Led Zeppelin II - Led Zeppelin (1969)
"Living, loving / She's just a woman"
Best Song: Heartbreaker
Worst Song: Ramble On
Y'know, most web critics seem to think that this is the worst of Zeppelin's self titled albums...I completely disagree. Now, for sake of full disclosure, I only own a few songs from III, but I own both I and IV, so I don't feel too badly about saying that. Anyway, II is an absolutely fantastic, nearly filler-free album that displays all of Zeppelin's greatest strengths. What are these strengths, you ask? Well, I think there are three of 'em: riff rockers, blues jams, and acoustic-y ballads. This album has all three in spades.
Let's start with the ballads, shall we? There are only three, "What Is and What Should Never Be", "Ramble On" and "Thank You", and while I think that both "What Is" and "Thank You" are pretty darn good, "Ramble" just doesn't cut it for me...but I'll get to that in a minute. As for the other two, "What Is" is obviously the best. From the neat verses with that watery effect on Plant's voice, to the great chorus vocal melody, all the way to the great, gentle guitar solo, it's one of the best songs here. One thing I've also noticed about the song is that it's essentially a proto-"Stairway to Heaven"! Really! I mean the whole acoustic-to-electric thing that happens in the chorus is pure "Stairway", as are the pseudo-mystical lyrics. Is it as good as "Stairway"? No, but it's closer than you might think. Then there's also the aforementioned "Thank You", which has been hated on by pretty much every critic ever. But....why? Sure, it's a bit forgettable, but it commits no major sins, to my ears. There are some decent guitar parts, some really pretty organ lines, and a semi-passionate vocal from Plant, so it's really a decent little song , in my opinion. Then again, I have a higher tolerance for cheesy 70s rock ballads than most people (I love me some "You See Me Crying"), so that could be it. Either way, it's not enough for me to lower the grade any.
Sadly, though, there is one song on here that's enough for me to lower the grade from a "14" to a "13" and that, my readers, is "Ramble On". Shocking, I know, since most people seem to really like this song. Sure, it's relatively inoffensive but it's really repetitive, really boring, and really long. OK, maybe it's not THAT long, but for some reason it just seems to kill the album's momentum for me. Again, there's nothing particularly AWFUL going on here, but it's just a boring little strummy guitar riff played over...and over...and over, complemented by a very blah chorus. If it was the length of, say, "Living Loving Maid", I'd be fine with it. But as it is now....I'll pass.
As for the riff rockers, there's "Heartbreaker", which has a fantastic ascending riff and some really great singing from The Golden God. Oh, and I love the guitar solo, unlike most people. Sure it's sloppy, but it's fun, fast as heck, and fits hilariously poorly in with the rest of the song. Seriously, it's like a completely different song! But whatever. It's really enjoyable. "Heartbreaker" then segues directly into "Living Loving Maid", which I love far more than I probably should. It's just a quick, catchy, two minute rocker that's incredibly fun. If it was any longer, I might be a bit more lukewarm to it, but at this length? It's great.
Oh, and there's this other riff rocker too...."Whole Lotta Gloves", or something like that. It's pretty good, but there's this two minute long section in the middle where Robbie wails like a mad man while some exotic drum riffs are being played. And....that's it. No cool guitar work, just some feedback, decent drumming and yelling....for two minutes. the rest of the song's pretty amazing though, so it's tolerable. There's also "Moby Dick" which starts out as a great little instrumental riff rocker, but quickly turns into a drum solo. It's actually pretty good as far as drum solos go, but I'd be lying if I told you that I would ever listen to it out of context with the album.
Finally, we have the blues jams, and there are only two -- "Bring It On Home" and "The Lemon Song". "Lemon" is definitely the best of the two. It's pretty much your stereotypical generic blues song, but trust me, it beats the crap out of any other blues jam that the band had attempted up to this point. There are no annoying organ parts, Robbie never gets too ridiculous, and the guitar is extremely interesting. Also, there's a second part to the song that's almost a sort of country hoedown section that's completely fun. Random? Sure, yeah, but it's really energetic, and well....fun. The best way to describe the majority of "Bring It On Home" is to simply imagine a more rocked up version of The Rolling Stones' "Parachute Woman". This section takes up about half of the song. However, the song eventually kicks into gear and becomes a sort of funky riff-rocker.
And that's Led Zeppelin II! In all honesty, I'm really not that big of a Zeppelin fan. Sure, I think many of their songs are good, and a few of them are even great, but generally I'm more of an "art rock" kind of guy. But still, (to me, at least) this is their best moment and probably the best place to start with the band (well, either this or Mothership). It shows off all of Zep's strengths very well, and there really isn't a bad song on here. Highly reccomended.