In 2007, Led Zeppelin announced they were going to reunite, just once, for a show at the London O2 in memory of Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun. Eight thousand tickets were made available to the buying public. Anyone want to guess how many people applied for these tickets? Twenty thousand people, maybe. They were quite a big band, as far as they go. Nope. Higher. Two hundred thousand? Nope, try again. Two million? Gosh, it couldn’t be any more than that, surely?
TWENTY million people applied for tickets for this one concert by one band. Twenty MILLION people. That’s like the entire population of the North and Scotland going out on a night out together (which, incidentally, would be INCREDIBLE but never mind.) My point being, Led Zeppelin are a band who must be doing something right. I love ‘em. I had to put a Zeppelin album on my list.
I first discovered Led Zeppelin on a holiday in Cornwall, in the attic of a sprawling house we were renting above a bay of gorgeous golden sand. Except, it was February, which put surfing or swimming right out of the question. We’d been into Truro and I’d gone into HMV (gosh, they have a HMV in Cornwall? How amazing. I almost said this to the guy at the till, lucky I didn’t or he’d probably have bashed my head in) and purchased my first Zeppelin album and my first Red Hot Chili Peppers album (it was I’m With You. I’m so sorry). The Zep album was “Houses of the Holy”. A top ten album? No. The band spent a couple of tracks dicking around which felt like kind of a waste, but it introduced me to their sound: crunchy, hard guitar rock tunes as well as more mellow, folky, chilled-out moments.
A more obvious choice would be the band’s untitled fourth album, the one with “Stairway to Heaven” on it. Yes, it’s great. But my main criteria for this list is choosing albums that are great all the way through, and the fourth album slips up early on with the too long and, I think, quite boring ‘Battle of Evermore’. I can’t be bothered to sit through it. Their first album, Led Zeppelin I fails for the same reason, too many rambling blues numbers while they try to find their feet.
So my choice then is between Zep II and III. III gets on my honourable mention list for being a great album where the band explored some more folky territory, it doesn’t make the top ten because the last song is, not to put too fine a point on it, crap. And also because Zep II is a thing.
In Led Zeppelin II the band has successfully transfigured old-style blues into what we would now call hard rock, whilst striking the balance between the two. It jumps between dizzying highs and delicious doped-out lows, often within the same song (take it down a bit… yeaaaahhhhhhhh…). It has style. It has swagger. It’s a bundle of sexual energy being released from a time when rock stars had loads of hair and wore fabulous costumes and everything was just better. Alright, maybe not everything.
Zep II opens with Nah-Nah-nah-Nah-NAAH, also known as “Whole Lotta Love,” recently voted the greatest guitar riff of all time by the people of Great Britain. For good reason too. It was the theme for “Top of the Pops” for years and years. To be honest, the lyrics are pretty by the by. It’s all about that riff. You’ll know it when you hear it. The middle of the song breaks down to a load of shuddery effect noises punctuated by Robert Plant moaning orgiastically, before it’s ripped apart by a shattering drumroll and an electrifyingly sharp guitar solo.
The second song, “What Is and What Should Never Be” has some delightfully mellow verses. Balm to the soul, while Plant gently croons. The choruses though, are loud and raw; the sort of sound Jack White would use much later with the White Stripes. In the middle, there’s a lovely liquid slide guitar solo to wash your hair in as well. Mm-hmm.
Then we have “The Lemon Song”. It’s about sex! But this was the early seventies. Any of this “You a hoe, suck my dick” bullshit that we have to put up with nowadays certainly wouldn’t have been allowed. Nah, we get to hear some euphemisms. So after a swaggering, giddy first half that leaps around like a gibbon on cocaine, the song chills out gorgeously, just kept bubbling away with bass and occasional whimpers from the guitar, while Robert Plant gulps and gasps about squeezing his lemon until the juice runs down his legs. Yes, we all know what the “lemon” is but it’s just much more fun that way. Innuendo’s practically a lost art nowadays. Let’s not let it die.
“Thank You” is probably the least interesting song on the album (though the bar’s set pretty high to be honest, so it’s certainly not bad). A fairly simple love song about happiness and comfort in one another (the nicest kind), driven by organ and acoustic guitar. To be honest, it reminds me of the background music in “Postman Pat”. Weird, I know. There’s one little guitar line that’s identical to one in the old series (not the bloody awful new series. I could write another whole article on how badly downhill Postman Pat’s gone but I shan’t.)
Next is a song called “Heartbreaker”. Ooh, my. This is probably the swaggeriest song I know, built around another fantastic guitar riff that struts its way towards you down the street. This is the song that plays in my head whenever I arrive anywhere a bit drunk and try to make an entrance, also particularly because of the first line, “HEEYYYYY fellas, have you heard the news, you know that Annie’s back in town?!?” Swap “Annie” for “Pete” and you get what I mean. Or not. Never mind. The singing is some sort of roar. I can’t even come close to singing it. I’ve tried. In the middle is a ridiculous guitar solo that shreds all over the place like a malfunctioning woodchipper. This song is bombastic and over-the-top and just generally GREAT.
And carrying on the reins from there is “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman),” that carries on the high-octane thrills in a two-minute blast of more guitar.
It’s quickly over, replaced by “Ramble On”. “Ramble On” kind of hints at the folky territory that the Zep are going to explore in their next album whilst keeping it fairly rocky. It’s rather lovely, like a soundtrack to falling golden leaves, probably helped along by all the autumn imagery in the lyrics. The bass is fairly delicious as well, in fact there’s a fantastic remix of the song built around the bass that I’ll include at the end. There’s a charming guitar line leading into the chorus, like a little musical waterfall. Or maybe a beam of sunlight through the trees. Either way it makes me feel all gooey inside. The best bit, though, is towards the end when Plant starts singing about Mordor and Gollum and you realise that Led Zeppelin were into Lord of the Rings. How satisfying.
“Moby Dick” is less of a song than a glorified drum solo, however, when the drummer is John Bonham, frequently cited as the greatest drummer ever, it’s forgivable. The intro and outro are built around a stormtrooping riff as well. Bonham would play so hard and fast that he drew blood and splattered it all over his kit. That’s the kind of dedication he had. The solo on “Moby Dick” is edited down from about half an hour to three minutes, and manages to move along despite being purely percussion.
If you’ve been reading these articles you’ll have noticed I like albums with a strong closing track. Zep II is no exception! The closer is called “Bring It On Home” and starts as a reasonably standard, bumbling, chuggin “the-ol’-train-a-came-down-the-track” blues number, topped with soulful harmonica. But this is caught short when Jimmy Page throws a riff like a grenade at you. Then the song sprints along leaving you breathless. Whooooo.
Led Zeppelin II. Great Album, sexy album, with an astonishing level of musical prowess, especially on the guitar work. It’s fun to listen to and generally fantastic. Go and listen to it, ‘cos it’s definitely in my top ten. (Maybe I should think of a better way to round off these articles? …Hmm, nah.)
What’s in video corner today? Well, more than one actually. Firstly here’s the Live version of “Bring It On Home”. Excuse the awful video effects and Jimmy Page’s even worse cardigan, it was the seventies. The guitar is multilayered in the album version, but it still sounds great here. Also, around the six minute mark, Jimmy does the quickest adjustment of guitar setting I’ve ever seen. That’s not relevant, just thought I’d point it out.