Led Zeppelin’s cleverly titled second album came closely on the heels of their first, recorded on the fly between gigs at home and in America, and the progress shows. With a chuckle from Robert, “Whole Lotta Love” stutters into gear with a riff that would be copped worldwide. The middle section with the Theremin screams wild sex on acid, complete with the unmistakable sound of a man slamming his hand in a car door. It comes back to square one, then takes us out on the fade with alternating channels. “What Is And What Should Never Be” uses major-sixth chords for a jazzier feel on a romantic stroll, and the subtle slide on the solo fits like a glove. Another end section also jumps from speaker to speaker without being silly, back in the days when engineers still enjoyed panning. Following the pattern set by the debut, “The Lemon Song” expands on an old blues tune while stamping it their own. It’s pretty ordinary until the rave-up, but the whole lemon-squeezing concept isn’t as racy today. “Thank You” comes floating in, and it’s the first song of theirs that could be considered wimpy, yet they manage to pull it off.
Side two kicks off with “Heartbreaker”, a sloppy guitar showcase. The lyrics are inconsequential—it’s the fretwork we’re here for. After a Yardbirds detour right out of “I’m A Man” we return to the beginning, then it’s straight into “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman)”. This is a pop song, plain and simple, and could have gone Top 40 if they’d let their record company release singles. “Ramble On” sports their first nod to The Lord Of The Rings, and it works on that level. The extra long fade features lots of intertwining voices to keep you interested. “Moby Dick” starts with a rather lumpen riff, then leaves for the drum solo—fine when you’re in the mood for it, but tiresome otherwise. “Bring It On Home” also mirrors the first album by ending on a direct blues cop. Plant does a questionable impersonation of a caricature by the tracks, blowing his harp, waiting for a train. Just when you don’t care, the main section takes off, full on for an excellent ending.
Led Zeppelin II is a little harder all around, and gets fewer points only because it’s being played somewhere on Classic Rock radio as you read this. And the overblown shrine on the inner gatefold is pricelessly stupid. But it’s essential to the story, so it’s a must-have, even if you won’t play it as much down the road.
The “companion disc” to the Deluxe Edition offers about 30 minutes of alternate mixes and backing tracks, giving something of a glimpse into how Jimmy built the tracks. “Whole Lotta Love” is an early rough mix without most of the guitar, and even lacking the title phrase, which would have made it much easier for Willie Dixon to sue them and sooner. “Heartbreaker” is another early mix with a much sloppier middle solo, while “What Is And What Should Never Be” and “Ramble On” lack the heavy panning that would help them stand out down the road. “Moby Dick” is reduced to merely the musical riffs, but the most fascinating piece is saved for last. A never-before-heard, unfinished track called “La La” is a surprising slice of pop, mostly organ and acoustic, with some tasty electric chords and a tempo change. It provides a nice contrast to an album mostly known for being loud.
Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin II (1969)—3½
2014 Deluxe Edition: same as 1969, plus 8 extra tracks