These Are the Most Indispensable Albums of Led Zeppelin

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No band was ever quite as monolithic as Led Zeppelin. It kind of comes with the territory when your guitar player insists on wearing platform boots and a dragon-covered jumpsuit. As anyone with an old record player and a couple of doobies will tell you, their sound was just as huge as their image. In short, Led Zeppelin might be the only band where every member is (arguably?) the best at what they do. So, we’d all be doing our selves a disservice if we didn’t compile the top 5 Led Zeppelin Albums of all Time. If I were you, I’d burn some incense and listen along, because rock music doesn’t get any better.

5 Houses of the Holy

Best Tracks: “The Song Remains the Same,” “The Rain Song,” “D’yer Mak’er,” “No Quarter” One of Led Zeppelin’s most varied albums is also the one that least accentuates their standard riff-based approach. Instead, Zeppelin has eight tons of fun trying their hand at James Brown funk (“The Crunge”), dark jazz (“No Quarter”), and pop reggae (“D’yer Mak’er”). As always, there’s plenty of gargantuan guitar sounds to salivate over, like the acoustic-electric ballad “Over the Hills and Far Away.” Or the skewed minor country of “Dancing Days.” Look for an oft forgotten classic in “The Song Remains the Same,” Zep’s most high-octane epic in their impressive catalog (and Robert Plant’s most scrotum-tightening vocal performance). This record is so damn fun!

4 Led Zeppelin II

Best Tracks: “Whole Lotta Love,” “Heart Breaker,” “Ramble On,” “Bring It On Home” Also heavy on the blues rip-offs, Led Zeppelin’s second album cemented their reputation as the most gifted musical band ever. While the songs might have a tendency to start and stop, you have to forgive the wanking when you realize it was released a scant nine months after their debut. Besides, how can you deny an album that pretty much invented the template for heavy metal? Much of this has to do with the inclusion of “Whole Lotta Love,” which created the formula: rock solid riff, soaring vocals, thundering drum and bass, and fiery guitar solo. Repeat until drooling.

3 Led Zeppelin IV (or Zoso or The Runes Album)

Best Tracks: “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “Going to California,” “When the Levee Breaks” This is where most people start with Led Zeppelin. The best guitar solo of all time might have something to do with it. Of course, any album with “Stairway to Heaven” would have to make this list, even if the album has no official title. Focusing mostly on acoustic material for Led Zeppelin III, the band found comfortable and intelligent ways to fit their folk leanings into this album: the dungeons and dragons themes of “Battle of Ever More,” the beautifully floating “Going to California.” All this while still bringing plenty of classic riffs to the table from “Black Dog,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” and “Misty Mountain Hop.” This album goes to so many places, that you might be sweating by the time it’s through.

2 Led Zeppelin I

Best Tracks: “Good Times Bad Times,” “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” “Dazed and Confused,” “Communication Breakdown” Led Zeppelin’s first album was also their most raw, relying heavily on reworked blues standards (“You Shook Me,” “I Can’t Quit You Babe”). Instead of detracting from their greatness, however, it just shows how many light-years ahead they were in terms of musicianship. Jimi Hendrix might be the only person up to that point who’d ever attempted anything as startling as “How Many More Times” in its free appropriation and adaptation of everything blues. Also, the band’s originality was fully on display, even in this nescient stage. Listen to the country rock of “Your Time Is Gonna Come,” the proto-punk of “Communication Breakdown,” and the graveyard blues of “Dazed and Confused” for further proof.

1 Physical Graffiti

Best Tracks: “Kashmir,” “Trampled Under Foot,” “In the Light,” “Black Country Woman,” “Sick Again” Other Zep albums may have more hits pound for pound, but none has more classics. In addition to the one’s listed above there’s “Houses of the Holy,” “Night Flight,” “Custard Pie,” and “The Wanton Song.” And that’s just scratching the surface! This album is also the most complete Zeppelin album, touching on every corner of their versatile sound—from cock rock to blue grass to faux-funk. And the lighthearted throw-aways are just as engaging as the poignant epics. Listen to the cool jazz/country fusion of “Down by the Seaside” — a song sandwiched between a solo acoustic ballad (“Bron-Yr-Aur”) and a forgotten Zepic, “Ten Years Gone”. Everything you’d ever want in a Zeppelin album is here to hear.

So, there you have it, a perfect road map for the discovery of classic riffs. Without these five albums, just imagine how much less rock swagger would be in this world. Of course, there isn’t a bad Led Zeppelin album, except maybe In Through The Out Door. I just didn’t have space to include them all. I’ll exhibit a little tolerance in hearing your arguments for Zep’s other classics — but mainly because it might remind me of some gems I haven’t heard in a while. But, before you do, let me add one honorable mention that (seriously) came incredibly close to cracking the top 5. It’s shouldn’t be missed either, just for the record.

Honorable Mention

Led Zeppelin II I —Zep shows their acoustic chops on this sometimes over-looked classic. Contains the scorcher “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and the punk throwdown “Immigrant Song,” as well.

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