Every Led Zeppelin album ranked from worst to best
During their 12-year existence, Led Zeppelin all but conquered the world. Here, we have every one of their 13 albums ranked in order of brilliance
Upon forming in 1968, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham took their name from a supposition from Keith Moon that their band was destined to go down like a 'lead balloon'. Their manager Peter Grant's lack of confidence in the record buying public's pronunciation skills, allied to an innate instinct to think big, translated The Loon's withering sarcasm into 'Led Zeppelin'. And before you could say 'swiftly signed to Atlantic, relentlessly toured', they were the World's Biggest Band that, for some reason, nobody you knew had ever seen on television.
Inexplicable anonymity aside, Zeppelin's hugeness was preposterous, and as their fame ballooned, their artistic vision expanded to match. Ever more epic live shows were marked by extensive improvisations by four virtuosi whose inspired ensemble interplay seemed almost supernatural in origin. Audiences broke records, albums camped out at the top of charts and during their 12-year existence, Led Zeppelin casually conquered Earth.
You've clearly got all of these albums already, so here's the order in which you should set fire to them if held at gunpoint by a disgruntled ex-lover.
13) In Through The Out Door (1979)
By now, the game's all but up. Bonham and Page both face substance abuse issues while Plant, having dealt with serious injury incurred in a car accident, is still grieving having lost his son. Business issues grind on and living as tax exiles isn't helping. Two songs have no compositional input from Page whatsoever. The result is a dispirited album with instinctive inspiration substituted by the drab commerciality of All My Love. In The Evening makes a fair fist of kicking some arse, but – lacking flair - doesn't quite manage it.
12) Coda (1982)
It sounds a lot more exciting than it is. Eight previously unreleased recordings from across the Zeppelin career brushed off for release, two years after John Bonham's tragically early death, to confound bootleggers and honour Bonzo's memory. The final instalment in an auspicious body of work. Looks great until you realise the first two tracks are live cuts with the audience erased and four of the others are outtakes from In Through The Out Door.
11) Celebration Day (2012)
Well done, everybody. Zeppelin's Ahmet Ertegun-honouring O2 Arena reunion show was a triumph, final proof that, if necessary, Zeppelin could still do Zeppelin. Jason Bonham was an admirable substitute for his late father. Everyone had a terrific time, and the Celebration Day double CD (and DVD, and triple vinyl) provides the ultimate souvenir of the occasion for all that attended. Were they as good as they ever were? No, they were not. Obviously.
10) The Song Remains The Same (1976)
The soundtrack to the film. Madison Square Garden 1973; and a certain amount of bloat has occurred since the 1972 tour captured on How The West Was Won. It's unequivocal that the version of Rock 'N' Roll that opens proceedings is nothing short of magnificent, a herd of stampeding Status Quos would be hard pressed to dent its hide, but Dazed And Confused goes on for 27 minutes. Obviously in the film there's a load of mad stuff with swords to take your mind off of how much of your life is slipping away as Page assaults his Les Paul with a violin bow, but without benefit of visuals, it tends to drag. Moby Dick? Ditto.
9) BBC Sessions (1997)
Indeed, it's a long way down the list for a bumper bundle of raw, unexpurgated Zeppelin in their prime, and yes, there are electrifying performances, both live and in session here, but what's lacking is the essential punch Page's production brings to proceedings across the superior studio works in between here and their best. On the up side there are unreleased songs, but no one need hear their version of Eddie Cochran's Something Else. A recording that couldn't sound clumsier if they were wearing Victorian diving suits and boxing gloves.
1. Buy Led Zeppelin - The Complete BBC Sessions (NEW 5 VINYL LP) on eBay
8) Presence (1976)
Recorded in the immediate wake of Plant suffering a serious car accident while holidaying in Rhodes, Presence is an album captured as on-the-hoof as anything can be that involves a vocalist in a wheelchair. After just 18 days in Munich's Musikland, Zeppelin emerged with an album that, while a predictably massive commercial success, is hardly their best. Nor is it their worst. Critics unkindly categorise Presence as Achilles' Last Stand and some fillers. Granted, extensive set-piece ALS is certainly impressive in its complexity, but Nobody's Fault But Mine's no slouch either, boasting a nagging earworm riff of rare potency.
7) How The West Was Won (2003)
Zeppelin in their element, captured live at the peak of their pomp. Well, almost. Though both performances combined here (from June 25th and 27th, '72 at the L.A. Forum and Long Beach Arena respectively) were extensively bootlegged, they'd never been heard quite like this. Not only had soundboard tapes never leaked, in exhaustive post-production, Page combined elements from both shows to construct ultimate 'live' takes of some songs. A cheat? By comparison to Lizzy's Live And Dangerous, hardly. Whatever, the band's trademark intuitive interplay never sounded quite this inspired, so who's complaining?
6) Houses Of The Holy (1973)
With monstrous growth in stature comes the acquisition of home studio facilities necessary to honing and perfecting recordings in the privacy of ones own Baronial hall prior to playing them to the rest of the band. Hence the finely-tooled perfection of Page's The Rain Song and John Paul Jones' No Quarter. The latter is a keys-driven, imagination-capturing enigmatic grind, while the former is a smidgen short of Stairway To Heaven's mainstream-mounting, mood-swinging magic, while a smidgen long for Stateside FM radio ubiquity.
5) Led Zeppelin III (1970)
From here on up we're entering the arena of the excellent. Let those arguments over order commence, as there's plenty to recommend III's claim to supremacy. Not least its opening Immigrant Song. Over a galloping ensemble charge, Plant's vocals soar toward Valhalla as an invocation of the hammer of the old Norse gods. One show in Reykjavik, and he comes back a Viking, fronting Zeppelin will do that to a man. Largely acoustic-based, III's blues set-piece Since I've Been Loving You captures Page's fluid sensitivity at its most eloquent.
4) Led Zeppelin II (1969)
The album where Zeppelin's identity solidifies is also one of their best. Written on tour and recorded in a variety of far-flung locations (London, NYC, LA, Vancouver) its tapes stowed in a steamer trunk, Zep II comprises the first set of songs Page wrote with the band in mind. Whole Lotta Love wraps blues tradition in boundary-breaking innovation, its '70's-presaging primal riff retains its fundamental power and its effects-laden, free-jazz mid-section still astounds. Heartbreaker nails fabled Zep immensity and the Pan-like priapism of Plant's Lemon Song tour de force serves to substantiate an Excess All Areas reputation.
3) Led Zeppelin I (1969)
Savage young Zeppelin captured at their hungriest never fail to impress. While the punk velocity of Communication Breakdown blazes and Good Times Bad Times grooves, there's a dark, brooding ferocity brought to Willie Dixon blues staples You Shook Me and I Can't Quit You Babe that transcends mere technique. Dazed And Confused provides Page with his broadest canvas for live extemporization, while How Many More Times defines the Zeppelin template of über rock pomp and power.
2) Physical Graffiti
While capturing Zeppelin at their most versatile and titanic, the monolithic Physical Graffiti double set can drag. In My Time Of Dying may be a masterclass in blues bludgeoning but there comes a point toward the end of its 11-minute duration when you positively ache for conclusion. Elsewhere, it's largely Zeppelin in excelsis: from the middle-east exoticism of Kashmir, through Bron-Y-Aur's acoustic delicacy and The Wanton Song's blistering power, to the soaring Clavinet funk of Trampled Underfoot and beyond.
1) Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
Every obtuse inclination is to sidestep the obvious, but for sheer impact, immediacy, concision, endurance, influence and intrinsic Zep-ishness, Led Zeppelin IV's unbeatable. Eight tracks capturing each member operating at their best across every aspect of their craft. Black Dog's machismo, Rock 'N' Roll's Bonham-propelled brutality, Plant's honeyed, evocative Sandy Denny complemented vocal on The Battle Of Evermore, Stairway To Heaven's mainstream-slaying production and dynamism and that's just side one. After defining metal and folk-rock, IV's encore was to unwittingly provide hip-hop with When The Levee Breaks, source of its ultimate breakbeat. But that's another story...