Led Zeppelin II (Remastered)
Critics may not have cared much for Led Zeppelin’s first album—they were wrong—but the band’s fans, especially in the US, more than made up for it. Led Zeppelin II, written and recorded while the group barnstormed America, was released in late 1969, just nine months after Led Zeppelin. Borrowing from the Beatles’ assertion that the album, not the single, was rock’s proper format, the band members resisted releasing the five-and-a-half minute blues-metal maelstrom “Whole Lotta Love” as a single from their second album. Though Atlantic eventually issued a bowdlerized “Whole Lotta Love” as a 45—with the groupie-themed rave-up “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)” as the B-side—the album version immediately ranked as rock’s most unhinged and elaborate deconstruction of American blues. Cribbing a guitar line originated by Chicago blues legend Willie Dixon—whom Led Zeppelin, as usual, didn’t credit—Jimmy Page inflated the elemental riff into a roaring jet engine, letting Robert Plant off his leash to growl like a satyr during the song’s terrifying psychedelic break. At times, “Whole Lotta Love” sounds like the world is collapsing—and, in a way, it was: Along with The Rolling Stones’ disastrous 1969 Altamont concert and Black Sabbath’s eponymous debut album in February 1970, the chart-topping Led Zeppelin II signaled that merciless, debauched hard rock—the kind performed in arenas and huge fields instead of clubs—was ascendant, and that Zeppelin were the dark overlords of the new regime. While Led Zeppelin was largely the execution of Page’s bleak studio vision, Led Zeppelin II was a more democratic effort, solidified by a lineup that had clearly gelled playing nonstop gigs. On the soulful, Plant-penned power-ballad “Thank You,” the singer even revealed himself to be…grateful? To a woman? Were the members of Led Zeppelin evolving in real time? Meanwhile, Plant and Page collaborated on the buoyant “Ramble On,” with Plant’s lyrics merging the British tradition of free-walking through the countryside with JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, as Page overdubbed acoustic guitars to create a muscular folk-rock. All the while, the quiet John Paul Jones was establishing himself as Led Zeppelin’s secret ingredient, and one of the most inventive rock bassists. Jones contributed light color to “Ramble On” that channeled Paul McCartney at his melodic finest, and took over “The Lemon Song,” with Page stepping aside to allow Jones to more or less provide the core riff. Rock critics and UK audiences alike were still oddly dubious of Led Zeppelin’s sudden and very loud ascendance, but not only were they here to stay, they were getting better and weirder as they went.