I hear the horses’ thunder
Down in the valley blow,
I’m waiting for the angels of Avalon,
Waiting for the eastern glow.
After the Yardbirds split, their founder Jimmy Page wanted to form a new band, tentatively called the New Yardbirds. His friend Keith Moon, (drummer for The Who) quipped “That’ll fall like a lead zeppelin.” And that is how the legend of Led Zeppelin began. This time for Jason’s Jukebox, it’s time to rank all 9 Led Zeppelin studio albums. Let’s meet the band:
- Robert Plant: Vocals
- Jimmy Page: Lead guitar
- John Paul Jones: Bass
- John “Bonzo” Bonham: Drums
Led Zeppelin I (1969) ****
Singles: “Good Times, Bad Times”, “Communication Breakdown”
From the very beginning, Led Zeppelin was a hit. There has never been a debut quite like this, either before or since. It doesn’t matter that “You Shook Me” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby” are actually covers. Led Zeppelin takes them and makes them their own. “Good Times, Bad Times” is a solid opening track. “Dazed and Confused is like two wizards dueling. “Communication Breakdown” is a frantic onslaught. This is a great debut.
Best Tracks: “Good Times, Bad Times”, “Dazed and Confused”, “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”
Led Zeppelin II (1969)*****
Singles: “Heartbreaker”, “Whole Lotta Love”
It’s not easy to top a debut like Led Zeppelin I, but II is the best of the “numbered” albums. To think it only took some weeks to record, between breaks during the tour for the first album. So many standards in Classic Rock radio are here: “Whole Lotta Love”, “Ramble On”, and “Heartbreaker/Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)”. “Moby Dick”, the band’s sole instrumental song, is a showcase for John Bonham’s awesome drumming, and doesn’t need lyrics to pull it off.
Fun Fact: On the original LP, the running time for “Thank You” is incorrectly listed as 3:30 due to a false fade. This was corrected in subsequent reissues.
Best Tracks: “Whole Lotta Love”, “Heartbreaker/Living Loving Maid”, “Ramble On”, “Moby Dick”
Led Zeppelin III (1970) ***1/2
Single: “Immigrant Song”
This album doesn’t have the airplay of its predecessors, but it’s still great. It’s the most acoustic of the albums so far, not discounting II’s “Ramble On” or the debut’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”.
Best tracks: “Immigrant Song”, “Celebration Day”, “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, “Gallows Pole”
Untitled (1971) *****
Singles: “Black Dog”, “Rock and Roll”
Call it 4, Signs, Hermit, whatever–this album will forever be known as a classic. Don’t dismiss “Stairway to Heaven” because DJ’s play it for bathroom breaks. And don’t let Spirit’s lawsuit for the track get more press than it deserved. “Stairway to Heaven” has much more riding on it than a short riff. “When the Levee Breaks” is an excellent cover.
Best Tracks: “When the Levee Breaks”,”Black Dog”, “Stairway to Heaven”, “Battle of Evermore” “Misty Mountain Hop”
Fun Fact: “When the Levee Breaks” was sampled by the Beastie Boys for their song “Rhymin’ and Stealin'”
Houses of the Holy (1973)***1/2
Singles: “Over the Hills and Far Away”, “D’Yer Maker”
With its beautiful cover, this album belongs in museums. It’s every bit as good as its cover. “Dancing Days” has been remade by Stone Temple Pilots, but it was already a great song before they covered it. “No Quarter” is an epic tale that starts quiet and builds to a great crescendo.
Best Tracks: “Over the Hills and Far Away”, “Dancing Days”, “No Quarter”, “The Ocean”
Fun Fact: “The Ocean” was also sampled by the Beastie Boys on their song “She’s Crafty”. “D’Yer Maker” was inspired by reggae and actually misnamed because someone misheard how Jimmy Page said “Jamaica”. The cover is inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End.
Physical Graffiti (1975)*****
Single: “Trampled Under Foot”
The longest album in the Led Zeppelin discography, and it rocks every minute. This is truly Zeppelin’s magnum opus. To hear Robert Plant talk, “Kashmir” should be their definitive song, not “Stairway to Heaven”. “Trampled Under Foot” was their funky attempt at a Stevie Wonder-style rock song.
Best Tracks: “Custard Pie”, “In My Time of Dying”, “Trampled Under Foot”, “Kashmir”, “In the Light”, “Black Country Woman”
Fun Fact: Some of the songs, like “Houses of the Holy” were intended for Physical Graffiti’s predecessor.
Presence (1976) ***
Singles: “Royal Orleans”, “Candy Store Rock”
I do like this album, so don’t let the low ranking fool you. It’s just not up to the par that Physical Graffiti set. Of all the albums, this is the one with the least “presence” (no pun intended) on Classic Rock radio. (Only Coda ranks lower, probably because it wasn’t intended to be released in the first place) But that doesn’t lessen its worth. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is Plant at some of his best wailing. “Achilles’s Last Stand” is Led Zeppelin’s longest track, and while it’s not as good as “Kashmir”, it’s worth a listen.
Best tracks: “Achilles’s Last Stand”, “Royal Orleans”, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”
In Through the Out Door (1979) ***1/2
Singles: “All My Love”, “Fool in the Rain”
This was not intended to be the finale. Robert Plant said in an interview that had Bonham not died, they would’ve made the next album harder. As it stands, it’s not a bad album to go out on, and a great improvement from Presence. Bonham died of alcohol poisoning soon after this album was released, and Plant felt that there was no reason to continue.
Best tracks: “In the Evening”, “Carouselumbra”, “All My Love”
With Bonham dead, Plant was ready to call it quits. But he saw how popular bootlegs of their previous CD’s and concerts were, so they released all the previously unreleased material left over. For leftovers, this isn’t bad. However, I like to consider In Through the Out Door to be the true finale.
Best tracks: “We’re Gonna Groove”, “Bonzo’s Montreux”
This was not the end. Robert Plant went on to a great solo career. Jimmy Page did several collaborations. You can even hear John Bonham as one third of the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, along with Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age and Dave Grohl of the Foofighters.
Here’s how I rank the Led Zeppelin discography:
7. Led Zeppelin III
6. In Through the Out Door
5. Houses of the Holy
4. Led Zeppelin I
3. Led Zeppelin IV
2. Led Zeppelin II
- Physical Graffiti
Next month, I will talk about a more recent band. It’s time to rank Muse’s discography, including their most recent album, Drones