1. Kashmir – Physical Graffiti – This is the essence of Led Zeppelin. Once you figure out the DADGAD tuning it’s easy to play. The orchestration makes this song sound otherworldly.
2. Stairway to Heaven – LZ IV – It’s all been written. What can I add?
3. Achilles Last Stand – Presence – Jimmy Page’s guitar army in full flight. I read somewhere a long time ago he did 18 guitar overdubs in one night on this song. I never got to hear this song done live, but I’m sure Jimmy was one overworked guitarist for this.
4. Heartbreaker – LZ II – This is as heavy as Led Zeppelin gets, and that’s good enough for me. John Paul Jones brings the thunder, matching JP’s riffage note-for-note. Zeppelin used to open their shows in 1972 with the one-two punch of Immigrant Song and Heartbreaker, which you can hear on How the West Was Won.
5. Immigrant Song – LZ III – Hammer of the Gods! Robert Plant and the Vikings come from the land of the ice and snow to pillage England and take all the women. Only complaint – under three minutes long, it’s too short.
6. Black Dog – LZ IV – John Paul Jones had the riff, which you can hear him play one the bass. This followed Immigrant Song and Heartbreaker in the 1972 setlists perfectly. This is a blast of heavy metal thunder equal to those two songs. There aren’t enough superlatives in the English language to describe Bonham’s playing on Black Dog.
7. Since I’ve Been Loving You – LZ III – With each successive remaster of this song, Bonham’s bass drum pedal becomes more squeaky. This is Zeppelin’s best original Chicago-style electric blues, and it’s a great one.
8. Trampled Under Foot – Physical Graffiti – Led Zeppelin’s version of Robert Johnson’s Terraplane Blues. The whole girl/car lyric reminds me of what Ian Gillan did with Deep Purple’s Highway Star. With JPJ rocking the clavinet a la Stevie Wonder, this is Zeppelin at its most funky.
9. In My Time of Dying – Physical Graffiti – A supercharged version of Blind Willie Johnson’s gospel song Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed, this is Zeppelin’s longest studio track. Great slide playing from Page. At the end Bonham yells “that’s gonna be the one, isn’t it?” An equally powerful, detuned version can be heard on Celebration Day.
10. No Quarter [live] – TSRTS – This is Zeppelin at its most trippy, thanks in no small part to JPJ’s spooky keyboards and Plant’s lyrics [“Walking side by side with death/The devil mocks their every step…”]. JP gives the wah-wah quite a workout in the live setting.
11. When the Levee Breaks – LZ IV – John Bonham’s drums were recorded at the bottom of a spiral staircase in a big Victorian house called Headley Grange. In addition to the microphones placed at different spots on the floor, another was hung from one of the upper floors over Bonham’s head.
12. The Song Remains the Same [Instrumental version] – Houses of the Holy. A long time ago I heard that JP originally intended this as an instrumental overture that segued into The Rain Song. I absolutely despise Robert Plant’s vocal on the studio original, as his voice has been vari-sped up so he sounds like his testicles are being strangled in his too-tight jeans. I always wondered how the song would sound without the vocals, and with the newly-remastered HOTH and its “companion disc” there’s the instrumental version I’ve been craving all these years. Wish granted!
13. Gallows Pole – LZ III - This is probably the most hard-rocking acoustic folk song in existence. This is Zeppelin’s version of The Maid Freed From the Gallows, an old English folk song that’s probably as old as England itself. Like the song at #2 on this list it builds up in layers: first an acoustic guitar and vocals, then JPJ’s mandolin, then JPJ’s bass, a rolling banjo played by JP, and Bonham being Bonham. The song ceases to be acoustic-only when JP adds an electric guitar made to sound more like a fiddle than a guitar. When this came out in 1970 music critics thought LZ III sounded like Crosby, Stills and Nash. When they heard this song they couldn’t have gotten that more wrong if they tried – they totally missed the point.
14. Rock and Roll – LZ IV - “All right, let’s go!” This one came out of a jam after the band tried and failed to get Four Sticks down. One of Page’s best solos. That’s Ian Stewart on the piano.
15. The Ocean – Houses of the Holy – The most unique count in to a song I’ve ever heard – “We’ve done four already and now we’re steady and then they went ‘one-two-three-four’…” A great riff.
16. Misty Mountain Hop – LZ IV - JPJ on the electric piano. Like Black Dog from Side 1, the riff is his.
17. Good Times Bad Times – LZ I – The first notes the record-buying public would hear from Led Zeppelin.
18. Custard Pie – Physical Graffiti – A crunchy riff to open Physical Graffiti, with many sexual innuendos borrowed from several blues sources. Plant’s mind was in the gutter…often.
19. Sick Again – Physical Graffiti – A great strutting, swaggering ode to groupies that closed out Physical Graffiti.
20. In The Evening – In Through the Out Door – This one has a spooky intro with JP playing something called a Gizmotron. It is JPJ’s riff on the synthesizer until JP kicks the door in with a muscular solo [the 3:43 mark]. In Through the Out Door was a mixed bag, but this song showed that Zeppelin still had it after a two-year layoff.
21. Hey Hey, What Can I Do – B-side of Immigrant Song – This song should have been on Led Zeppelin III.
22. Babe I’m Gonna Leave You – LZ I – For some, Dazed and Confused or How Many More Times are the standout tracks on the first Zeppelin album. But not me – it’s this one.
23. Ramble On – LZ II – Acoustic in the verses, electric in the chorus. The Lord of the Rings references are thrown in for good measure.
24. That’s the Way – LZ III – JP on acoustic guitar, JPJ on mandolin. More pedal steel from JP. The only percussion you hear is tambourine, courtesy of John Bonham.
25. Four Sticks – LZ IV - This is the most unusual song from the fourth album, and by “unusual” I mean “interesting.” Where did Page get the idea of playing the riff three times then eleven times alternately? This one also sounds cool with the Indian musicians on Unledded.
26. Friends – LZ III – Jimmy Page has referred to his alternate tunings as his “CIA connection” [Celtic, Indian, Arab]. This is the Indian part of the connection. In addition to the guitar tuning the orchestration takes you to a faraway place. I’ve read Page and Plant went to India in 1972 to record this and Four Sticks with local musicians. I wonder if they sound anything like what we hear on the Unledded album?
27. How Many More Times – LZ I – Given the similarity of song titles with Howlin’ Wolf’s How Many More Years, at first I thought this might have “borrowed” heavily from the Wolf, but upon closer inspection they borrowed more lyrically from Albert King [The Hunter] than they did from the Wolf. I love the transition from the bolero section into the violin bow solo. Jimmy Page knew how to record drums – here’s the proof.
28. Whole Lotta Love – LZ II – A great headphones song. Imagine Jimmy Page playing pinball inside your head with a Theremin…oh wait – he does!
29. Dazed and Confused – LZ I – “Inspired by Jake Holmes.” Who else but Jimmy Page would think to play electric guitar with a violin bow, and then throw a wah-wah on top of that? You gotta love the doom crawl of John Paul Jones’ bass. Very cool…
30. Celebration Day – TSRTS – This is a bit better than the studio version on LZ III. A nice segue from Rock and Roll.
31. Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp – LZ III – Jimmy Page has a reputation as a “sloppy” guitarist. There’s some very precise acoustic picking going on here. A live version [with Bonham on harmony vocals!] can be found on How the West Was Won.
32. Tangerine – LZ III – Just when you thought you’ve heard Jimmy Page play everything that has strings on Gallows Pole, he surprises with one more skill in his bag of tricks – the pedal steel guitar. Who would have thought an instrument normally associated with country music would appear on a Led Zeppelin album?
33. Out on the Tiles – LZ III – Jimmy Page often played the opening riff from this as the intro to Black Dog.
34. Going to California – LZ IV - The other all-acoustic song from LZ IV is ok. It would not be out of place on LZ III.
35. Bron-Yr-Aur – Physical Graffiti – originally recorded for LZ III, this short instrumental is a nice interlude between In The Light and Down By The Seaside.
36. What Is and What Should Never Be – LZ II – Led Zeppelin plays the blues. What starts with clean chords [no distortion] suddenly gets loud and crunchy with the chorus. Superb slide solo from Page played in standard tuning. Apparently it’s about an affair Robert Plant had with his sister-in-law.
37. I Can’t Quit You – Coda – recorded at the Royal Albert Hall in 1970. Ferocious – much better than the studio version on the first album.
38. The Battle of Evermore – LZ IV - In terms of quality of the eight songs on LZ IV, this one is number eight. That’s not to say this song is bad – the other seven are just better. JP had never played mandolin before he dreamed up this song. On this song, he and JPJ switch instruments [JPJ on acoustic guitar].
39. Communication Breakdown – LZ I – Manic.
40. Nobody’s Fault But Mine – Presence – And on the eight-string Alembic bass, John Paul Jones.
41. The Wanton Song – Physical Graffiti – A cool riff, a Leslie speaker and backwards echo!
42. Night Flight – Physical Graffiti – This one is fairly ordinary, but I like it anyway, probably because or JPJ’s Hammond organ. This is an outtake from LZ IV.
43. I’m Gonna Crawl – In Through the Out Door – The last song from In Through the Out Door that is a bit of a downer, but at least you can understand Plant. JPJ’s synth is just short of cheesy, but JP’s solo in the middle [the 2:41 mark] very emotional, a great example of feel over dexterity and speed.
44. Wearing and Tearing – Coda – This was recorded during the sessions for In Through the Out Door. To steal a phrase, this is ‘fast and furious.’ If it was up to me, In Through the Out Door would have ended with this song. I like to hear I’m Gonna Crawl and this one right after the other. I heard Plant and his band play it live in 1990, something Zeppelin never did.
45. The Rover – Physical Graffiti – This one started out life as an outtake from Houses of the Holy. It is as equally formidable as the song on Physical Graffiti that preceded it, Custard Pie.
46. Houses of the Holy – Physical Graffiti – Ok, I finally found out why this was left of the album Houses of the Holy – JP thought it sounded too much like Dancing Days [which I don’t care for BTW].
47. In The Light – Physical Graffiti – This track is spooky. It sounds like Page is drawing up his violin bow on the Les Paul again, with JPJ’s synthesizer sounding like whale calls. The song alternates between sounding dark and foreboding and bright and breezy.
48. For Your Life – Presence – performed live by Led Zeppelin only once – 2007.
49. The Rain Song – Houses of the Holy – This is one of the more delicate songs written and played by Jimmy Page. It’s about two minutes too long, but that’s a minor complaint.
50. Jennings Farm Blues – LZ III Companion Disc – This is an electric, instrumental version of Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp. Given the number of guitar overdubs on this, the band apparently spent quite a bit of time on this before they decided to go the acoustic route