Led Zeppelin was formed in 1968 when guitarist Jimmy Page put together the “New Yardbirds” to finish out a contractual obligation, once the fulfilled the duties drummer John Bonham, singer Robert Plant and bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones set to work completing their first album which was released in 1969. As many British bands before them, Led Zeppelin
would take the world by storm and change the music we listened to forever, this time by pioneering the genre of heavy metal.
I was born after John Bonham died, but I never really knew that growing up. As my father’s favorite band, Led Zeppelin poured their sound out through our home stereo and in the car almost inescapably. There was a point at which I had heard Led Zeppelin III & IV so many times in the car; I didn’t think I’d ever listen to Led Zeppelin by choice. The first tape of the set would go in, and it would play in a seemingly infinite loop until suddenly it would be time for tape two. There was other music of course, but for me Led Zeppelin existed practically as if they had never quit. Over a decade passed before I would appreciate and enjoy the unique contribution Led Zeppelin made to the music world. (But please don’t tell my father!)
Here are (in my opinion) the ten best songs by Led Zeppelin:
10. “Dazed and Confused” from “Led Zeppelin (I)” –
“Dazed and Confused” is a reworked cover song that was the biggest hit of the first self-titled Led Zeppelin album, features a very memorable and dark opening of descending chords and more notably one of the first appearances of bowed electric guitar. Bowed electric guitar is a technique for where the electric guitar is played with a bow in the same way one would play a cello or violin. Led Zeppelin’s guitarist Jimmy Page is very well known for using the technique, so you can’t miss it!
9. “Whole Lotta Love” from “Led Zeppelin II” –
“Whole Lotta Love” is a rewrite of a song by Willie Dixon called “You Need Love” which would become both a legal hassle for Led Zeppelin and a great example of their sound. With a fantastic pulsing riff carried by the rhythm section, “Whole Lotta Love” climbed the charts giving Led Zeppelin their only Top 10 hit on the U.S. billboard chart (it peaked at #4), though this is largely due to the song being reworked as a single for radio play.
8. “Immigrant Song” from “Led Zeppelin III”–
“Immigrant Song” features a driving beat and lyrics that conjure up images of Vikings in search of new lands. It is a fantastic example of lead singer Robert Plant’s brilliant use of mythology in song writing. “Immigrant Song” is also one of the few songs that were specifically released as a single by Led Zeppelin, and it peaked at #16 on the U.S. Billboard Chart.
7. “All of my Love” from “In Through the Out Door”–
“All of my Love” is a track from what would be Led Zeppelin’s last album; it features a great synthesizer riff played by John Paul Jones and a powerful singing of lyrics by Robert Plant. Plant wrote “All of my Love” for his oldest son Karac who died of a stomach infection while Led Zeppelin was touring the United States.
6. “Rock And Roll” from “Led Zeppelin IV”–
Cadillac knew what they were doing when they got the rights to incorporate “Rock and Roll” into their commercials; this fast paced heavy take on 1950s Rock and Roll gets the adrenaline racing through your body. You cannot miss Page’s solo or Bonham’s drum break as the song climbs to a feverish pitch at the end.
5. “Going to California” from “Led Zeppelin IV” –
“Going to California” has a distinctly folk style to it that is in brilliant contrast to rest of “Led Zeppelin IV” which has a great deal of very heavy electric sound to it. The song offers a hint at the exploration of sound that Led Zeppelin would take on their next album “Houses of the Holy” and also has the distinction of (supposedly) having been written as a tribute to Joni Mitchell.
4. “Over the Hills and Far Away” from “Houses of the Holy” –
“Over the Hills and Far Away” has a beautiful guitar opening that explodes into a fantastic rock song with a rolling bass line. It’s a ballad, but it can only be described with the word explosive. The version that was recently released on “How the West was Won” is spectacular.
3. “When the Levee Breaks” from “Led Zeppelin IV”–
“When the Levee Breaks” is a version of a blues song originally done by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie in the late 1920s. The song was written in response to the most destructive river flood in American history (The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927). Led Zeppelin revamped the melody and rearranged the lyrics, before taking it into production which included the often sampled drum beat from Bonham. To produce the uniquely muffled effect, Bonham was placed at the bottom of a three story stairwell and the microphone was hung from the top. This song highlights the deep understanding Led Zeppelin had of the blues and the impact it had on their music.
2. “Kashmir” from “Physical Graffiti”–
“Kashmir” is said to be inspired by a trip Robert Plant took through the Sahara Desert in Morocco, and despite the fact that Kashmir is actually very far away from there and has no deserts, the song is unmistakably one of Led Zeppelin’s most famous. Jimmy Page collaborated with P. Diddy for a song in the movie “Godzilla” (from 1998) called “Come with me” that featured the famous chord progression guitar riff that is featured in “Kashmir”. “Kashmir” also has the distinction of often having been cited by Robert Plant as his favorite song by Led Zeppelin.
1.”Stairway to Heaven” from “Led Zeppelin IV” –
Although “Stairway to Heaven” is not my favorite Led Zeppelin song, it has to be #1 on this list because there’s no other place for it. “Stairway to Heaven” is possibly Led Zeppelin’s most famous work; even today it continues to be one of the most often played songs on rock radio. It is also one of the most popular songs in terms of sheet music sales, selling more than a million copies since it was published in 1971. “Stairway to Heaven” has often been voted the best rock song ever and readers of a guitar magazine even voted Page’s solo in the song to be the greatest guitar solo of all time. It is undeniably essential Led Zeppelin for any listener, although it’s likely they will find that it’s not their favorite song either.