I’m assuming we’re all sticking to the “Stairway to Heaven” is disqualified rule, even though no one has officially mentioned it. If that is indeed the case, then these are my ten favorite Led Zeppelin songs. It was damn near impossible to narrow it down to these ten, since I had around 50 songs that I thought were competitive. I had to make some deep cuts and these are the ones that survived, so try at least not to worry about the order they’re in.
10. All My Love
The song that inspired my recent foray back into Led Zeppelin, it’s kind of amazing just because it’s a slow, synth-driven song by Led Zeppelin. That seems weird, doesn’t it? But that’s kind of the reality of In Through the Out Door – songs that don’t quite seem like what Led Zeppelin would be doing. Unlike “Carouselambra,” the other great song from that album, “All My Love” is exactly the right length to stick with you and somehow also leave you wanting more.
Can a song survive on just one great guitar riff? Probably, but “Kashmir” is not that song. Because, even though the “Kashmir” riff is one of Led Zeppelin’s most well known, its not just the guitar that makes this great. It’s one of a handful of songs the band recorded with strings and horns, adding a suitably epic feel to the number. What I really love about it are the lyrics, an aspect of music I don’t spend much time thinking about. If I had seen “Kashmir” written before hearing it, I would have thought it was some quality poetry. Or a crappy poem. I’m not that great a judge of poetry.
8. Rock and Roll
Legend has it that while frustrated recording the tremendous “Four Sticks,” Led Zeppelin accidentally jammed their way into this diddy. Suitably titled, “Rock and Roll” draws from the history of the genre and amps it up, making the song among the most rocking I’ve ever heard. It also the first Led Zeppelin song I heard, or at least remember hearing. I remember listening to it on Colin’s portable CD player and remarking that I recognized it from a car commercial. That’s kind of a shitty association, but it got me to where I am today.
7. In My Time of Dying
I’ve always liked a good slide guitar, and its hard to get it better than Led Zeppelin’s version of “In My Time of Dying.” I wanted to include long songs on my list, since I really do love most of their long songs, even this one, which I believe is their longest. Early this year I heard the Bob Dylan version of this song, which is a totally different, more traditionally blues experience. Led Zeppelin takes the song and jams all over it until nothing’s left. It’s pretty amazing. And it ends with coughing and joking. They’re people too.
6. When the Levee Breaks
Yeah, that’s right, another blues cover. As John pointed out, the drums and harmonica do this song an amazing favor. The drums are gigantic, it’s no wonder bands like the Beastie Boys were drawn to sampling them. The reverb or whatever that’s applied to the harmonica makes it sound different from any other harmonica ever. Let’s not forget the guitar part, which is no slouch, with plenty of interesting effects piled on top of it as well. And in the middle of it all is Robert Plant, doing his thing as possibly the greatest lead singer in rock. It all comes together on “When the Levee Breaks.”
5. Good Times Bad Times
This is the first song on the first Led Zeppelin album and I like to keep that in mind when I hear it. I think if I had never heard the band before, if this was something entirely new, it would take me about a minute of “Good Times Bad Times” to declare I will buy ever single album these guys put out. Since we’re paying tribute to the 31st anniversary of John Bonham’s death, I would be remiss not to point out that the man played the kick drum and hi hat with just one foot. Listen to the song again. I’m not a drummer, but that’s madness!
4. Over the Hills and Far Away
This is kind of like “Stairway to Heaven” if it was a little less ambitious and popular. Wow, that sounds much more negative than I meant it. “Over the Hills and Far Away” is one of those songs that makes the world a better place. How about that? It’s an emotional, beautiful song from the group that’s considered the inspiration for heavy metal and hard rock. It’s not just one of my favorite Led Zeppelin songs, it’s one of my favorite songs.
3. Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
Ah, time for a gentler little tune. Or is it? “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” starts gently enough, with a delicate flurry of guitar and then some soft vocals. But at the halfway point, the song explodes. Drums and bass drive the song, the guitar gets heavier and the vocals become screams. This is another song that covers a shorter, simpler tune. In this case, it’s a Joan Baez song that simply sticks to guitar and vocals. That’s what makes Led Zeppelin so special. They make it a journey.
2. Ramble On
This is probably the Led Zeppelin that first comes to mind for me… And a lot of people. The Lord of the Rings references, stupefying guitar and amazing bass and drums all add up to something that no one else ever did or ever will do. I love how the acoustic guitar gives into the electric in this song, it’s another great example of the kind of journey a quality Led Zeppelin song can take you on.
1. Bron-Y-Aur Stomp
Led Zeppelin does country. I can’t really explain why I like this so much, or why it’s easily my most listened to track from the band. Certainly the guitar of Jimmy Page is partly responsible, from the craziness of the intro to the simpler verse, it’s undeniably great. Certainly John Bonham’s percussion is a partly responsible, featuring drums you can’t help but tap along with, as well as spoons and castanets. Certainly John Paul Jones’ bass is partly responsible, since he so beautifully accompanies, nay, matches, the skill on display from the previous two. Certainly Robert Plant’s vocals are partly responsible, since this is the most sing-a-long Led Zeppelin got this side of “Your Time is Gonna Come.” I guess they’re all responsible. And when you put them together, they can’t be beat.