How ‘Led Zeppelin II’ defied the second album syndrome to become a classic
There is a myriad of extendable and retractable laws and fables of the music industry. Some are stringent and rigid while others are fluid pieces of folkloric advice handed down to the new generation. One old adage, in particular, seems to have hung around since the first album was ever made—second album syndrome, sophomore slump, the difficult second album—call it what you will, writing the follow-up to an explosive LP has always been difficult. Except, of course, if the band you’re in happens to be Led Zeppelin.
Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones were apart of one of the most explosive debut albums of all time when they released their self-titled LP in 1969. When the needle dropped on that first album, it was a seismic shift in the make-up of rock’n’roll for all who heard it. It was the kind of definitive record which could easily have seen the band fall flat on their next effort.
An incredible debut LP is what most bands dream of when they’re strumming away in their garage or bedroom listlessly letting their mind wander on to the stadiums they will fill, the fame and the fortune that will arrive when they become a rock star. It usually means that everything they have is put into that first album and that usually means, if a second LP is on the horizon, it is comparatively rushed, delivered without fire and released as a part of their contract. All in all, more releasing a second album after a great debut is always incredibly difficult to pull off.
Of course, there is one factor that we’re overlooking, this wasn’t just any band, this was Led Zeppelin. On their second record, aptly named Led Zeppelin II, the group emerge from their chrysalis as a beautiful heavy rock butterfly. Floating across the skies, the band proved that any idea of a sophomore slump was ludicrous and that their trajectory was only heading further skyward.
It makes sense, too. The band’s debut album landed not long after their formation, something which came about not as a group of guys who had grown up together and frequented the aforementioned garage studios but as four astounding musicians cobbled together by Jimmy Page. It means that the blood, sweat and tears most bands put into their debut LP wasn’t quite as apparent for Zeppelin.
Having only been together a short while, their debut LP was an explosion of their talent. It was the sound of four intrinsically synced musicians connecting and the burst of energetic heavy rock that emanated from it. By the time their second LP was requested, the group had spent more time together, connected even further, and all together melded their sounds within one another.
The band’s gruelling touring schedule had honed not only their sound but their vision for the future too and they implemented that vision with aplomb on this record. Still resting heavily on the deep and leathered blues sound the band had brought us on their debut but this time it came with extra verve and a double dose of swaggering rock. The record was proof of a band who had big plans and looked more than capable of achieving them.
The songs were just as big, just as impactful and just as impressive but now they came with an extra helping of authenticity. This was no longer a group of great musicians working with one another, this was now a fully-formed band, ready to conquer.
With songs like ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ it’s easy to see how this LP set the band on their way to domination. While the idea of a sophomore slump wasn’t quite as prevalent during this time as it is today, the band shook off the idea without so much as a second thought. Instead, they were intent on creating mind-blowing music and realising themselves as rock’s ultimate saviours.