressive multi-album year of 1969: Bayou Country in January, Green River in August, and Willy and the Poor Boys in November.
Still: Led Zeppelin II, which came out in October ’69, just nine months after its almighty, self-titled predecessor, must have benefited from the fast turnaround. The recording process was completed at different studios during the band’s near-constant touring in 1969, and maybe the reason it was so successful was the London group, while on the road, didn’t even have time to think about the hype they were building. With LZII, Led Zeppelin became Led Zeppelin, proving their essence at the same time. To speak cosmically about the matter: What happened was what was supposed to happen.
Even more than the debut, LZII is a document of the band’s technical ability, their musicianship. After one album with The Yardbirds — a good rock band, yes, but they had no balls — Jimmy Page linked up with Robert Plant, almost five years his junior but already one of the most dynamic rock vocalists in England, up there with Rod Stewart. A powerful foundation, then, was set from the beginning. Between Page’s solos on the likes of “Whole Lotta Love” and Goldilocks’ yelps on “What Is and What Should Never Be” and others, LZII dazzles. John Bonham, too, was able to shine from behind the kit, particularly with his “Moby Dick” solo. Generations of hard rock and metal musicians, from Metallica to Soundgarden and Mastodon, would be influenced by these very stretches. It’s a lot to think about while the record’s playing, but the physical force is there.
(Read: Dissected: Led Zeppelin)
And yet, we’re talking about a band with a genuine love for pure American blues and other uncomplicated forms. Accordingly, LZII is as efficient at times as it is showy elsewhere. Some of Page’s signature riffs here, particularly those of the throbbing “Whole Lotta Love” and the crashing “Heartbreaker”, barely required him to move his left hand. And while there’s no “Good Times Bad Times” or “Communication Breakdown” here, “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)” and other bite-size moments are compact and eternally hummable.
Led Zeppelin had its softer, acoustic stretches, including “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Black Mountain Side”. But the band did “softer” more effectively, and with more purpose, on LZII. Thanks to the new remastering, “Thank You” and “Ramble On” now sound especially mellow and well-balanced. The first breathes easy during the verses and ascends elsewhere in the song, and this remaster illuminates Page’s touch and Bonham’s haymakers. The hilly and brisk “Ramble On”, meanwhile, gets a boost from John Paul Jones’ garter snake bass playing.
As soon as a calming Plant mentions a castle on “What Is and What Should Never Be”, it’s hard to miss that most of the album’s lyrics are more concrete, deriving from the plain (but affecting) language of the blues. Of course, they were immortally raunchy, too. Yes, you can count me among the conspirators who interpret the “every inch of my love” line from “Whole Lotta Love” as a reference to Plant’s evidently restless penis. I’m even more confident that “The Lemon Song” is about cum and cumming (“Squeeze me, baby, till the juice runs down my leg”). The boldness and bluntness of his delivery, though, was a sign that this band was ready to take rock music by force — with testosterone to spare. And that’s what they did.
The bonus disc included with this reissue is comprised of rough mixes, backing tracks, and an instrumental called “La La”, which features a solid, string-bending Page solo. The mix of “Whole Lotta Love” heard here, though there’s no guitar solo, stands out for its skying Plant vocal workout. Later, the instrumental version of “Thank You”, in isolation, magnifies the song’s tasteful sheen, popping with Bonham’s drums and Jones’ organ, which seems to have a mind of its own. Best of all is the rough mix of “Ramble On”, in which Page’s acoustic strums are particularly driving. In light of the self-titled reissue, which came with a live performance from 1969, LZII could’ve used a live version or two to highlight the energy of the late ’60s — an era that remains especially mythical for those of us who weren’t there. As a two-disc set, though, this reissue is both a reminder of the original album’s wallop and a closer look at the alchemy of a band increasingly attuned to ideas of progression.
Essential Tracks: “Whole Lotta Love”, “Heartbreaker”, “Ramble On”, and “Ramble On (Rough Mix with Vocal)”