1970 – The No. 1 LP in the U.K. today is Led Zeppelin II.

Led Zeppelin II Album cover

1970 – The No. 1 LP in the U.K. today is Led Zeppelin II.

Recording sessions

The album was recorded during a hectic and much-traveled period of the band’s career from January through August 1969, when they completed four European and three American concert tours. Each song was separately recorded, mixed and produced at various studios in the UK and the U.S. Some of the recording studios utilised by the band were far from state-of-the-art. One studio in Vancouver had an eight-track set up that did not even have proper headphone facilities. As was later noted by singer Robert Plant:

It was crazy really. We were writing the numbers in hotel rooms and then we’d do a rhythm track in London, add the vocal in New York, overdub the harmonica in Vancouver and then come back to finish mixing at New York.

The album was not entirely recorded on the road, however. As the album’s guitarist and producer Jimmy Page explained:

“Thank You”, “The Lemon Song” and “Moby Dick” were overdubbed on tour and the mixing of “Whole Lotta Love” and “Heartbreaker” was done on tour. In other words, some of the material came out of rehearsing for the next tour and getting new material together.

Led Zeppelin II was Led Zeppelin’s first album to utilise the skills of recording engineer Eddie Kramer, whose prior work with Jimi Hendrix had impressed the band’s members, especially Page. According to Led Zeppelin expert Dave Lewis:

That the album turned out to be such a triumph, in particular for a production quality that still sounds fresh today, was in no small way due to the successful alliance with Page and Kramer in the control room.

Kramer and Page formed a strong partnership, as exhibited in the central section of the track “Whole Lotta Love”. Kramer later said, “The famous Whole Lotta Love 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.” In another interview, Kramer gave great credit to Page for the sound which was achieved on the release, despite the inconsistent conditions in which it was recorded:

We did that album piece-meal. We cut some of the tracks in some of the most bizarre studios you can imagine, little holes in the wall. Cheap studios. But in the end it sounded bloody marvellous. There was a unification of sound on

Page and Kramer spent just two days mixing the album at A&R Studios.

Music

The finished tracks reflect the raw, evolving sound of the band and their innovations as live performers. It has been suggested that Led Zeppelin II largely writes the blueprint for 1970s hard rock.

Led Zeppelin II also experimented with other musical styles and approaches, as on the alternately soft-and-loud “What Is and What Should Never Be” and “Ramble On” (which featured Page’s acoustic guitar), or the pop-influenced ballad “Thank You”. With its mysterious atmospherics, “Ramble On” helped develop hard rock’s association with fantasy themes, which had partly derived from the psychedelic rock of two to three years before, but also from lyricist Robert Plant’s personal interest in the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien. This direction would later culminate on Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album (and countless subsequent groups would later carry the influence to further extremes). Conversely, the instrumental “Moby Dick” features an extended drum solo by John Bonham, which would later be extended to a half-hour or more in live Led Zeppelin concert performances.

Jimmy Page’s contribution to this album was significant, as his electric guitar solo on the song “Heartbreaker” was emulated by many younger rock guitarists, and exemplifies the group’s intense musical attack. This was the first Led Zeppelin album to feature Page playing a 1959 Gibson Les Paul, the guitar he helped make famous. Page’s innovative recording and drum miking effects on tracks such as “Ramble On” and “Whole Lotta Love” also demonstrated his considerable skill, resourcefulness and originality as a producer. As band member John Paul Jones has commented:

Jimmy started coming into his own as a producer around “Whole Lotta Love”. The backwards echo stuff. A lot of the microphone techniques were just inspired. Everybody thinks he goes into the studio with huge walls of amps, but he doesn’t. He uses a really small amp and he just mic’s it up really well, so it fits into a sonic picture.

The album also marked a certain honing of singer Robert Plant’s vocal approach,

Plant has commented that it was only during the sessions for this album that he started to feel at home as a vocalist in the studio with Led Zeppelin:

Album sleeve design

The album sleeve design was from a poster by David Juniper, who was simply told by the band to come up with an idea that was “interesting”. His design was based on an old photograph of the Jasta 11 Division of the German Air Force during World War I, the famed Flying Circus led by Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron.. (The German air force used Zeppelins as airships for bombing military and civilian targets during the war). After the picture was tinted, the faces of the four members of the band were airbrushed on from a 1969 publicity photograph, as well as the faces of band manager Peter Grant and tour manager Richard Cole. The woman in the picture is Glynis Johns, the mother from Mary Poppins. Her presence in the photo is an obvious play on the name of recording engineer Glyn Johns. The other face added was that of bluesman Blind Willie Johnson. The cover also pictured the outline of a Zeppelin on a brown background, which gave the album its nickname “Brown Bomber”.

In 1970 the album was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of best album package.

Release, reception and acclaim

The album was released on October 22, 1969, with advance orders of 400,000.

The album also yielded Led Zeppelin’s biggest hit, with the track “Whole Lotta Love”. This song reached #4 on the Billboard Top 100 in January 1970, after Atlantic Records went against the group’s wishes by releasing a shorter version on 45. The single’s B-side, “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)”, also hit the Billboard chart, peaking at #65 in April 1970.

In 2000 Q magazine placed Led Zeppelin II at number 37 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. In 2003, the album was ranked number 75 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

The commercial success of this album also brought with it—as with their debut album—accusations of plagiarism (e.g. Willie Dixon’s claim to the lyrics for “Whole Lotta Love”.

Track listing
1969 vinyl edition
Side one
#     Title     Writer(s)     Length
1.     “Whole Lotta Love”       Bonham, Dixon, Jones, Page, Plant     5:34
2.     “What Is and What Should Never Be”       Page, Plant     4:47
3.     “The Lemon Song”       Bonham, Jones, Page, Plant     6:22
4.     “Thank You”       Page, Plant     4:50
Side two
#     Title     Writer(s)     Length
1.     “Heartbreaker”       Bonham, Jones, Page, Plant     4:15
2.     “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)”       Page, Plant     2:40
3.     “Ramble On”       Page, Plant     4:36
4.     “Moby Dick”       Bonham, Jones, Page     4:22
5.     “Bring It On Home”       Page, Plant     4:20

Note: Some cassette versions of the album altered the song order so that side one ended with “Heartbreaker” and side two began with “Thank You”. Other cassette versions also present “Heartbreaker” as the second track on side one and “What Is and What Should Never Be” as track one on side two. These variations were presumably to make the length of each side approximately the same. On vinyl versions, side one ended with “Thank You” and side two began with “Heartbreaker”. This order is reflected above and is preserved on all CD releases.

On the original British copies of Led Zeppelin II, the label on the record lists “Killing Floor” as the third track and is credited to Chester Burnett (Howlin’ Wolf’s real name), while the liner lists “The Lemon Song” and credits Led Zeppelin.

Personnel

Led Zeppelin

* Jimmy Page – acoustic guitar, electric guitar, pedal steel guitar, backing vocals, producer
* Robert Plant – vocals, harmonica
* John Paul Jones – bass guitar, organ, backing vocals
* John Bonham – drums, backing vocals

Additional personnel

* Peter Grant – executive producer
* Eddie Kramer – engineer, mixing
* George Chkiantz – engineer (tracks 1 and 2)
* Chris Huston – engineer (tracks 3 and 8)
* Andy Johns – engineer (track 4)
* Bob Ludwig – mastering engineer

CD Mastering engineers

* Barry Diament – original CD (mid-1980s)
* George Marino – remastered CD (1990)

Charts

Album
Chart (1969)  ?     Peak Position  ?
US Billboard The 200 Albums Chart     1
Canadian RPM Top 100 Chart     1
UK Albums Chart     1
Norwegian Albums Chart     2
Australian Kent Music Report Albums Chart     1

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