Thursday, January 24, 2013

LZ II


LED ZEPPLIN
LED ZEPPLIN II
1969

I had to call my good friend in Dallas, Odie, and ask him which of all the great Led Zepplin albums was the most influential. Now mind you, Odie isn’t your run of the mill Classic Rock fan. He started as a touring drummer back in the 70’s, and then worked up the ladder of the record store business (kids, you probably don’t remember record stores!). After that, he worked for the biggest record labels of the day including CBS Records, Sony Records, and eventually as a VP for Universal Music. Odie knew many of the greatest artists through the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. I could tell immediately that my Led Zepplin question challenged and intrigued my good friend, but he couldn’t come up with a quick answer. Our conversation lasted about 10 minutes, and by the end of the call, Odie had narrowed it down to either Led Zepplin II, or Led Zepplin IV.  If I could give him 24 hours, he’d get back to me with his answer.

The next day, I received a succinct email. It said, “It’s almost a dead heat, but since I have to go with one, it would be Led Zepplin II”.

Several years after the release of “LZ II”, Robert Plant reminisced about the importance of the album at that point of the band’s career by saying:

 “Led Zep II was very virile. That was the album that was going to dictate whether or not we had the staying power and the capacity to stimulate. It was still blues-based but it was a much more carnal approach to the music and quite flamboyant. It was created on the run between hotel rooms and the GTO’s, and that was quite something”.

A little "Rambling" to listen to as you read


Led Zepplin’s sophomore effort was literally produced on the fly. Most of 1969 saw the band touring the US and Europe in support of their debut LP, and the songs for “II” were mainly written in hotel rooms, backstage, buses, and planes. Many of the riffs and licks that guitarist Jimmy Page developed came from extended jams and improvisation that was taking place on their tours that year. Because of their hectic schedule, much of the recording took place wherever they happened to be at the time. Many of the songs were pieced together from one studio to the next, and the band recorded the album in London, Los Angeles, Memphis, New York, and an underequipped studio in Vancouver that they nicknamed “The Hut”. Jimmy Page received all the production credits, but this album also saw a prolific and productive working relationship with new engineer Eddie Kramer, who had been producing the Jimi Hendrix sessions. The results were a very raw, stripped down, blues driven rock, but “Led Zep II” was the breakthrough that would clearly establish the band as one of the best ever. It is still considered Zepplin’s heaviest rock album, and has also been called the “template” sound for future heavy rock acts.

The album starts off with one of rock’s most famous songs, “Whole Lotta Love”. Page’s simple, raw guitar intro is still considered one of the top rock guitar riffs ever written.  The spacey, drawn-out middle section is pure Page and engineer Kramer, who later said, "The famous ‘Whole Lotta Lov’e mix, where everything is going bananas, is a combination of Jimmy and myself just flying around on a small console twiddling every knob known to man."

Kramer also later said that although the album was recorded, “piece-meal”, and in, “cheap studios”, in the end it, “sounded bloody marvelous”.  The album is known for a production quality that still sounds fresh today.

If Jimmy Page came of age as a producer with this album, then singer Plant also started to truly hone his unique vocal sound and startling range on these songs. “What Is and What Should Never Be”, and “Heartbreaker”, were great follow up songs on the LP, but the way that they have endured the test of time is amazing. The same can be said of, “Living, Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)”, and “Ramble On”, each of which are played, copied, and repeated every day all over the world.  I played “Ramble On” in bands for many years, and with different arrangements. It is one of my all time favorite Zepplin tunes, as I love the wonderful acoustic intro and versus, which then transition to a John Bonham driven bombastic electric chorus.

Led Zepplin was the definitive “riff driven” band that just keeps getting better with time. “Led Zep II”, was the stripped down, raw and hard bluesy album where the band really took off in popularity and put them into worldwide prominence.  The album went to number one in both the US and the UK, and has been a best seller ever since it’s release in October of 1968. Odie told me to sit down and listen to the whole thing again, and it still sounds great! Future Zepplin albums became a little more adventurous, but few of them had the direct sound and impact of their second effort. “LZ II” just might be Zepplin’s best– at least until I write my next review on “Led Zepplin IV”!

Eric Winger
Winger Bros.

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