There’s a small selection of bands who have cemented themselves as one of the greats. Unequivocally. Historically. Objectively. Legends.
We’ve covered a select few of these in previous Flashback Fridays, like The Beatles and Queen. But today, we’re reflecting on Led Zeppelin. Specifically, their sophomore album Led Zeppelin II, which came out in October 1969.
Many of our Flashback Friday features have focused on albums that influenced us at a particular time in our life – a break-up. An unwell family member. Growing pains. But Led Zeppelin have been there for me, and for most of you I imagine, through all of that and more. I cannot think of one instance in my life, where this album couldn’t have been the perfect soundtrack.
Today, I’m not here to share a particular intimate moment in my life, or to take you through any one story or moment in history. Today, I just want to remind you of an album that, if it didn’t directly change your life, undoubtedly changed the lives of the musicians you love the most. The aim of today is remind you of an album you might not have heard in a while, and to celebrate how fucking unbelievably great it is!
There’s probably three bands who have influenced me the most, personally, throughout my life. Led Zeppelin are one of them. This album in particular not only changed my life, but taught me about it – it taught me about music, it taught me about rock ‘n roll, it taught me about the electric guitar, about drum solos, about lyricism. It taught me more about love and sex than any stuffy school talk or awkward teen encounter, that’s for sure.
And the thing is, that I’m not the only one. You all know exactly what I’m talking about.
There’s something to be said about the notion of collective consciousness, and loving Led Zeppelin is one of those universal things that just happens. It might have been ten or fifteen years since you listened to this album, but once you do, you’ll instantly know. You’ll instantly remember. So pause that French deep house EP. Put down that underground Atlanta rap mixtape. Let’s do this. I don’t want to spend too much time picking apart the lyrics and riffs and solos, I just want you to fucking listen to this album.
It’s really, really easy to forget about the music that came before today, or before this year. Who are we kidding? You’re reading this blog, after all. Chances are that you fit within the demographic: triple-j-listening, Spotify-streaming, festival-braving, mid/late-twenties indie kid or hipster or club freak or hip hop head. At a time where the industry shifts so quickly that an artist is entirely forgotten if they don’t release a new song every month, listening to Led Zeppelin is like breathing in fresh (misty) mountain air.
To clarify, I’ll quickly explain why I chose to focus on Led Zeppelin II. Picking a favourite Zep album is an impossible feat. Being a massive blues fan I’m obviously a sucker for the slow and seductive opening tracks on I, but then you’ve got stuff like Immigrant Song and Since I’ve Been Loving You on III, and of course there’s Evermore, Going to California and Levee on IV. Then we’ve obviously got Houses of the Holy tracks like No Quarter and Physical Graffiti stuff likeIn My Time Of Dying and…. yeah, well, you see what I mean. The struggle is real. I chose Led Zeppelin II because it was the first Led Zeppelin album I ever heard. It was one of the first albums that, upon first hearing it, I literally did not listen to anything else for weeks. I eventually had to actually buy a second (and then third) copy of the CD because it wore down. And I doubt I’m the only one who knew that feeling.
How can I begin to pick this apart? Not one single filler track, not one single boring moment, not one riff or bass line or drumbeat that wasn’t brilliant and revolutionary and packed with more talent than most artists on the radio today. I’ll just pick a handful of my own favourite moments. The rest of it speaks for itself.
Let’s start at the very beginning. That opening riff on Whole Lotta Love. One of the most recognisable, most exciting riffs of all time. Robert Plant’s soaring, sensual melody, later coming head to head with John Bonham’s drums before, of course, those legendary call-and-response solos. And Jimmy Page’s guitar work. I mean, goddamn. GOD DAMN.
No matter how many obscure musical black holes I disappear down, no matter how far I stray from rock and roll, I will always come back to Led Zeppelin. No matter how much weird glitch, or trip hop, or R&B, or minimal electronica or whatever-the-fuck else I listen to every day, I will always come back to Led Zeppelin. Always.
And I know you feel the same way.
Only three tracks deep, you come to one of my all time favourite songs. Not just from Zeppelin but all music. I love it so much that I have a tattoo of it. Not only is it musically brilliant and bluesy as hell with those deep riffs and John Paul Jones’ impeccable bass work, but The Lemon Song taught me more about sex than any other single experience in my life.
“Squeeze me baby, ’til the juice runs down my leg – the way you squeeze my lemon, I’m gonna fall right outta bed!” coupled with Plant’s voice and the flirtatious guitar-bass dance, is sexier than any goddamn song in the history of music (except possibly for Massive Attack‘s Angel, but that’s another story for another FBF.)
Then we come to the glorious Thank You. And the raunchy Heartbreaker. And eventually we find ourselves at Ramble On. One of the undisputed greatest Led Zeppelin tracks.
Between the Sympathy for the Devil-esque opener that’s as simple as it is identifiable, the romantic, fantastical, not to mention Lord of The Rings-referencing lyrics, and some of the most passionate and vocally diverse melodies in Robert Plant’s career, this is what rock and roll is supposed to sound like. This is it. If aliens descended upon the earth and demanded to know what rock and roll sounded like, THIS is what you would play for them (along with some Hendrix and Sabbath of course.) From the soft, delicate and sentimental opening to the all-out power of the chorus, from the stunning guitar harmonies to the full on freak-out outro, this song alone exemplifies everything I love about this band.
The album continues, and I could talk about it for hours. But so much has already been said. It’s time to just close your eyes and enjoy.
I can’t begin to describe how fun it’s been listening to this album on repeat again. I can only hope that I’ve inspired a few of you to spend your weekend jamming the fuck out to some of the greatest music that’s ever been made.