Zeppelin Power Rankings
Led Zeppelin erupted at a time of super-groups, and through luck, gifted songwriting, stunning live performances, and arguably some genius marketing by manager Peter Grant, they became the biggest rock band of any era. At odds with the press they became reclusive, which ultimately added to the band’s growing mystique.
Former Yardbirds guitarist Jimmy Page would be the centerpiece of the Led Zeppelin, and would produce as well. A young and then unknown vocalist Robert Plant would unleash one of the more unique voices in rock history. The stoic brilliance of bassist John Paul Jones, who had worked on and off with Page for years, would be the band’s quiet anchor, while drummer/beast, John Bonham would be its thunderous and pummeling propulsion.
Much of the legend of Led Zeppelin would surround Grant building the Zeppelin brand through elusiveness that early press outlets inadvertently created for the band. Interviews and access would be greatly limited, and the band would parlay that side by side with its masterful musical output to become larger than life.
No band could ever again achieve such heights in this age of easy access, rampant technology, and DIY social networking. Led Zeppelin was a beast, and as testament to their legend and their music, they remain icons to the nth degree. With this in mind we endeavor to rank the band’s limited output; a mere nine studio efforts due to the tragic death of Bonham.
1. Led Zeppelin II (1969)
After a year of aggressive touring in support of its debut record, the band released its heaviest album that fall. Some more blues riffs were copped here (and later credit was appropriately given) as on the first record, but with the band spending the entire year on stage, there was more of an edge and it came through in the spontaneity and weightiness of the album. Classic songs like “Heartbreaker”, “Ramble On”, “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)” , “Moby Dick” and “Thank You” pack the album, as well as the massive anthem, and– Best song: “Whole Lotta Love”.
2. Led Zeppelin (1969)
Initially panned by Rolling Stone magazine upon its 1969 release, “Led Zeppelin” has since heralded by the magazine, placing it at 29 on its list of best albums of all time. The record features classic tracks like; “Dazed and Confused”, which would later become the centerpiece of the band’s live effort, “The Song Remains the Same”; “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”; and “Good Times, Bad Times”. Much of the album is steeped in classic blues influences and the album includes two Willie Dixon standards. Best song: “Communication Breakdown”.
3. Untitled (1971)
Often called “IV”, “Four Symbols” or “Zoso”, the band’s fourth effort would prove to be its seminal work, though arguably not its best. This is due in no small part to the mammoth hit “Stairway to Heaven”, a song every young guitarist learned before any other it seemed. Also included were hits like “Rock and Roll”, and “Black Dog”, as well as timeless works, “When the Levee Breaks” and “Going to California”. Best song: “The Battle of Evermore”.
4. Physical Graffiti (1975)
Another two-year gap between records yielded a double album of current material and songs left over from as far back as 1970. Great White vocalist Jack Russell hails this as the band’s best album. This record marked the first crack in the band’s façade as Jones took leave from the band for a short period and contemplated quitting. Some of the band’s brilliance shines through on “The Rover”, “The Wanton Song”, “Trampled Under Foot”, “Ten Years Gone”, and “In My Time of Dying”. Best song: “Kashmir”.
5. House of the Holy (1973)
With its fifth album, Zeppelin would continue to push the envelope of its sound, as evidenced by songs like “Dy’er Mak’er” and “The Crunge”. Fans loved it though, and songs like “Over the Hills and Far Away”, “The Ocean”, “The Song Remains the Same” and “Dancing Days” remain favorites. The band had so many great songs here that the title track did not even make it on the album, and was pushed to “Physical Graffiti”. This marked the first time it took the band two years between records. Best song: “No Quarter”.
6. Led Zeppelin III (1970)
The recording for this record began only three months after the release of its predecessor, and would see a marked change in the band’s approach. Unlike “Led Zeppelin II”, the band had time to hole up and write, which they did at a little cottage called Bron-Yr –Aur. Songs for this and the next album would be penned here, and Led Zeppelin III would see more of a folk influence and substantially more acoustic moments. Many fans were put off at first, but over time the album has become a classic though they had more to do with the band’s status then perhaps the music. There are great tracks here like “Tangerine”, “Gallows Pole”, “Celebration Day”, and “Since I’ve Been Loving You”. Best song: “The Immigrant Song”.
7. Presence (1976)
The band’s seventh album came just a year later, and many consider it to be a rush job. Plant was recovering from an auto accident and calls his vocal work “pretty poor. It sounds tired and strained.” There is a certain spontaneous and bombastic feel to the record, and Page pretty much manhandled this record while Plant recouped. The entire recording process lasted only 18 days. The album cover was terrible and song-wise there isn’t much to recommend it. Of the seven tracks, only Candy Store Rock” and “Achilles Last Stand” elevate the record. Though the latter is easily one of the band’s best songs ever. Best song: “Achilles Last Stand”.
8. In Through the Out Door (1979)
A more appropriate title might have been, “The End is Nigh”: In the three years since the band’s last effort, rock started giving way to disco and new wave. Led Zeppelin was reeling from the death of Plant’s son. Bonham and Page were addled by alcohol and drug abuse. Because of this Plant and Jones created much of this record, where in the past Page had been the leader. In hindsight this is really Plant’s first solo effort. Songs like “All of My Love” and “Fool in the Rain” had less to do with the classic Zeppelin sound than the one Plant would usher into the 80s. Best song: “Carouselambra”.
9. Coda (1982)
Released two years after the band’s demise and the death of drummer John Bonham, it is Zeppelin’s swansong, and really does not count as an official studio effort at all. This is merely a collection of album outtakes from the band’s dozen year career. Not even worth owning unless you are a diehard fan. Best song: “Bonzo’s Montreux”.
Few fans are more passionate than Led Zeppelin fans. What are your thoughts? How would you rank the albums? Sound off below.