THE MOTHER OF ALL HARD ROCK ALBUMS! THE GENESIS OF HEAVINESS! THE GREATEST RIFFS EVER RECORDED BY MANKIND! THE BEST ROCK ALBUM FROM A TIME WHEN ROCK WAS STILL ALIVE AND KICKIN’, MAAAAAAN! And so on. You must’ve heard at least one of these comments before, right? Well, they’re all widespread, and they’re all wrong, too. If we’re ignoring The Kinks, Cream and Jeff Beck (and a bunch of others), then you might indeed consider them the first band to offer the whole hard rock package, but in that case picking the debut (“Communication Breakdown” and “Dazed and Confused” anyone?) makes more sense. As for sheer heaviness: Vincebus Eruptum (1968) maybe? Or, again, the debut? Riffs then? Sure, there’s a shitload of memorable ones on this album, but Let There Be Rock relegates it back to primary school (well, sort of). That said, Led Zeppelin II does deserve some of the credit as well, since it rocks really hard, has that fantastic early ‘70’s greasy sound and does indeed boast a few riffs that even a guitar player in Chili, Senegal or Ramon, NM, has heard of: those big, fat, bombastic, bloated motherfuckers that make the hairs on your arms, back and legs stand straight, those decibel crunches that unleash the animal in you, the beast that craves beer, a good time with the boys and, more than anything else, WOMEN! EASY WOMEN!
Misogynistic, dumb, pummelling, overrated, call it whatever you want, but … just don’t deny that “Whole Lotta Love” is the album’s epicentre. Basically a repetitive blues riff on steroids, with lyrics comin’ straight out of a sleazy porn flic (“I’m gonna give you every inch of my love,” “Way down inside, you need it,” “I wanna be your backdoor man”…what the hell?), it’s a filthy classic that could be the hard rock equivalent of the Vatican: larger than life, indestructible and perverted to the core. It’s great though, and the best thing about it all is that it still sounds incredible to this day, and boy, do I get a kick out of hearing Bonham’s hi-hat pedal during the meandering mid-section! I mean, nowadays they probably would’ve edited it and replaced it with a sample. Slightly less popular, but every inch as monstrous, is the incendiary “Heartbreaker,” with its grumbling bass, thrilling acceleration and some of Page’s best axe work. On top of that, Plant’s vocals (especially “Heeeeeyy, fellas have you heard the neeeeewwss”) turn it into an instant cock rock-classic. As for the second tier: “Thank You” might belong there. Initially, I wasn’t that impressed by it, but I’ve developed quite a fondness for it: I just dig the nice organ sounds (courtesy of J.P. Jones) and the contrast between the acoustic touches and thundering drums, while it contains some of the best Plant vocals of the entire album. Come to think about it, I think “Thank You” could very well be a wedding song.
“Ramble On” seems to hold a much-debated position: some people think it’s a crude failure, a clumsy marriage of soft and loud textures, others think it’s an all-time classic. While it doesn’t sound like vintage Led Zep to me, I certainly dig the pumping chorus and jazzy bass lines, even though it’s hard to ignore the fairly silly lyrics (well, let’s be honest, they rarely were about that, right?). Also the semi-ballad “What Is and What Should Never Be” deals in that vague mysticism and imagery (“Catch the wind, we’re gonna see it spin, we’re gonna sail, little girl”), but luckily that’s redeemed by some excellent playing (especially by Page) and a successful exploration of folksier territory. That’s when we get to the lesser stuff: “The Lemon Song,” one of those blues rip-offs that sound cool but also shows they started working on the album a little too fast, starts off extraordinarily with a dirty distorted blues groove and a terrific roots-rock acceleration, but I’ve always though the pummelling, jammy second part should’ve been trimmed. Similarly, album closer “Bring It on Home” seems to be some song that’s more included because of laziness or creative limitations than anything else. The band does a good job at recreating an authentic blues vibe, but what does it lead to: a totally unconnected second part that never really takes off. Frustrating, and a bit of a waste of time. It’s quite possible that you’ve never heard that last song, since the one that precedes it isn’t the most popular of Zep’s tunes either. “Moby Dick” kicks off with a dirty, funky smellin’ riff that suits the title just fine, but the main point about the song – a lengthy drum solo that usually tells me it’s time to get a refill or to take a leak – should be filed under “seventies excess.” Drum solos can be cool in concert, but they rarely work on albums. Anyway, I have a few bones to pick with this album, but that doesn’t get in the way of the fact that its best moments were made for the ages. But calling it greatest rock album of all-time? I disagree.