How 'Led Zeppelin II' Was Born
'Led Zeppelin II,' Photo Courtesy of Atlantic
On the second LP, you can really hear the group identity coming together," Page recalled years after its release. While Zeppelin recorded their first album in three weeks after a single, two-week Scandinavian tour, Led Zeppelin II was cut over six months on tour in London, New York, Vancouver and Los Angeles, with the band carrying the master tapes along the way in a steamer trunk.
"It was quite insane, really," Page said. "We had no time, and we had to write numbers in hotel rooms. By the time the album came out, I was really fed up with it. I'd just heard it so many times in so many places. I really think I had lost confidence in it."
In reality, they made one of the greatest, heaviest and raunchiest albums ever, steeped in both Delta and Chicago blues, Sixties psychedelia and gentle-to-bone-crushing dynamics. Highlights ranged from the chugging, apocalyptic chaos of "Whole Lotta Love" to the bullet-fast fuzz riffs of "Heartbreaker" to "Bring It on Home," a juke-joint blues gone mad. "They were the first numbers written with the band in mind," Page told writer Mick Wall later. "It was music more tailor-made for the elements you've got. Like knowing that Bonzo's gonna come in hard at some point, and building that in."
Less than four months after the release of their first LP, in January 1969, Atlantic was already prodding the band for new material in time for the Christmas season. In April, Zeppelin headed into London's Olympic Studios with engineer George Chkiantz. "Whole Lotta Love" was one of the first tracks they worked on; it was constructed from a riff Page invented during one of their 15-minute-plus live versions of "As Long As I Have You," with Plant adding lyrics taken straight from Muddy Waters' 1962 single "You Need Love." They finished it in New York with Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer, who helped execute the terrifying middle section, incorporating a variety of sounds: Page's slide guitar mixed backward, his eerie theremin, a female orgasm and a napalm-bomb explosion. Said Page, "It's sort of what psychedelia would have been if they could have got there."
Guitar solos were recorded in studio hallways; Bonham played the percussion part to "Ramble On" on a guitar case, a drum stool or a garbage can (no one recalls which), and his showpiece "Moby Dick" solo was patched together from several recordings in separate studios.
The recording methods may have been ad hoc, but the results were fully realized. "What Is and What Should Never Be" used stereo mixing to send Page's guitar and Plant's squeals ping-ponging from speaker to speaker as if mimicking a bad acid trip. "The Lemon Song" – their version of Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor" – was cut live in the studio, seamlessly time-shifting from smoky cool to frantic boogie, Plant howling, "Squeeze my lemon till the juice runs down my leg!"
"Thank You," a folk hymn drenched in 12-string guitar and organ, was Plant's first writing effort, penned for his wife during a time of intense changes; in less than a year, the band had gone from slogging it on tour in snowy English car rides to weeklong stays at the Chateau Marmont, watching Elvis Presley from the front row in Vegas and mingling with L.A.'s groupie elite, the GTOs.