From our partners at Consequence of Sound.
(NOTE LANGUAGE) “No ‘Stairway’? Denied?” The classic line from Wayne’s World applies unanimously here, namely because you won’t find it up ahead. Why? Well, for starters, the song never appeared once on any of our top 10s during our initial conceptualization. This proved rather humorous as we discussed our reasons for leaving it out. Some argued its legend was preceded by infinite hours of radio play, a few suggested it as a bloated rock anthem, while others simply pointed to ten other songs in Led Zeppelin’s catalog worth listening to instead. So, that’s exactly what we did, and if you happen to be a die-hard “Stairway” fan, we apologize in advance, and need only re-remind you…
10. "What Is and What Should Never Be"
The whole soft-loud-soft gimmick is an old trick that’s still favored by teenage garage rock bands across the globe. But when it works, it really works. “Gigantic,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Cut Your Hair” all tickle the spine in the right ways each time as they were originally intended. What separates those examples from “What Is and What Should Never Be” is that Zeppelin’s jam isn’t exactly a sudden punch, but an enjoyable tumble. When fans and critics point out the band’s universal chemistry, they’re usually alluding to moments like the chorus here. The way John Bonzo Bonham and John Paul Jones toss the battle horn to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant in the chorus, eventually turning the spotlight to each member’s strengths… yeah, not everyone can do that. It should be noted that this was one of the first songs to be credited to Plant, who used the opportunity to lust after his wife’s younger sister. I’d like to say, “We’ve all been there,” but my fiancée reads this site every day, too. In a word, this one’s “sexy”; in two words, it’s “sexy cool.”
9. "Heartbreaker/Living Loving Maid"
There are a lot of reasons to love a song by Led Zeppelin. For “Heartbreaker/Living Loving Maid," that reason is solely the guitar. Page is at his absolute finest on “Heartbreaker.” Over a simple chord progression, he wraps one of the most iconic guitar riffs in the history of rock and roll. Two minutes into the song, Plant screams out in a fit: “The way you call me another guy’s name when I try to make love to you!” Page’s six-string response is the only reasonable reaction to such gut-twisting heartache. We present “Heartbreaker” with “Living Loving Maid” as a pair because, for reasons the Internet has failed to adequately explain, the two have been played together on classic rock radio stations for as long as any of us can remember. “Living Loving Maid,” while a fun little ditty, wouldn’t have made this list alone. But as it stands, it’s a rocking pop tune that helps put the grandiosity of “Heartbreaker” into perspective.
8. "Over the Hills and Far Away"
The third track on Houses of the Holy, “Over the Hills and Far Away” was the album’s lead single but only peaked at No. 51 on the Billboard charts. Despite the initially lukewarm reception, the song has become a staple on classic rock radio and one of Zeppelin’s most recognizable love songs, due in large part to its folky acoustic intro. Fingerpicked on a six-string acoustic, Page overdubbed a 12-string to add harmonic resonance, a gentle prelude to the electric romp that makes up the remainder of the song. Bonham’s drums pick up speed as Plant reminisces about his past, lost romance, and what all this youthful yearning is adding up to. “Guessing ’bout a thing you really ought to know…” he sings as the instruments collapse into a blissful outro. There’s a distinct beginning, middle, and end to “Over the Hills and Far Away,” but it’s written and produced so that it doesn’t feel like disparate parts pasted together, but a fully realized composition.
7. "Communication Breakdown"
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up the guitar and just played the opening riff for sh*ts and giggles. That may sound like some dumb personal anecdote -- and it is -- but it’s also a telling one. Over the 10 years I’ve opted to not learn to play guitar correctly, I’ve kept a list of riffs I’ll never forget. This one’s on it. And for a band that’s lasted solely on its ability to rock, riffs and hooks are second to none. Well, maybe musicianship, but few will argue that about Zeppelin. Bonzo doesn’t do much here, but son of a b*tch do Page and Plant have a grand ol’ time. Wait for the big drop 1:25 seconds in and try not to pee your pants. Not saying that happens, not saying it doesn’t, either. I’ve shared too much on here, haven’t I? Oh, well.
As the ’70s progressed, so did Zeppelin (and also everyone else). You hear the sky-scraping intro to “Kashmir” and figure the whole thing will be likewise entrancing. And it is, but it takes different shapes and forms. Physical Graffiti, a double record, has two longer songs (“In the Light” at 8:47 and, more famously, the blues epic “In My Time of Dying,” which lasts 11:06), but “Kashmir” feels the longest, positively so. It just pulls you in, and you can partly chalk that up to its practically exotic idiosyncrasies, including the Open Dsus4 tuning and the Moroccan, Indian, and Middle Eastern influences. The rest of the world would have to dig if they wanted to further research these sounds, but they already had an expansive mix tape in “Kashmir.”
5. "Since I've Been Loving You"
Robert Plant and Jimmy Page were great admirers of the blues greats and the influence of artists like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf is so present in the early albums that it borders on appropriation. A song like “You Shook Me” (from Led Zeppelin I) is caught in an awkward space between doting homage and an attempt to create a new sound. The result is something of a misshapen, hybrid, super-charged blues rock that isn’t quite enough of either to cohere. On Led Zeppelin III, the band took a different route. With “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” they stripped away any aspiration to modernize the blues sound, instead sticking to the tried-and-true template that inspired them in the first place. Through simplicity, divinity is born. Slow, stately, and mannered, the track is the greatest of the outright blues-inspired Led Zeppelin songs. It’s faithful to the source without being derivative. It operates as homage without hiding Zeppelin’s true sound. It’s a template for bands experimenting with styles: seek inspiration but never lose yourself.
4. "Dazed and Confused"
Aside from its status as one of the best tracks on Zeppelin’s debut, “Dazed and Confused” is perhaps the best example of the band’s early ability to appropriate the hell out of blues standards, making others’ songs distinctly their own with little regard to copyright law or other earthly matters. “Dazed and Confused” was first written and recorded in radically different fashion in 1967 by Jake Holmes, who later sued Jimmy Page for copyright infringement, but it was Page himself who added the searing, descending blues riff -- as a member of The Yardbirds in 1968. Had he not taken that step, you’d have never heard the song before. Still, it didn’t reach peak potential until it had Plant’s signature wail and Bonham’s tumbling fills during the raucous instrumental breaks. Listen to each rendition one-by-one and it’s like an anatomy lesson on how an early Zeppelin track came to be. Oh, and a last tip: the “Dazed and Confused” riff is much simpler than “Stairway,” and as a bonus, it isn’t banned from most Guitar Centers.
3. "Good Times Bad Times"
Jimmy Page erupted one of the great album openers in rock history, “Good Times Bad Times,” with two swift and forceful strums. That’s it. The lethal snare of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” for one, ranks among the top of the list as far as instantly recognizable songs go, but any hack can smack a drum. Page’s playing for the duration of the three minutes is both instinctive and -- because we are talking about Jimmy F**king Page, here -- uniquely his. Robert Plant, too, the whole motley crew backing him, strutted with a pointed but nonchalant vocal: “Good times bad times, you know I had my share.” The song stood out on the charts among The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” and The Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing” for its hard-rock edge, peaking the week of April 19th, 1969. It would only take a few more riffs, solos, and grooves as potent as the ones here before the band raided the top of the pops.
2. "Going to California"
Here’s why I’m forever in awe of Led Zeppelin IV’s pacing: a first-time listener makes it to “Misty Mountain Top,” confronts the fact that the rest of the record can’t possibly match side 1, and is then struck with the strange reality that the last two tracks are in fact the best on the record. The first of those, “Going to California,” is perhaps the platonic ideal of a Zeppelin ballad. It doesn’t try to match the nerdcore majesty of “The Battle of Evermore” or the epic grandeur of “Stairway to Heaven.” It simply is -- a simple, aching acoustic cut that’s home to an uncharacteristically restrained Plant performance and lyrics said to have been inspired by unlikely muse Joni Mitchell. Fitting that after releasing an album literally full of acoustic ballads, Zeppelin saved the best they ever wrote for IV.
1. "Whole Lotta Love"
“Whole Lotta Love” is the best Led Zeppelin song because it exemplifies and epitomizes all of the band’s signature qualities: virtuosic guitar work, keen pop sensibilities, mystical psychedelia, and romantic bravado. Jarringly heavy, the chugging main riff is the stuff of legend and defined hard rock before the genre had a name. Add to that Plant’s wails and not-so-subtle double entendres (“I wanna give you every inch of my love”) and you’ve got the makings of a game-changer, both culturally and musically. The way the arrangement descends into a murky haze, only to emerge with a blazing guitar solo (arguably Page’s best) and a return to the melodic refrain… nobody was writing songs like this in 1969. “Whole Lotta Love” pushed pop music into more abrasive and limitless territories, signaling the end of the hippie ‘60s as long-haired kids everywhere started cranking their amps in vicarious worship of these new rock gods. The world would never be the same.
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