Top 10’s: Led Zeppelin

One of the giants of rock, the forefathers of heavy metal and one of the most consistently great bands across a ten year recording existence. Everyone knows a Zeppelin song, even if you don’t realise what you’re hearing is them. Still immensely popular to this day and constantly gathering new fans each and every year, their back catalogue is full of absolute gems and five star classics – here are my 10 favourites.

10. Achilles Last Stand (from Presence (1976))

Opening track on what is probably their most underrated album, this crashes in with a ferocious riff and galloping bass and drums. The whole song is a riff-fest, Jimmy Page pulling a blinder across the tracks 10 minute duration. Written by Page and Robert Plant and continuing along the lines of ‘Kashmir’ with it’s Eastern-flavoured sound and mythological lyrics, this is distinctly faster than that epic and has more prog rock/metal leanings. Nothing on it’s parent album even comes close to this beast of a track but it’s well worth a listen, especially if you’ve already played the earlier albums to death!!

9. Black Dog (from Led Zeppelin IV (1971))

This song is massive!! The opening track on their most famous and some would say greatest (not me!!) album, this takes their blues influenced rock and injects it with a serious dose of funk. The riff, one of the best in their whole catalogue, is simply awesome and was written by bass player John Paul Jones. The start-stop nature of the song really allows Robert Plant’s voice to shine, his parts are acapella at times and showcase the total control of his vocal prowess. They had a real knack for kicking off albums in the right way, as evidenced by these first two tracks on the list and the next entry.

8. Whole Lotta Love (from Led Zeppelin II (1969))

What must be the most well-known song in their whole repertoire is still an absolute pearl even after countless listens. Taken from their second album (which is my personal favourite), the riff on this is one of the most famous of all time. The midsection of this song is incredible and really shows Jimmy Page expanding his outlook as a producer. You can’t even imagine the band that recorded their debut coming up with something like this but amazingly the first two albums were recorded only 6 months apart and released in the same year!! From the near psychedelic breakdown of echoing vocals, scraped guitars, theremin and machine gun snare rolls emerges one of Page’s best guitar solos – short but face melting!! One of the best songs to start with if you are new to Zeppelin, it’s one my kids have already taken a shine to.

7. Over The Hills And Far Away (from Houses Of The Holy (1973))

I always liked the Houses Of The Holy (1973) album but nothing on it resonated with me as much as anything from the first four records when I was growing up. Fast forward a number of years (a large number!!) and whilst sat in Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas, nursing a Diet Coke the day after my 30th birthday, this song was cued up on the jukebox and as soon as the wonderful acoustic guitar intro hit, I had a new Zeppelin favourite. This song combines the folky feel of Led Zeppelin III (1970) with the big riffing rock they are most famous for. Lyrically it’s about moving on and being free, something which resonated deeply with me at the time. It’s proof that whilst the big Zeppelin tracks are truly superb, there are plenty of less heralded songs of theirs waiting to be considered the next classic.

6. Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (from Led Zeppelin (1969))

Amazing song, originally recorded by folk singer Anne Bredon in the 1950s and popularised by Joan Baez’s 1962 version, Zeppelin more than make it their own. It’s a brilliant amalgamation of acoustic folk and hard hitting rock, very much a template of their career to come. Robert Plant gives one of his most magical and impassioned vocal performances and Jimmy Page is at the top of his game, unleashing huge sounding distorted power chords for the chorus and delicate finger picked acoustic guitar in the verses. It’s a song that shows just how complete they were as a band from the get go and why their debut album is one of the finest in rock music.

5. Trampled Under Foot (from Physical Graffiti (1975))

Now, this is Zeppelin at their funkiest!! Riding an ever circling groove based around the clavinet playing of John Paul Jones, it’s a strutting, relentless beast of a record. It has a similar feel to ‘Superstition’ by Stevie Wonder but with Jimmy Page’s distorted blues playing and John Bonham’s drum bashing giving it a far more rock-oriented edge. I’ve always felt that this could be Zeppelin’s biggest floor filler and get people moving but when I put it on a pub jukebox many years ago expecting to see people nodding along and feeling the funk, I looked around to see a series of blank faces and impatience – just waiting for the next well known chart hit to play!! It just shows I know nothing!!

4. Immigrant Song (from Led Zeppelin III (1970))

One of their most popular and well known tracks, this song just has a huge, epic feel, perfectly suited to the lyrical use of Nordic/Viking mythology. The riff is a beauty, chugging atop the rhythmic groove giving the whole thing a feel of Valhalla being a sweaty funk/rock club rather than a magical giant hall in Asgard!! Robert Plant is at his most vocally powerful and playful, his siren-like wail over the intro sounding like the opening war cry for the battle to come. There’s probably no better use of the song than when it kicks in on the soundtrack to Thor: Ragnarok (2017), just a perfect blend of sound and visual, it really brings out the pumped up excitement you get every time you hear this rock classic.

3. When The Levee Breaks (from Led Zeppelin IV (1971))

This one is all about the drums!! John Bonham was one of the hardest hitters in all of rock and the drum sound on this track is just HUGE!! It’s no wonder the drum breaks on this were so readily sampled by the emerging DJ’s and producers of the 1980s hip hop scene. The song itself is actually a cover of an old blues track by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy but their version doesn’t groove like this. Alongside the almighty sound of the rhythm section are layers of slide guitar and harmonica and everything is given a sludgy, trippy kind of feel. Worth listening to as loud as possible but also be sure to check it out through headphones – the panning of the track at the end of the song sounds amazing swirling around your brain.

2. Ramble On (from Led Zeppelin II (1969))

An incredible song that perfectly encapsulates the aspects that make Zeppelin so amazing – lush sounding acoustic folk in the verses, explosive rock in the chorus, this one is the perfect bridge between the sounds of their debut and what was to come next on Led Zeppelin III (1970). Lyrically it borrows from the imagery of J.R.R. Tolkien, in particular Lord Of The Rings but linking it to the feeling of being out on the road. Interestingly, although it makes you feel like Robert Plant is talking about touring and moving on to the next place to find something new, it’s a song they never played live!! A special mention must be made to John Paul Jones’ bass playing on this one, it’s absolutely brilliant and he’s someone who’s contributions often go overlooked when compared to the other members of the band. An essential listen, check this and it’s parent album out and you won’t be disappointed.

1. Stairway To Heaven (from Led Zeppelin IV (1971))

Perhaps the most obvious choice I could make for their best ever song but sometimes obvious is just right. That’s very much the case in this instance. It was the first song I ever heard by them (in fact the first version I heard was by a band called Far Corporation from 1985 – it’s awful!!), I loved it from that very first listen and still do hundreds of spins later. It’s the perfect example of how to do a rock ballad and deserves it’s place as being one of the all time greatest songs. Amazingly it’s universally known despite not being released as a single in most countries (including the UK). Every member of the band is at the top of their game here but it’s Jimmy Page who steals the show. His guitar solo is a thing of beauty, often voted the best ever and just captures a master at his zenith. The song is eight minutes of required listening to anyone with even a remote interest in music and if it’s new to you then be prepared for it to start you on the path to Led Zeppelin being one of your new faves.

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