If It Keeps On Raining: A Led Zeppelin Song Countdown

by Benjamin Ray

ledzeppelin_physicalAny serious list of contenders for top rock and roll band of all time will have Led Zeppelin at or near the top.

With each passing year, the legendary band’s catalog remains intact and influential, continuing to inspire new bands and bring on new fans, while those who grew up with the band or whose parents introduced them to the band remain lifelong fans. There have been countless imitators, there have been stories about the band’s unsavory behavior on the road at times, there have been those who feel the band is overplayed on rock radio. But strip all that away, and just focus on the music, the magic that still emanates from those notes all these years later, and you realize how special Zeppelin is.

This countdown ranks all of the recorded output from the band, other than live versions of studio songs. Every cut from the band’s nine studio albums, plus the unreleased songs from the remasters, plus the live-only tracks and that one B-side… it’s all here, ranked from least essential to most. As with all rankings, this is my personal opinion, and I will do my best to explain any choices that may not align with yours or with conventional wisdom.

Let’s crank up Physical Graffiti and have some fun.

93. “Sunshine Woman,” The Complete BBC Sessions: Buried at the end of the 3-disc Complete BBC Sessions, the sound quality is absolutely atrocious, but the song itself is a faceless blues piece anyway, redeemed maybe 5% by the harmonica solo.  

92. “(Hats Off To) Roy Harper,” Led Zeppelin III: Easily the worst song of the band’s early days, not so much for the slide acoustic guitar and lack of dynamics, but for Robert Plant’s distant howling in a corner of a bathroom somewhere. This one was not thought through, and it mars an otherwise excellent album.

91. “Sugar Mama,” Coda deluxe edition: Thank God this never made it to one of the actual albums; it’s not promising at all, but proof that Jimmy Page was human after all, I suppose.

90. “The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair,” BBC Sessions: Basically a repeated riff, Plant caterwauling, and then it’s done, this live-only cut never made it to the band’s stage shows or an album, and it’s for the best.

89. “Baby Come On Home,” Led Zeppelin box set 2/Coda deluxe edition: Zep-by-numbers, the sort of plodding blues exercise they quickly outgrew.

88. “Key To the Highway/Trouble in Mind,” Led Zeppelin III deluxe edition: A cousin to “Roy Harper,” marginally less annoying, just as inessential.

87. “La La,” Led Zeppelin II deluxe edition: Clearly a work-in-progress jam, heavy on the keyboards and acoustic guitar, sounding more like a dry run for Led Zeppelin III and a way to burn off some steam, but featuring a surprisingly good Page guitar solo midway through.

86. “Jennings Farm Blues,” Led Zeppelin III deluxe edition: A fun instrumental electric number without a point, and one that was fairly radically reworked acoustically as “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” not long after.

85. “Moby Dick,” Led Zeppelin II: I’m not anti-drum solo, to a point, but this has all the feeling of a space filler on an album that was banged out on the road while touring. Part of that schedule is what led to Led Zeppelin II being considered a classic in some quarters; I don’t share that sentiment, and this song is the first reason why. Bonham shone more when his work was integrated with the band, less so by himself.

84. “Darlene,” Coda: As mediocre and plain as Zeppelin ever got, and proof that their best days were behind them in 1980.

83. “Ozone Baby,” Coda: See #85.

82. “10 Ribs And All / Carrot Pod Pod,” Presence deluxe edition: A John Paul Jones piano solo for three minutes, then a slow band jam for the other three, with a sort of heroic sound that recalls the end of “Layla.” It never went anywhere, but it has the sort of feeling that would end up on In Through the Out Door a couple years later.

81. “Night Flight,” Physical Graffiti: There was bound to be some padding on the band’s only double album, and to me this one is one of the few times Zeppelin sounded disposable and lightweight, completely at odds with the entire first half. There’s something to be said for diversity, but the band had already proven it could balance epic with approachable.

80. “Hots On for Nowhere,” Presence: So much was going on personally with the quartet in 1977 that the songwriting was bound to suffer; a listen to Presence shows that most of the songwriting cachet was spent on two of the seven songs, and it’s the album that heralds the end of their creative zenith. I can’t think a song like this would have passed quality control in 1971.

79. “St. Tristan’s Sword,” Coda deluxe edition: Of all the treasures on the three-disc Coda remaster, this is probably the best one, an instrumental jam that’s loose yet heavy, a longstanding Page credo. I suspect it was one of those latter-day tracks that would have appeared on the next Zeppelin album had there been one, with vocals and a proper structure, but it’s still a gem for longtime fans.

78. “White Summer,” BBC Sessions: Page would combine this with “Black Mountain Side” in concert as an acoustic and/or quieter showcase for his picking skills. It can be easy to forget that, for all his mighty riffage, Page was very adept in the quieter and more nimble moments.

77. “Candy Store Rock,” Presence: As noted, the band just sounded tired on half of Presence, so this half-hearted bummer sounds like it’s going through the motions.

76. “Royal Orleans,” Presence: Zeppelin proved from time to time that they could poke fun at their image; for every “Kashmir,” you had short fun songs like “The Crunge” and this one, about an unfortunate encounter Jones had in New Orleans.

75. “We’re Gonna Groove,” Coda: A very old song that somehow never made it to an album, although the band did play it live in those early club days before the West was won. It’s more interesting for that fact than for what it has to offer; it’s a rave-up, and that’s not what early Zeppelin was all about.

74. “Travelling Riverside Blues,” BBC Sessions: From the same school as “Roy Harper,” but this time Plant’s vocals are better integrated into the mix, the slide guitar is strong and the song achieves an easy, loping charm. Far from essential, but worth dusting off once in a while.

73. “The Lemon Song,” Led Zeppelin II: Zeppelin needed a couple of albums to break away from blues covers and distill what they had learned into their own songwriting, and so those long, loud blues songs tend to be worst parts of the first two records. Yes, this has the infamous “squeeze my lemon” bit, but what else have you got?

72-71. “Black Country Woman,” Physical Graffiti & “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman)”, Led Zeppelin II: File these under songs with questionable attitudes toward females and less-than-superior-but-still-fun songwriting.

70. “The Wanton Song,” Physical Graffiti: The song oozes decadence, which I suppose is appropriate for the time, but it seems more of a sneer and less of a statement.

69. “Hot Dog,” In Through The Out Door: Jones is clearly having a blast on this one; in fact, he dominates much of the parent album, but this is one of the two tracks that initially made it into the band’s live playlist. It’s a trifle, but a stomping barroom-piano-pint-of-ale trifle.

68-67. “You Shook Me,” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” Led Zeppelin: The two blues covers on the debut album are the weakest songs; sandwiched between classics, they just play as one more white British guy playing the blues, albeit in a harder and heavier way.

66. “South Bound Suarez,” In Through the Out Door: The band of the final proper album leaned harder on Jones’ piano than had ever been done, which ended up in unusual but entertaining mishmash songs like this one. A barroom piano that pounds buts up against Page’s snarling guitar, and it’s difficult to know what to make of the track when it ends.

65. “Sick Again,” Physical Graffiti: Basic, no-frills, hazy ’70s rock, of the same school as “The Wanton Song” on the closing chunk of the album and about half of Aerosmith’s output around the same time period.

64. “Your Time Is Gonna Come,” Led Zeppelin: A church organ opens the second half of the album after “Dazed and Confused” fades away, letting in a bit of sunlight with the harmony vocals. It’s a micro-version of the “light and shade” that Page infused into “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” on the flip side of the record.

63. “Bring It On Home,” Led Zeppelin II: Half a blues crawl, half a rocker; much like the Moody Blues’ “Question,” the guys couldn’t decide on one approach, so they jammed one song into the middle of another. Neither is great on its own, but the rock portion is superior and a decent way to close the album.

62. “Tangerine,” Led Zeppelin III: The foray into acoustic rock that made up the second half of this album was a necessary evolutionary step for the band, and arguably the single moment that allowed them to stay creatively vibrant to record their next three stunning albums. “Tangerine,” while pleasant, is less necessary than the other songs, and not one that has been often revisited in live shows or solo projects.

61. “D’yer Mak’er,” Houses Of The Holy: Why not reggae? They’d done everything else at that point. This is about the only song inspiring love or hate on an otherwise consistent album, so really, your mileage may vary. I can live without it, even if I can appreciate its charms.

60. “Something Else,” BBC Sessions: Anyone who says Zeppelin isn’t fun needs to listen to this live cut, played only for the BBC and easily one of the band’s most fun live offerings. It’s barely over two minutes, with pounding piano and precious little structure, making it the antithesis of, say, a live 18-minute slog through “Dazed and Confused.”

59. “Black Mountain Side,” Led Zeppelin: Everything good about “White Summer” distilled into three minutes.

58. “I’m Gonna Crawl,” In Through The Out Door: Crawl is an apt metaphor for the stuck-in-the-mud feel of this song, but when you’re in the right mood, you can really appreciate it.

57. “Four Sticks,” Untitled: Long considered the weakest song on an otherwise classic album, this low-end burner is still a fine slice of hard rock and a necessary part of the album’s fabric.

56. “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” Led Zeppelin box set, “Immigrant Song” B-side: Continuing the acoustic theme of Led Zeppelin III, this one would have been a much better song to end that album than the terrible “Roy Harper,” and this one remains a staple of classic rock radio. It just works.

55. “Carouselambra,” In Through The Out Door: Unfairly slagged because it lacks guitars, this Jones epic attempts to meld the multi-part long song format with keyboards, which were all the rage in the late ’70s. It may not be a great song, but it strives to be different, and as noted this is one of the facets of Zeppelin that set them apart from their peers and followers.

54. “Tea For One,” Presence: A slow crawl of a blues, less affecting than their other entries in this genre, but an anguished trip around the murk worth checking out, not least because the band had actually dealt with some stuff at this point and were writing from a place of authenticity.

53. “What Is And What Should Never Be,” Led Zeppelin II: Basic rock both light and shady, less dramatic than other entries in this genre, and proof that even this early the band refused to be pigeonholed as lunkheaded hard rock. Songs like this are why the band endures; it was difficult for other bands to create this sort of atmosphere and sound but still rock.

52. “Out On The Tiles,” Led Zeppelin III: Feels like something of a leftover compared to the other songs on the album; in concert, the band would only play the opening riff and then segue into “Black Dog.” But the falling-down-the-stairs riff and the faintly swinging vibe of Bonham’s drums save what would otherwise be generic. Points off for the meandering ending, which seems like a way to fill album space.

51. “Boogie With Stu,” Physical Graffiti: Alright, this one may divide fans, but nothing else in the band’s catalog sounds like this. Snappy percussion and a barroom piano basically drive the song under Plant’s overdriven vocals and a mandolin solo. Cleary the guys having some fun and letting off steam in between guitar epics (there’s not a guitar in sight on this one), and a fun detour on an album full of them.

50. “The Crunge,” Houses Of The Holy: Similar to “Boogie With Stu,” this is the band trying out another genre—stiff British white-boy funk—and reminding listeners that a well-rounded rock band can do many things. It’s not a great song, of course, but dammit, it’s fun. I also get a kick out of the “Where’s that confounded bridge?” spoken line that ends the song, which makes no sense at all. 

49. “Walter’s Walk,” Coda: A punchy rocker and one of Coda’s best songs, with some ferocious Bonham drumming. I suspect songs like this were how Zeppelin was responding to punk, and it would have been interesting to see a full album in this style as the band adapted to the ’80s. It’s not essential listening but the energy and drumming pushes it higher in the list than one would expect.

48. “In The Evening,” In Through The Out Door: This was Zeppelin’s official entry into the new wave sweepstakes, bringing keyboards to the fore as much as guitar in an attempt to shed that “dinosaur” tag that punk had bestowed on the old gods. It’s a bit repetitive and overlong for what it offers, but the solo is great and the spacy mid-song instrumental breakdown is a nice touch.

47. “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” Coda: One wonders why the band would include a song they’d already released on Led Zeppelin, even on a clearinghouse posthumous album, but one listen to this revved-up version shows why. Recorded live during a soundcheck, this shows a louder and more confident band (Page, in particular, shreds like a beast) that had only gotten better since their founding. To me, it’s their definitive take on the Dixon blues song, far outstripping the now-tame version on the debut.

46. “Ramble On,” Led Zeppelin II: It pains me to put this so high; classic rock radio has ruined this song for me. But it’s a fan favorite, and—akin to “What is and What Should Never Be”—mines a lighter touch (the brisk tapping percussion) in its verses before the harder-rocking chorus. The Tolkien allusions are in full force here, if that’s your thing, and the songwriting in general already shows a jump ahead of the debut album.

45. “Down By The Seaside,” Physical Graffiti: A lightly-country rock ballad of sorts, reflective and wistful, but then blossoming into a great midsection. A forgotten gem from this album; Plant and Tori Amos would cover it years later on the Encomium tribute album.

44. “Houses Of The Holy,” Physical Graffiti: Left off the album of the same name, and wisely so, as it just wouldn’t have fit in there. The tinny guitar drags this down a notch, but otherwise it’s a fine rocker with a touch of swing.

43. “Celebration Day,” Led Zeppelin III: Chosen as the title of the band’s O2 reunion show, even though they didn’t play it, this is a fine example of the band’s early days of playing shorter, faster rockers, before the songs got long and complex and the concerts got interminable. Some people prefer early Zeppelin for this reason, and based on songs like this, it’s hard to argue.

42. “Poor Tom,” Coda: A quick song driven by a repeated drum pattern and Plant to start, then some acoustic guitar noodling. It appears to have been started as an observational folk song, but the drumming adds a different level, and the end result is… well, hard to classify. Which makes it appealing. Plus a harmonica solo! Everyone was having a good time except maybe Jones.

41. “For Your Life,” Presence: Shame this never got played live until 2007, perhaps because some see it as repetitious, but it has a decadent swagger, even if it goes on a bit long.

40. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” Presence: In-your-face blues rock, a highlight of the album and of the band’s post-Graffiti era.

39. “Gallows Pole,” Led Zeppelin III: Listeners were surprised in 1970 to flip to side B of the album and hear nothing but acoustic songs, with this one leading off. The acoustic guitar, mandolin and banjo together create a front-porch atmosphere and push the band into a new dimension, proving to the haters that power and subtlety are not mutually exclusive.

38. “The Ocean,” Houses Of The Holy: The only song of Zeppelin’s that shifts from a pounding rocker—that still finds space between the drums, instead of filling every inch of the room—to an a cappella midsection to a doo-wop party, all in four and a half minutes, and all sounding completely natural. The song has personality, that’s for sure.

37. “In My Time Of Dying,” Physical Graffiti: A 10-minute blues epic that draws you in and just locks into its groove. There’s a definite mood here; it’s not the kind of song you can half-assed listen to while you clean or putz around the house. It draws you in, when you’re ready for it. After the band split, Plant said he always wanted to revisit this song with Page and use it as inspiration, suggesting a course of songwriting that could have taken place in an alternate universe.

36. “Good Times Bad Times,” Led Zeppelin: Announcing this band as the first song on the first album, getting in and out in two minutes. It doesn’t have much of an ending, but the songwriting was nascent and the vibe was already there. Forty years later, the band would open its reunion show with this one, and suddenly the opening line “In the days of my youth / I was told what it means to be a man / Now I’ve reached that age / I try to do all those things the best I can” had more weight.

35. “Going To California,” Untitled: This album wouldn’t have worked without the sound and style of Led Zeppelin III preceding it, and songs like this are why. A necessary acoustic respite, the song is one of Zep’s finest acoustic entries and a worthy road-trip song for any mixtape.

34. “Bron-Yr-Aur,” Physical Graffiti: I know to some this seems like a short interlude between the longer songs on the album, but to classify it as such does it short shrift. This was written during the band’s Switzerland period that yielded the songs for III and it’s a beautiful solo acoustic number, pensive and thoughtful, with no showboating.

33. “Thank You,” Led Zeppelin II: A bit tentative, almost as if the band was afraid of backlash and so didn’t put all their weight behind it, “Thank You” is at heart a simple acoustic-rock love song. Can do without the false ending, the lyrics are somewhat basic, and the solo is rudimentary, but this lack of professionalism only adds to the charm and authenticity.

32. “The Rover,” Physical Graffiti: Left over from the recording sessions for the untitled fourth album, what this track lacks in dynamics (it sort of plods along) it makes up for in mood, emanating a sort of orange twilight haze that sucks you in. Much of Physical Graffiti is like that.

31. “Fool In The Rain,” In Through The Out Door: Listening to “Whole Lotta Love” and then this one feels like a very different band. Plant and Jones were in control of the band around 1979, but Bonham’s crushing groove drives the song as much as the lilting piano riff, and the Latin-infused breakdown in the middle is priceless. Few of the band’s songs sound like this, proof that they never stopped striving, inventing, finding new dimensions of light and shade, even in the twilight years.

30. “Custard Pie,” Physical Graffiti: The swaggering, decadent opener to a swaggering, decadent double album, and a much better funk tribute to James Brown than “The Crunge” was two years prior. Jones’ clavinet enhances the funk; lyrically, Plant borrows (in the honored bluesman tradition, or so I like to believe) from two much older songs, then puts an innuendo-layered, unsubtle spin on them. It doesn’t get radio play, maybe because you can probably catch herpes just from listening to it, but it’s a great one.

29. “Wearing And Tearing,” Coda: The band’s final hard rock number, a sort of unholy rock/punk hybrid, certainly the fastest the guys had played in many years. Plant wanted it released as a single as soon as it was recorded—likely, to combat the “dinosaur” claims, as noted earlier—but that didn’t happen, and the song was consigned to appear on Coda after the band had called it a day. It’s ripe for rediscovery, if you’re not in the know.

28. “Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You,” Led Zeppelin III: A great slow blues number, with Jones’ keyboards adding flair to Page’s molten guitar, featuring one of his most stellar solos to boot. Plant is in fine form as well.

27. “Black Dog,” Untitled: Loud but surprisingly tricky, featuring a massive riff, but the song works because of the tradeoff between the riff and the vocals. There are a lot of stop/starts in this manner, so that when the whole band comes in ready to punch, the release of the tension is climactic. Lots of bands are loud, but not all of them are creative enough to pull off a song structure like this AND melt your face.

26. “All My Love,” In Through The Out Door: As sad and vulnerable as Plant ever got on record, making all those citrus and custard double entendres from albums past seem kind of silly. Losing one’s child is a pain no parent should ever experience, and Plant beautifully weaves together a story of finding love with his family, losing his son and finding the strength to carry on, with a Greek metaphor (“Arianne” and the cloth) for good measure. All the groupies and hotels and mud sharks and drugs and Lord of the Rings references and Crowleyisms on record grooves were fine for an adolescent fantasy, but this was real life, this was pain, this was authentic. It’s not an easy listen, much like Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven,” but it’s a powerful song.

25. “Friends,” Led Zeppelin III: Things get a little weird here in this hippie haze, where voices float in and out, someone strums a catchy acoustic guitar part and Plant sings about trading a smile with someone who’s blue, now. It’s one of the very few times that he sounded like part of the hippie movement; only one year later, he’d be making fun of it with “Misty Mountain Hop.”

24. “Communication Breakdown,” Led Zeppelin: Raucous, youthful and fast, reminders to the punks of what Zeppelin used to be before they slowed the tempo down to write epics.

23. “Ten Years Gone,” Physical Graffiti: I once dismissed this song as minor, questioning its inclusion on the brief Latter Days compilation (this was before Spotify, when people bought CDs), but I’ve come to appreciate its approach. Acoustic gives way to electric; thoughtful, nearly a cappella verses give way to muscular choruses; and the song becomes a graceful, original work of rock art. It doesn’t really work live because it loses subtlety that way.

22. “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp,” Led Zeppelin III: This song is a hoot. Bonham is having a blast stomping whatever he is stomping, Plant sings with a gleam in his eye and Page dances on his acoustic guitar. Few if any Zeppelin songs are this much fun; maybe “The Crunge,” “Hot Dog” and “Black Country Woman” are close, but this is better written and less gimmicky.

21. “Dazed and Confused,” Led Zeppelin: An early example of the sludgy but appealing take on the blues that Page was going for, the song also proved to be a vehicle for showboating, and as such its power has been diluted a bit over the years. The original song doesn’t really get good until about halfway through, when the tempo goes into overdrive and Page’s guitar cries out with his quick hammer-ons. It’s a special kind of dark magic, one that Page ruined in concert by whipping out a violin bow and farting around for 10-15 minutes every chance he got.

20. “Whole Lotta Love,” Led Zeppelin II: Docked to the 20 spot because of the interminable, pointless, wordless midsection that separates the first and last sections, which are classic, balls-out rock of the highest order. I get that Page was flexing his producer muscles and was very proud of himself after creating it, but that doesn’t make it any easier or more pleasant to listen to. Remove that, and you’re up several notches.

19. “Over the Hills and Far Away,” Houses of the Holy: A fan favorite if there ever was one, regardless of age or gender. Acoustic guitar players love trying to learn the opening riff, which gives way to a pleasant but insistent electric second half and some subdued Plant vocal work. It’s electric British folk, I suppose, but for normal people who don’t want to keep up with Bob Dylan’s nasal, wordy ramblings.

18. “Heartbreaker,” Led Zeppelin II: Fantastic riff, not as much of a fantastic song, with little dynamic changes between the chorus and verse, until the octave changes and then Page’s freaky solo section (first by himself, then over a racing rhythm section) saves the song.

17. “The Battle of Evermore,” Untitled: Several cool things about this one; the mandolin, the eerie Tolkien folk vibe, the presence of an outside musician (singer Sandy Denny, adding female backup vocals behind each line Plant sings). Plant and Page would do a great version of this on their 1994 Unledded project; the Wilson sisters of Heart would also do an awesome live take, as The Lovemongers, that appears on the Singles soundtrack. The band had fully evolved by their classic fourth album, and this is proof of that; it’s part of what makes the album so special.

16. “How Many More Times,” Led Zeppelin: Like a couple other songs on this list, “How Many More Times” would benefit from having part of its bloated middle section trimmed, because the first three minutes and final two minutes are utterly fantastic. One of Page’s best riffs rides shotgun over Bonham’s crashing cymbals in a pulse-racing blues gallop that ends the debut album with a flourish; if only some of the wails and noodling in the middle had been cut. To be fair, nobody really sounded like this in 1969, and Zep’s songwriting would rapidly improve. But man, that main riff is really something.

15. “Misty Mountain Hop,” Untitled: Jones and Page co-lead the riff on this one over Bonham’s hefty yet swinging drum pattern, underneath a rather interesting vocal that both pokes fun at the hippie movement and questions one’s identity. Plant seems to reject the drugs and ethos of the movement and instead embraces going to find one’s true self (using the Misty Mountains from Lord of the Rings as a metaphor).

14. “In The Light,” Physical Graffiti: In which the band embraces Eastern mysticism as a basis for songwriting, exploring new sonic territory. It takes about three minutes for the rest of the band to come in—Jones and his droning keyboards own the song opening, under Plant’s weirdly-tracked multiple vocal—and the rest of the song is a confident but low-key rocker. There’s a lot to rediscover, and since radio and hits collections ignore this one, it remains a reward for those who search.

13. “Dancing Days,” Houses of the Holy: Captures the vibe of a warm summer evening, when your only concerns are being young and drinking and dancing and getting laid and just, like, relaxing, man. Never understood the “tadpole in a jar” line, but it’s irrelevant to enjoying the muscular hard rock. Page’s riff is particularly in your face, blaring out of the speakers like a siren.

12. “The Song Remains The Same,” Houses of the Holy: Following up the masterpiece of a fourth album was going to be difficult, but Zeppelin pulled it off masterfully, simply because they continued to push their sound forward. The best of this album—half of it is my in Top 13—shows an almost progressive-rock tendency, an earned confidence in the playing that never gives way to complacency. The opening cut is a guitar-laden mostly-instrumental; Plant singing in his highest register during the final two vocal breaks is distracting, even a tad annoying, but the music more than makes up for it.

11. “Stairway To Heaven,” Untitled: You take the acoustic leanings that have been building up, you take the hard rock that is your stock in trade, and you mash them together with lyrics about a bustling hedgerow, and you have an instant classic. It’s overplayed. People hate it. Every school dance in the ’70s played it (which I cannot imagine, having been a high schooler in 2001 and knowing what we listened to). Plant pretty much refuses to sing it; when he acquiesced in 2007 at the reunion, he insisted that it was in the middle of the show and done without any fanfare. Legend has it he even paid an American radio station NOT to play it during a fundraising contest. But the song—and the epic solo—endures as a cornerstone of the band’s story, for better or worse.

10. “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” Led Zeppelin: Page made a comment in the band’s early New Yardbird days that he envisioned a sound that featured light and shade together in the same song, and this was the first result of his new approach. The song alternates between fast and slow sections, noise and reflection, a descending chorus and a lovely minor-key figure, taking Anne Bredon (and Joan Baez)’s original to a new level. It’s the sonic roadmap for everything that followed, more or less.

9. “Immigrant Song,” Led Zeppelin III: The best album opener in the band’s history, maybe one of the best of the 1970s, an adrenaline shot of pure rock and Plant’s wordless wails and Viking power. In and out in two and a half minutes, and you don’t know what hit you, but you need more. The song is used to great effect in Thor: Ragnarok during a climactic Asgard battle scene, as well as in School of Rock when the kids are discovering Zeppelin for the first time. Note: This is also the song that got my 10-year-old son into Zeppelin, and remains one of his current favorite songs. Zeppelin endures, man.

8. “No Quarter,” Houses of the Holy: Spooky and original, Jones takes center stage with his ominous keyboards while Plant sings in a far-off corner like a mystical watcher. The long instrumental break fits the vibe of the piece, which has an almost prog-like quality (as noted earlier) in its scope and in how the studio and tape effects are used to slow down the music and enhance the vocals. It’s also self-referential, likening the band playing rock shows to some sort of heroic epic journey. At the time, that was pretty much true. As with “Dazed and Confused,” the band would eventually stretch this to epic length on the 1977 tour; the only slightly-longer version on the ’73 tour and Song Remains the Same is just as good as the studio version, but with a better and proper ending.

7. “The Rain Song,” Houses of the Holy: The third of three prog-rock-type tunes on the album and arguably the best, “The Rain Song” is a melancholy, thoughtful song, heavy on double acoustic and electric guitars and a Mellotron that guides that song along. The drums don’t even come in until the song is more than half over, and Plant’s vocals are soulful and kept in check until close to the end, but Page is the star here as player and producer, and his restraint is admirable. This song would not have been thinkable by these guys in 1969, but in four years they had grown as songwriters to this level.

6. “That’s The Way,” Led Zeppelin III: As simple and affecting as any ballad of the decade, the song is nothing more than an acoustic 12-string guitar, a mandolin and a pedal steel guitar, which adds a layer of country to the piece. Plant’s vocals and lyrics are tender and touching, a sad tale of a kid not being able to play with the boy next door because of some unknown difference. Maybe he’s a hippie, maybe he’s gay, maybe he’s a different color, maybe he’s too sensitive and the world has no place for that, and whatever it is makes the parents of Plant’s character closed-minded. Does it have to be that way, he asks? Maybe not, but it is. You can cite all the sexual metaphors and histrionics as pure Zeppelin, but they are only part of the story; songs like this are the other part, the overlooked part, the part that turned these guys from a good band into legends.

5. “Kashmir,” Physical Graffiti: Possibly Page’s most famous riff, and the song Plant called the band’s best. Incorporating the Eastern rhythms with Bonham’s stomping, sparse drumming, the song confidently lopes through three sections, climaxing with one of Plant’s best held notes (on the word “feel”) and then returning to the first section again for the second part of the song. The lyrics concern the search for knowledge and meaning, and who can’t relate to that? Some call the song cinematic in its scope and grandeur; hard to argue with that.

4. “Rock And Roll,” Untitled: Zeppelin’s mission statement, plain and simple. No bullshit, no violin bows, no elongated solos or multi-part anthems, no folk rock. This is them hitting back at critics, saying “yeah, this is how you fucking do it, so shut up.” It could be about rock, or it could be about sex, and it honestly doesn’t matter.

3. “Achilles’ Last Stand,” Presence: The band’s last great song, a wounded howl of still-mighty majesty from a spent force. The guys were dealing with personal issues and, thanks to a broken ankle that Plant sustained in a car crash (which partially informs the title), channeled their frustration into the song. Page simply crushes the many guitar parts; rumor has it he completed and overlaid them all in a single day, so in the zone was he on this epic. The song has taken on a deeper resonance though, considering the disaster of the ’77 tour, the drug/alcohol addiction that Page and Bonham were sinking into, the death of Plant’s son that was soon to come and, eventually, Bonham’s death in 1980. Not long after this song came out, punk, disco, new wave and corporate rock took over and bands like Zeppelin that had once ruled were now being ignored and marginalized. Plant’s primal howl that closes the song, though, ensured that the originals would never be forgotten, that they had finally become the mighty conquering heroes they always wanted to be.

2. “Trampled Underfoot,” Physical Graffiti: Any live version of this song is the highlight of the show from the band’s 1975 tour, and there are many bootlegs on YouTube on which to discover it. Although “No Quarter” was maybe more indicative of his abilities, “Trampled Underfoot” is to me John Paul Jones’ shining moment, his funky clavinet (showing a strong Stevie Wonder influence) and Bonham’s rock-solid drumming forming one of the band’s best rhythm tracks in their history. Again, the live versions prove this out more, with the band locking into a groove and riding it for nine or 10 minutes on most tracks, though it never feels that long and you don’t want it to end. Page, for his part, simply doubles the clavinet riff and then adds a quicker take at the end of certain lines (which follow standard car-as-sex metaphors, guaranteed to work as pickup lines. Try it!). In concert, of course, Page would give himself a guitar solo, but the studio track omits that and lets Jones and Bonham be the stars. “Kashmir” gets the press and the love from Physical Graffiti, but “Trampled Underfoot” is more swinging and catchy while still being a heavy rock song (for its time), a combination that very few bands have been able to master.

1.      1. “When The Levee Breaks,” Untitled: The apocalypse never sounded so appealing. A cover of a 1927 Memphis Minnie blues song about a true-life flood, the lyrics are pretty much on the nose of the slice of life one would feel waiting for the dam to burst. Plant’s wails breathe new life into the piece, though, which is then set to a pounding drumbeat (recorded in a stairwell) and snaked around by Page’s guitar and Plant’s harmonica. The song wouldn’t work as well without the studio additions of the backward-harmonica and the drum echo; the band only attempted it live a couple of times but could never capture the raw, eerie and volcanic feel of the studio version. The opening drumbeat alone is a boom of thunder that you feel in your gut, and the monolith seven minutes that follows just drags you into the abyss. It’s a masterpiece.

For a good deconstruction of both the history of “When The Levee Breaks” and the recording of it, visit https://www.loudersound.com/features/led-zeppelin-memphis-minnie-when-the-levee-breaks

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