Writing and recording on tour as they were becoming international rock stars, Zeppelin turned their vision into reality
“On the second LP, you can really hear the group identity coming together,” Jimmy Page recalled years after its release. While Zeppelin recorded their first album in three weeks after a single, two-week Scandinavian tour, Led Zeppelin IIwas 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 Robert 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.”