Happy Birthday, Led Zeppelin II

This Tuesday will mark the 50th anniversary of Led Zeppelin’s U.S. release of “Led Zeppelin II.”

Following their debut album released in January 1969 and a particularly grueling first tour, Led Zeppelin had a sharp turnaround for producing their second record due to such high demand.

“Led Zeppelin II” was produced while the band embarked on their second and third tours. Because of this, the album was recorded in several different studios, including Mystic Sound in Los Angeles, Olympic Studios in London and many more. 

The first track, the iconic “Whole Lotta Love,” which is now their third most-streamed song on Spotify, was first performed at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on April 26, 1969 before the album was released. 

When reviewing the album upon its release, John Mendelson in his infamous critique of the album in Rolling Stone magazine said that “Whole Lotta Love” had to be “the heaviest thing I’ve run across (or, more accurately, that’s run across me).” 

This heaviness follows most of the tracks on the album, such as in “The Lemon Song”with its innuendo-laden lyrics and sounds reminiscent both of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor” and bluesy Robert Johnson influences. Guitarist Jimmy Page’s switch from a Fender Telecaster to the 1958 Gibson Les Paul is often credited with giving the second album and all subsequent records a more distinctive and dirty sound while moving away from their Yardbirds roots. 

Other hard-hitters, such as “Heartbreaker” and “Ramble On,” became concert staples for Led Zeppelin. They were broken up by more melodic songs like “Thank You” and “What Is and What Should Never Be,” which highlighted Robert Plant’s increasing affinity for lyric writing. 

Coming off the high of their debut album, the second album rose quickly to the top. Upon its release, the album knocked The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” out of the top spot on the charts in December 1969, solidifying the band’s place in music history. 

The album is often considered the “godfather of heavy metal” as noted by Steve Waksman in his book “Instruments of Desire,” who referred to the album as being “the musical starting point for heavy metal.” However, the band and the album’s link to the heavy metal genre is still subject to intense debate, with the members of Led Zeppelin themselves getting involved in the debate, particularly Page. 

In an interview with Classic Rock Society, Page commented on the assumption that Led Zeppelin was the original heavy metal band. 

“There’s no denying that the elements of what became known as heavy metal is definitely there within Led Zeppelin.” Page said. “But the reality of it is that this is riff music, and riff music goes back to the blues — the electric blues of the ’50s and what was going on down there in Chicago.” 

Regardless of the debate surrounding the band’s ties to heavy metal, it is hard to deny the astronomical impact this album made on music history. The album set a precedent for their further albums to come and for rock music in general.

“Led Zeppelin II” not only showed how rock would transform going from the 1960s into the 1970s with its ceremonious dethroning of “Abbey Road” in the last month of the decade, but it also marked the band’s status in music history, which can still be seen and felt in rock music today.