For me, Led Zeppelin are the greatest rock band that ever walked the Earth. By extension of that, they are also one of the greatest musical acts of all time. Because they were only around for a few years, it means that nearly the entirety of their output is solid gold and so picking a top 15 proved very difficult, so please don’t take it personally if your favourite didn’t make the cut, as chances are I really wanted to include it, too.
- Kashmir - (Physical Graffiti – 1975)
For starters, let’s begin with one of Led Zeppelin’s most iconic songs, and one of the most well-known guitar riffs in rock music. The near-nine-minute epic took the band around three years to write and once it had been recorded it was performed at nearly every single concert. Its sheer brilliance is only slightly overshadowed by its length, which I think could do with being trimmed slightly (unlike a couple of their other epics that have found their way onto the list, lower down…)
- Over the Hills and Far Away - (Houses of the Holy – 1973)
Many of Zep’s songs start slow, with a folksy, acoustic vibe before building to a crescendo of screaming electric guitars and screeching vocals. ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ is one such song and it’s the reason I love it so much. It has a similar structure to ‘Stairway to Heaven’, but without the sheer and utter mastery that is on display with that classic … I like to think of it as an excellent sequel, just not as good as the first (a Scream 2 if you will).
- Bring it on Home - (Led Zeppelin II – 1969)
Once more we have the slow start building to a crescendo that Zep do so well (although, it’s actually a cover – technically speaking -- however it is filled with so much original Page and Plant goodness that it doesn’t really count as a cover, in my opinion). At the start of ‘Bring it on Home’, it’s easy to mistake it for a ‘filler’ track; a song that is a bit odd and seems to only be included to make up the run time … how wrong you’d be. If you stick with the song, you’ll be seriously air guitaring before the final chord has been ‘twanged’.
- Communication Breakdown – (Led Zeppelin – 1969)
One of the more famous songs Zep did, and one that has featured on many TV shows and films throughout the decades since its release. It’s a hard-rocking two-minute belter with a blistering central riff that has inspired many, including The Ramones. Led Zeppelin have two main types of song, the simple hard-rock/metal belters and the long epics that show off their diverse styles and experimentation … this is a prime example of the former.
- Immigrant Song – (Led Zeppelin III – 1970)
You may not recognise the title, but boy will you know the song (as it has been featured in everything from School of Rock to Shrek 3). Zep often sang about mythology, whether it was real or imagined (as with their complete obsession with Tolkien) and this song features heavily images from Norse mythology. The song is built around a strong, repeating riff and Plant’s high-pitched, building scream before the evocative and fantastical lyrics paint a Beowulf style epic.
- Good Times, Bad Times (Led Zeppelin – 1969)
Here we have the song that announced Led Zeppelin to the world. The first song on their first album; this three-minute rocker (often paired with ‘Communication Breakdown’) demonstrated to the world that a new hard-rocking, blues inspired, borderline heavy metal band, were here and ready to blow the collected socks off the world.
- Dazed and Confused (Led Zeppelin – 1969)
Talking of their blues roots, ‘Dazed and Confused’ is where their blues beginnings are fully displayed to the world. The song oozes blues and has become one of their most loved songs. Although not an original Zep composition, they did what they always did with other’s material and put enough of their own sound on it that it almost becomes a new song entirely.
- Whole Lotta Love - (Led Zeppelin II – 1969)
Known to millions around the country as the Top of the Pops theme tune, this song can actually split opinion amongst the Zeppelin faithful. James, for example -- although not a Zeppelin mega-fan like myself -- doesn’t care for ‘Whole Lotta Love’ because of the long, breathy, moany bit in the middle, however he just doesn’t get it. I never got on with the song because of that, either, until one day … I did. That section represents a naughty tryst with the excellent guitar solo at the climax (one of my favourite solos ever) is a literal climax … if you catch my drift … Wink, wink, nudge, nudge …
- The Rover - (Physical Graffiti – 1975)
As I completed this list, I got my vinyl copy of Physical Graffiti out and stared at the back, thinking to myself how in Hell would I pick any songs from it … we’ve had one, and there’s another on the way, but I knew I had to include more. Should I pick ‘Houses of the Holy’, ‘Trampled Under Foot’, ‘In the Light’, or ‘Down by the Seaside’? It was so hard, but in the end, I had to settle for ‘The Rover’ which is one of my personal favourites. If you want a rollicking good time, then slip on a copy of this track as the drums from John Bonham (the best drummer in the world, I will fight you if you say otherwise … especially if you say Phil Collins …) are mesmerising on this song. It’s rock music as its finest.
- Black Dog – (Untitled/Led Zeppelin IV – 1971)
As the rest of this list will prove, I adore Led Zeppelin’s 4th album and although I tried not to be biased, it was really difficult as I worship every song on it and had to stop myself from putting all eight of them on this list … I managed to restrain myself to four … ‘Black Dog’ opens the album and announces to the listener that their life will never be the same again. This song practically blisters your ears as it rips through you with that incredible central groove, before constantly keeping you on your toes as the rhythms shift and change throughout. It’s glorious, and although appears relatively simple, is an absolute masterpiece.
- Ramble On - (Led Zeppelin II – 1969)
I remember when I first heard this song (I was around 14, probably); I was obsessed with Tolkien, which I had in common with Zep, though without realising it, until, whilst listening to this song, I thought I heard the words ‘Gollum’ and ‘Mordor’ and felt I must be going insane … a quick Google search proved I was in fact not going insane and Zeppelin had a famous obsession with The Lord of the Rings and many of the songs contain references to Dark Lords, Ringwraiths, and even the Misty Mountains. I love ‘Ramble On’, not just because of its Tolkien references, but because it is more melodic than what had come previously in their career and demonstrates all four of the band at their simplistic best.
- In My Time of Dying - (Physical Graffiti – 1975)
We get to our last song from Physical Graffiti and I assume it’s no surprise that I choose ‘In My Time of Dying’, what with my recorded penchant for Zeppelin’s long epics, and they don’t really come longer or more epic than ‘In My Time of Dying’, which clocks in at just over eleven minutes (there is one Zep song longer). Although, in actual fact a gospel staple, the band put their own bluesy, rock swing to it and created an absolute masterwork. The drums are instantly memorable and Plant’s vocal work is some of the best he ever produced, which is saying something, as he is quite possibly the greatest rock vocalist of all time (with Freddie Mercury being the only one who could possibly trump him).
- When the Levee Breaks – (Untitled/Led Zeppelin IV – 1971)
Here we have another epic (clocking in at around seven minutes) that is also a slight cover of a classic blues song, but again, Zep put their own twist on it so that it almost sounds completely different to any other version that has come before. Again, showcasing John Bonham’s incredible work with two sticks, his drumming on this track has been sampled widely across multiple genres, including heavily in Hip Hop.
- Going to California – (Untitled/Led Zeppelin IV – 1971)
Here we have Zeppelin at their most acoustically melodic and wow can they do it as well as hard-rock. ‘Going to California’ details a supposedly real-life trip that Robert Plant and Jimmy Page made to California in the hope of meeting Plant’s idol, Joni Mitchell. Although Plant has said the lyrics can be embarrassing at times, it is a nice reminder that everyone was 22 once and full of romance and idealism, which is what this song so beautifully captures.
- Stairway to Heaven – (Untitled/Led Zeppelin IV – 1971)
Anyone even remotely familiar with me or the blog will have known from the very start that this song would be sitting firmly at number one on this list, as it is my favourite song of all time (although ‘Graceland’ is currently on top of the list on the About Us page … I go back and forth). ‘Stairway to Heaven’ still gives me chills when I hear it, and if I put it on right now it would probably be for the 85,000th time in the past ten years. A song that clocks in at over eight minutes never once gets dull. It is a prime example of what I spoke about earlier: it starts melodic and sweet as if you could be sat by the fire side in a remote cabin near a Scottish loch with a glass of whiskey in your hands … then the glass breaks and the cabin explodes into flames as a pit from the depths of hell opens and the Devil’s minions stream forth with electric guitars in hand as Jimmy Page splits open his amp and Plant tears out his vocal chords. It’s rock music at it’s very finest and although it is a victim of its own success, deep down the haters know it is the very best rock song ever recorded.
If you disagree with me and think ‘Stairway to Heaven’ is utter trash, then meet me outside and we’ll finish this properly … or you could tweet me @MugwumpBlog as I’m a bit of a coward, to be honest …