Led Zeppelin’s place on the Mount Rushmore of rock bands is undeniable; not only do they boast one of the most talented rosters of all time, but their versatility as a band allows them to be one of the most varied and distinct sounding bands of all time as well. Their second album, simply titled Led Zeppelin II, showed the world how combining electronic instruments, distortion, sex appeal, the blues and a lot of talent could provide for a unique, mind-blowing listening experience that was far ahead of its time.
The album, which was released two days and 51 years ago from today, still sounds as if the brain melting guitar riffs and towering vocals could be conceived today. In addition to being heavily influenced by the blues, the album combines elements of psychedelic rock, hard rock, punk rock and folk, despite the fact that this album was released in the late 1960’s when British pop rock was all the rage. Led Zeppelin is British, but their sound is undeniably Led Zeppelin, and Led Zeppelin II is a reminder of their gloriously thrilling style of rock that has yet to feel dated even after five decades.
The blinding force that is Led Zeppelin can be felt right at the onset of the album, as “Whole Lotta Love” beautifully sets up what can be expected from the rest of the album: heavy guitar and bass riffs from Jimmy Page (guitar) and John Paul Jones (bass), blaring vocals courtesy of Robert Plant, explorations into different styles and sounds, and undeniable talent across the board. Plant’s guitar solo is as brain melting as it is beautiful, and his ability to riff off of himself is profound. Plant bellowing into the mic “I wanna give you every inch of my love” on the second half of the song is the icing on the cake for the high octane thrill ride that is “Whole Lotta Love,” and the album only continues to build from there. “The Lemon Song” is not only another display of the power of distortion in rock, but a beautiful presentation of the blues, as Page’s riff brilliantly carries the bluesy feel throughout the song. The change of tempo from fast to slow and back again throughout the song is simply a reflection of the abundance of talent the band possesses, as they are able to switch tempo in an instant with ease. Of course, Plant’s sexual innuendos, like when he yells out “shake me ’til the juice runs down my leg,” add that spark of lyrical excitement to the otherwise soaring blues track, and Plant’s and Page’s vocal and guitar performances (respectively) show that even a pack of white Brits have the propensity for the blues, a truly universal style. “Heartbreaker” continues to show the power of a good guitar riff, before Page absolutely obliterates the guitar solo in majestic fashion, while “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman),” the most pop-sounding song on the album, features yet another catchy guitar riff, driving hard rock and more provocative Plant vocals. Led Zeppelin shows the world that they are quite literally a force to be reckoned with, as nearly half the album highlights the aggressive yet dazzling style of rock that they helped make popular.
More so than just blasting guitar riffs and high soaring vocals in people’s faces, Led Zeppelin features what is perhaps the most talented group of musicians of any rock band ever. Plant’s vocal range is truly insane, and songs from “Whole Lotta Love,” “Ramble On,” and “The Lemon Song” show that he not only can hit notes that few male singers could even imagine reaching for, but he also has a great understanding of the blues, as he is able to effortlessly provide vocal blues riffs seemingly on command. Page’s blazing guitar ability is evident across the album, but it is his solos on “The Lemon Song,” “Whole Lotta Love” and “Heartbreaker” leave listeners wondering what in the hell they just heard, in the best way possible. Page’s playing is crazy now in 2020, so imagine how the poor people in 1969 felt when they were presented with a face-full of the electric wall of fury that is a Jimmy Page solo. Perhaps the unsung hero of the group, JPJ on bass is able to hold down the fort and provide a consistent groove across the album. Songs like”What Is and What Should Never Be,” “Ramble On” and “Thank You” demonstrate his importance to Led Zeppelin’s sound in more evident and obvious ways. Lastly, drummer John John Bonham always provides eclectic rhythms and timely tom runs and cymbal crashes, and can drum in almost any fashion and style he chooses. Whether he is holding down the fort like on “Whole Lotta Love,” driving the tempo changes on “The Lemon Song,” or shining as the soloist on “Moby Dick,” Bonham’s talent as a drummer is undeniable, and his skills combined with the rest of the band form arguably the most talented rock band the world has ever heard.
All of Led Zeppelin’s talent would not matter if it wasn’t matched with a top notch musical sense, and the band has that in abundance. The band could not sound more different than the other British rock bands that defined the era of the British Invasion in the 1960’s, as the influence of the blues in their sound allowed them to form a style that blends elements of American and British rock alike. “Bring It on Home,” is a perfect example of this, as the song opens up with a bluesy guitar riff and a harmonica soloing over it. Despite sounding like it should be coming out of a place like Mississippi rather than England, the song is a stunning reminder of the true musical knowledge and understanding possessed by the band. “What Is and What Should Be” sees the band in a slightly experimental state, as the band alternates back and fourth between their classic, driving rock sound and a more tranquil, psychedelic approach. Plant’s vocals being affected by flanger highlight the band’s propensity to push their sound and not just settle for being a one dimensional behemoth. “Thank You” sees the band at their softest on the album, and it shows that even the hardest rocking band can still dial it back and rely on emotion rather than sound. As booming as Plant can be as a vocalist, he also shows great dynamic range on this song, and shows that he can sing a rock ballad in addition to a power rock anthem. Even on perhaps their least musically diverse album, the band still shows that they are not complacent settling for one style or sound, and the band’s desire to push the boundaries of their sound is sparked by their vast knowledge of music.
Led Zeppelin II is one of those albums that will never get old. It’s just impossible to not be amazed by Plant’s soaring vocals, or Page’s guitar solos that sound like what a lightning storm looks like, or by the fact that once you think you know where Led Zeppelin is going, they go the other way. The band is never static, and the album highlights their ability to use a variety of different styles and sub genres to create a totally new and unique sound. Don’t take my word for it though, take 40 minutes out of your day and brace yourself for the experience that is Led Zeppelin II. If you don’t like the music, at the very least you’ll maybe appreciate the astounding talent of the musicians, or the American blues feel that exists on the album, despite it coming from a British band. If there is just one thing to take away from the album, it’s that music created more than five decades ago can still sound surprisingly modern and unique.
Listen to Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin II below: