Simone is an Italian guy who is very passionate about music. He writes classic rock album reviews.
In their relatively short career, Led Zeppelin had a massive impact on the history of rock music. From their bluesy beginnings through their more experimental later albums, their discography is filled with legendary songs.
Let's leave lawsuits and controversies aside and take a dive through their albums, arranged from worst to best according to my personal tastes. (FYI, this list only covers their studio recordings, so 1976's The Song Remains The Same—recorded July 1973 at Madison Square Garden—is not included.)
9. Coda (1982)
Best Tracks: "Poor Tom," "Walter's Walk"
Coda is not a proper album, but rather a compilation of outtakes released a couple of years after the tragic death of drummer John Bonham (September 25, 1980).
It's a strange collection of songs, ranging from a pair of tracks recorded at Royal Albert Hall in 1970 ("We're Gonna Groove" and a truncated "I Can't Quit You Baby"), to a Bonham drum showcase from 1976 ("Bonzo's Montreux"), to some very good songs from the early seventies (the folk track "Poor Tom" and "Walter's Walk"). There are also three tracks from the In Through The Out Door sessions showing a side of the band not really present in the resulting album, especially "Wearing And Tearing."
You can hear why these songs weren't used, but it's nice to have them. The low points are probably the cut version of "I Can't Quit You Baby" (yes, we already have that song on the first album, but it's a different version, so why cut it?) and the decision to not include "Baby Come On Home" or "Hey Hey What Can I Do." Those were actually added years later in remastered versions.
Ultimately, Coda is more of a curiosity than an actual album.
8. In Through The Out Door (1979)
Best Tracks: "In The Evening," "I'm Gonna Crawl"
Led Zeppelin's final proper album was probably their most controversial. After the tragic death of Robert Plant's son, Karac, in 1977, the band waited two years to get together again—and three years to release an album.
For some reason, the band's main creative force, Jimmy Page, took a step back, so In Through The Out Door clearly bears the influence of bassist and keyboard player John Paul Jones and singer Robert Plant. The most obvious example is "All My Love," Plant's beautiful dedication to his son that's driven by synthesizers and sounds nothing like classic Led Zeppelin.
Where the old sound comes out is in the opening epic, "In The Evening," and the closing blues, "I'm Gonna Crawl." However, the more experimental "Carouselambra" and "Fool In The Rain," while interesting and very well played—the drumming on "Fool" is legendary—leave a lot to be desired. Same goes for the country-tinged "Hot Dog," one of Zep's most hated songs (by the hardcores, anyway).
Read More From Spinditty
Out Door is an album by a band without a direction, which described many of the classic rock bands at the end of the seventies. Tragically, because of Bonham's death the following year, one can't help but wonder what they could have done in the next decade.
7. Presence (1976)
Best Track: "Achilles Last Stand"
Presence is another album born from a crisis. Right after the 1975 tour, Plant and his wife Maureen got in a car accident in Greece, and the singer was confined to a wheelchair for months, even while recording most of this album. Presence is probably the most urgent and "down to earth" album Led Zeppelin ever made, with just the four of them playing hard rock as a "power quartet"—no keyboard whatsoever.
This obviously left Page quite a bit of freedom when arranging his so-called "army of guitars," his signature style of overdubbing guitar tracks in an almost orchestral way. A perfect example of this is the epic "Achilles Last Stand," a 10-minute-long, unrelenting gallop that's one of their best songs ever, and without a doubt the highlight of the record.
There are a few other good tracks: "Nobody's Fault But Mine" (which they learned from Blind Willie Johnson), the melancholic "Tea For One" (almost a new version of "Since I've Been Loving You"), and the underrated "For Your Life." The rest of the album struggles to keep up the pace. Still, it's a monolithic album that needs to be (re)discovered.
6. Led Zeppelin (1969)
Best Tracks: "Communication Breakdown," "Good Times Bad Times"
Led Zeppelin's self-titled debut is one of the most revolutionary albums of rock music. So why is it so low in this list? Part of it is because most of the songs are covers and rearrangements—rarely credited—of existing material. As good as it is, the end result is not as creative as some of their later albums, even if those later albums weren't technically as revolutionary.
To appreciate this first album, you really need to like the blues, as most of the tracks are within that style (e.g., "You Shook Me," "I Can't Quit You Baby," and most of "How Many More Times"). Other highlights include their version of Jake Holmes' "Dazed And Confused," with its iconic riff and the trippy middle section where Page plays his guitar with a violin bow.
There's also their arrangement of "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You," where we can appreciate Plant's intense vocals for the first time. Finally, songs like "Communication Breakdown" and "Good Times Bad Times" show the band taking the blues in new directions. Led Zeppelin is an essential album, only partially overshadowed by what they'll do later.
5. Led Zeppelin III (1970)
Best Track: "Immigrant Song"
Usually referred to as "the folk album" or "the acoustic album," this is where Led Zeppelin tried to stretch beyond heavy blues. To be honest, the album is only half-acoustic. The first side is "classic hard rock Zeppelin," with immortal tracks like "Immigrant Song" and one of their best blues numbers, "Since I've Been Loving You," along with some other very good tracks like "Celebration Day" and "Out On The Tiles," with its weird and complicated riff.
Elsewhere, the album really goes full-on acoustic, with the Indian homage, "Friends," the cute "Tangerine," the beautiful "That's The Way," and the fun "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" dedicated to Plant's dog, Strider. And how can we forget the classic "Gallows Pole"?
Overall it's a very strong album brought down by poor sequencing. By putting most of the acoustic songs on the second side, the album feels unbalanced. In fact, after its high-energy start, Led Zeppelin III just seems to slowly fade out.
4. Led Zeppelin II (1969)
Best Tracks: "Whole Lotta Love," "Ramble On"
Released nine months after their debut, Led Zeppelin II solidified the band's sound and remains one of their strongest albums. Opening with "Whole Lotta Love" and its well-known heavy riff, LZ II sets you in the right mood. Before you know it, here's "The Lemon Song," another blues rearrangement significantly better than most of the similar tracks on their first album.
Side Two kicks off with "Heartbreaker," another track revolving around a wonderful guitar riff, and ends with "Bring It On Home," half-blues cover (Sonny Boy Williamson) and half-original Led Zep composition.
You get a John Bonham spotlight with "Moby Dick," and a wonderful romantic moment with "Thank You." That track, along with "Ramble On," preview the folk-rock sound heard on the next album. Overall, LZ II is one of the band's strongest albums, contains little filler, and while still rooted in the blues, shows a band maturing and finding their own sound.
3. Physical Graffiti (1975)
Best Tracks: "Kashmir," "In My Time Of Dying," "The Rover"
Physical Graffiti is the only double studio album by Led Zeppelin. It's also a personal favourite of yours truly, so much so that it could have been at the top of this list, were it not for a few low points. But we'll get to that.
The songs on Graffiti are both new and old, as around half were recorded in 1974, and the other half were recorded between 1970 and 1973. Unlike Led Zeppelin III, I like that the tracks are mixed up. One song might be from '74 ("In the Light"), but the next one might be from '70 ("Bron-Yr-Aur"), and this diversity in sound plays to the strengths of the band—especially Robert Plant's voice, which changed a lot through the years.
The new tracks are some of their best, with highlights including the epic "Kashmir," the equally epic and aforementioned "In The Light," the emphatic blues of "In My Time Of Dying," the melancholic "Ten Years Gone," the funky "Trampled Underfoot," and the furious "Wanton Song."
Some of the older tracks are filler-y (there's a reason these songs were outtakes). That said, "The Rover" is one of their best tracks ever, "Bron-Y-Aur" is a lovely acoustic instrumental, and "Down By The Seaside" is an underrated jam. "Houses Of The Holy" is technically the previous album's title track, but it was left off because it sounds too similar to "Dancing Days."
Physical Graffiti is one of Zeppelin's most mature albums, but it might have been better as a single album, keeping most of the new tracks and maybe "The Rover." As it is, it's still very enjoyable, and it has some of their most legendary tracks. I'll take it!
2. Houses Of The Holy (1973)
Best Tracks: "The Song Remains The Same," "Over The Hills and Far Away"
Houses Of The Holy is probably Led Zeppelin's most eclectic and varied album. They step away almost entirely from the blues, trying out multiple genres without losing their trademark sound.
The record leads off with a beautiful introductory fanfare ("The Song Remains The Same"), which goes straight into the moody and orchestral "The Rain Song," which is followed by another classic, "Over The Hills and Far Away," with its acoustic start and memorable riffs.
Other notable tracks are the epic "No Quarter," where they move into psychedelic rock, the kind of underrated "Dancing Days," and the riff monster closer, "The Ocean." Zeppelin dabbles in other genres with varying degree of success, from the James Brown-inspired "The Crunge," to the reggae-influenced "D'yer Mak'er" (pronounced "jer-MAKE-er," as in Jamaica).
Overall, Houses Of The Holy is the band's most original album, and probably their weirdest. Because of that it came very close to first place
1. Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
Best Tracks: "Stairway To Heaven," "When The Levee Breaks"
An obvious call at first place is the classic Led Zeppelin IV (aka Zoso). For the longest time my personal top two were Houses Of The Holy and Physical Graffiti, but the more I thought about it—and the more I listened—it was hard to beat the overall quality of LZ IV.
On the first side alone, you get the classic "Black Dog," followed by the energetic "Rock And Roll," then the beautiful folk track, "The Battle Of Evermore" with Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention singing with Plant. And that gets us to "Stairway To Heaven," of which there's not much to say that hasn't already been said.
By comparison, Side Two is relatively weaker, but you still get tracks like "Misty Mountain Hop" and "Four Sticks," which have some memorable riffs. "Going To California" is a nice acoustic callback to LZ III, but the album concludes with maybe the most powerful track in their entire catalogue: "When The Levee Breaks." Bonham's iconic drum sound and the track's chaotic ending, with guitars moving around the stereo, is just perfect.
IV is an obvious choice to me, but you can make a pretty good argument for any of their albums up through Physical Graffiti. However, given the sheer number of classic Zeppelin tracks on this album, I have to put it at #1.