Friday, July 1, 2011

The #40 Album of All-Time in the Rock Era: "II" by Led Zeppelin

Inside the Rock Era is featuring one album per day from the list of The Top 100 Albums of All-Time in the Rock Era*.  Back when I saluted Houses of the Holy, I said there were better albums by Led Zeppelin.  Here is one of them.  Today, it's #40, from Led Zeppelin.

Led Zeppelin was honing not only their songwriting ability but their musicianship at this point.  I think this is where Jimmy Page became an elite guitarist, and of course he just got better from here.  But from the group's standpoint, both Page and Robert Plant really elevated their songwriting ability as well.  The songs from Plant had more meaning as he began to explore his interests and inspirations.  And the music from Page was markedly better than their debut album.  It wasn't the peak from the supergroup but it was getting there.

Led Zeppelin's second album (II) reached #1 for seven weeks, and hung around the top spot with 11 weeks at #2 and two at #3.  It spent 24 weeks inside the Top 10 and 98 on the album chart.  Those are solid numbers, but the album went one step further--It had advance orders of 400,000, almost unheard of for a second album.  Twice, the album knocked Abbey Road by the Beatles out of the top spot.  Today, the number has topped 12 million.  In other words, the album didn't stop selling just because it wasn't current any longer.  It has a Track Rating* of 8.89, not among the best but certainly not the worst of the 100 either.  The album also reached #1 in the U.K., Spain, Germany, Canada and Australia, a fact that could push it higher when Inside the Rock Era presents The Top 100 Albums in the World* a bit later this year.

Led Zeppelin II was written and recorded during a frantic pace for the group.  Already, they were in great demand on the concert circuit and they were constantly on tour.  Songs were recorded in between concert dates and yet far from sounding rushed, the sessions had the opposite effect--they provided spontaneity.  The band's tremendous musicianship and improvisation was beginning to show.  Page's unbelievable guitar riffs (on "Whole Lotta' Love", "Heartbreaker" and "Living Loving Maid" in particular) sprung up out of nowhere.  All three of those are superb tracks.  "Ramble On" and "Bring It On Home" are other tracks that stand out but really the whole album can be tracked through, as one should expect when you get this high in The Top 100 Albums of All-Time*.  Drummer John Bonham, too, began to come into his own as evidenced by the drum solo on "Moby Dick".  

The album was nominated for a Grammy for Best Recording Package.  

Led Zeppelin II:

Side one
1.  "Whole Lotta' Love" (John Bonham, Willie Dixon, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant) --5:34
2.  "What Is and What Should Never Be" (Page, Plant) --4:47
3.  "The Lemon Song" (Page, Plant) --6:20
4.  "Thank You" --4:47

Side two
1.  "Heartbreaker" (Bonham, Jones, Page & Plant) --4:15
2.  "Living Loving Maid (She's Just a Woman)" (Page, Plant) --2:40
3.  "Ramble On" --4:35
4.  "Moby Dick" (Bonham, Jones & Page) --4:25
5.  "Bring It On Home" (Page, Plant & Dixon) --4:19

Led Zeppelin was and will always be Jimmy Page on electric and acoustic guitar, theremin and backing vocals, lead vocalist Robert Plant who also played harmonica on the album, steady drummer John Bonham (also on timpani and backing vocals) and accomplished bassist John Paul Jones.  

The album was recorded, as mentioned, in between concert dates from January to August of 1969, at Olympic and Morgan Studios in London, A&M, Quantum, Sunset, Mirror Sound and Mystic Studios in Los Angeles, Ardent Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, A&R, Juggy Sound, Groove and Mayfair Studios in New York City, and the "hut" in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  If the studios are still in business, it's worth a visit for they are famous if for no other reason that they contributed to the sound you hear on Led Zeppelin II.

This was Led Zeppelin's first album to feature Eddie Kramer as the engineer----he also mixed the LP. Kramer of course worked with Jimi Hendrix. The humble Kramer gave all the credit to Page, who helped him mix the album, but the freshness of the album is also largely due to the considerable talent of Kramer. The two mixed the album in two crazy days at A&R Studios, in which they experimented until they achieved the perfect sound.

Peter Grant was the executive producer. George Chkiantz, Chris Huston and Andy Johns all took turns engineering but Kramer was the overseer. Bob Ludwig mastered the album and also helped with engineering.  David Juniper's album design was based on the photograph of the Jasta 11 Division of the German Air Force in World War I, the Flying Circus which was led by Manfred von Richthofen and the Red Baron.

The album was released to the public on October 22, 1969 on Atlantic Records.

The monumental Led Zeppelin II comes in at #40 All-Time.

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