Led Zeppelin. Even at this distance, it's a name that somehow conjures up majesty. Formed at the back-end of the British invasion, they somehow made everything bigger, bolder and brasher than it had been before. They were the first genuine rock gods, with the hair to match and an apparently endless appetite for the perks that come with being young, pretty and imperiously talented.
Over the course of eight albums (and no UK singles), they delivered the unexpected with unearthly precision, able to switch from towering, almost other-worldly epics like Kashmir to the gentle, bucolic folk of That's The Way. While rooted in the blues (let's not go there, OK?) they became something else over the course of a dozen years, taking music into bigger buildings than it had before and playing at a higher volume than was perhaps necessary. In every respect, they were huge. They had their own plane, for chrissakes.
At their heart were four extraordinary musicians: the untouchable John Bonham drove the ship forward. Bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones was a beautiful anchor. Guitarist Jimmy Page orchestrated it all, wrangling everything into shape. And, out front, Robert Plant just wailed.
Here are the best 50 Led Zeppelin songs, as voted for by you.
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50. Custard Pie (Physical Graffiti, 1975)
There's a compelling case to be made that Physical Graffiti is the greatest double album ever recorded. Led Zep's sixth studio recording, there’s a feral mystery to it even today – and opener Custard Pie lets us know what we’re in for. Its menacing, salacious riff is driven by intoxicating dirty blues, while the unapologetic mutant funk rhythm section of Bonzo Bonham and John Paul Jones buffalos a path through the fray. Wha-wha clavinet snakes around razor-sharp guitars, while Robert Johnson, chicken blood and smoking valve amps are all invoked and teleported into leafy Barnes’ Olympic Studio 2. It’s aural carnage – in the best possible way.
49. Houses Of The Holy (Physical Graffiti, 1975)
Regarded as the ‘lost track’ from the original Houses Of The Holy album, which had been released two years previously, this tune’s clipped beat and easy riff provided a platform for some of Jimmy Page’s most manic improvisations. The ‘houses’ in question here do not refer to a particular church, temple or chapel, but were meant to describe the spiritual aura that the band felt was often created at their best concerts. Not the controversial ones where fire crackers and tear gas were let off, but at those halcyon hippie festivals, where the scent of newly smoked grass would pleasantly waft across the sunlit fields. Those with keen hearing will detect the sound of John Bonham’s bass drum pedal squeaking. The song was recorded in the days before the introduction of the WD40 spray can. The piece was recorded and mixed at Olympic and Electric Lady during a session that dated back to 1972.
48. Your Time Is Gonna Come (Led Zeppelin, 1969)
It still may have only been October 1968, but Zep laid down the blueprint for ’70s macho excess on this vitriolic kiss-off to an ex-lover. John Paul Jones’ cathedral-like organ intro sets a suitably epic tone, before Bonham’s sledgehammer drums and Page’s bluesy pedal steel guitar – his first use of the instrument, fact fans – set the scene for Plant’s lung-busting takedown of a former girlfriend ('Lyin’, cheatin’, hurtin’/ That’s all you seem to do') prior to a climax featuring all four members in a hypnotic choral fade-out. Curiously never played live after their Scandanavian tour of the same year, it's an early example of Zep flexing their musical muscles – their time was about to come.
47. Bron-Y-Aur Stomp (Led Zeppelin III, 1970)
For a band synonymous with heaviosity, Zep still had their lighter moments. A case in point is this folksy singalong, written on a whim at the band’s cottage about Plant’s love for walking his pet dog, Strider. Deceptive in its simplicity, it combines the singer’s obvious love of its canine subject ('Tell your friends all around the world / Ain't no companion like a blue-eyed Merle') with a homespun rhythm featuring Bonham on spoons and castanets and Jones on acoustic bass. With Page’s lead lines providing a propulsive energy, it's doggone proof that anything The Beatles could do (see Martha My Dear), Zep could do, too — and with added bite.
46. Travelling Riverside Blues (single, originally recorded 1969)
Page and Plant might have been the priapic pin-ups, but it was Bonzo and John Paul Jones’ rhythm method which provided Zep with their sexual heat. Proof comes in this sublime reimagining of Robert Johnson’s blues classic. Originally recorded specially for John Peel's Top Gear radio show in 1969, it remains one of the band’s most integrated performances, Page’s liquid slide and Plant’s cryptic ad libs ('Why doncha come in my kitchen?') hot-wired to a sizzling funk groove. It may have been overlooked at the time, but Page never forgot its magnetic allure, the song re-emerging form the Delta swamps as a bonus track on 1990's box set of the Complete Studio Recordings.
45. That's The Way (Led Zeppelin III, 1970)
The story of Plant and Page’s regenerative trek to Wales looms large in Zeppelin folklore, and the Led Zeppelin III sessions were indeed important – they gave Page chance to spread his wings but, crucially, Plant the opportunity to grow as a songwriter. No longer forced to simply beat his chest and crow about the size of his knob, he wrote his first truly great lyric for That’s The Way. Amid Page’s cascading acoustic guitars, dulcimer and weeping pedal steel, Plant weaves a mournful southern Gothic tale on a par with Bobbie Gentry’s 1967 hit Ode To Billie Joe. With its haunting ambiguity, the song could be about class, racism, homosexuality or even ecological disaster. It’s sophisticated, secretive and flat-out beautiful. And, Lord knows, it’s a far cry from ‘I’m gonna give you every inch of my love’. Plant has said the third album was “incredibly important for my dignity”. Perhaps the same could be said for the entire band.
44. Tea For One (Presence, 1976)
The pulverising opening guitar riff might mimic the adrenalised thrill of live performance, but as Tea For One unravels over a hypnotic nine-and-a-half minutes, the sobering reality of life on the road becomes clear. Written by Plant in the breakfast room of a New York hotel, the singer's jet-lagged vocal ('How come 24 hours, baby, seem to slip into days?') encapsulates the creeping horror of tour fatigue. However, it’s Page's extended solo, drenched in existential ennui, which nudges this under-rated gem into the stratosphere, his lead lines evoking the disorientating blur of anonymous hotel rooms, fast friends and soul-sapping overnight drives that come as baggage with global stardom. Loneliness never sounded so exquisite.
43. Moby Dick (Led Zeppelin II, 1969)
Led Zeppelin were lucky to have John Bonham as their drummer. Apart from being Plant’s mate, his presence gave the band a unique sound and authority. He also used to perform a spectacular solo that would often last 20 minutes, which became a feature of the band’s increasingly extended concerts. During these sessions, Bonham would play with his bare hands, attacking a huge flaming gong, reaching a climax that had crowds roaring. Moby Dick was first aired on Led Zeppelin II. Jimmy Page established an appropriate riff to launch the number, which kicked off with a battering snare drum figure. Bonham moved from snare to tom tom triplets and congas using his hands. The Ginger Baker-esque climax when he switched to sticks still sounds impressive, but this studio version lacked the fire a ‘live’ audience would encourage.
42. Bring It On Home (Led Zeppelin II, 1969)
Recorded at Mystic Studio in LA in May 1969, this deceptively arranged final cut on Led Zeppelin II appears, for almost two minutes, to be nothing more than a narcoleptic homage to Sonny Boy Williamson’s blues of the same name before exploding into life. What follows is a blueprint for the globe-dominating decade to come, Page’s intricately woven guitar parts and Bonham’s funk-infused drums offset by Jones’ melodic bass-runs and Plant’s primal invocations to be recognised as ’70s pop's premier Rock God-in-waiting: 'I’ve got my ticket, I’ve got that load.' Not exactly Led Zep's most famous case of questionable copyright, but because there was no case to answer, composer Willie Dixon has been listed on the writing credits to this song since 1972.
41. You Shook Me (Led Zeppelin, 1969)
It may never appear on Jeff Beck’s Spotify – he was legendarily peeved on hearing it, having released a similar arrangement a couple of months earlier on 1968 solo album Truth – but Zep’s orgiastic take on Willie Dixon’s standard rightly took the plaudits. Built upon Bonham and John Paul Jones’ titanium-strength slow groove – Jones also supplies scintillating solos on both electric piano and Hammond organ – it finds a fired-up Zeppelin flagging up their blues credentials. With Plant’s squalling harmonica and larynx-busting vocal matched by Page’s grinding guitar, it puts the original through the shredder, building to a feverish finale where Page’s groundbreaking use of backwards echo is matched by Plant’s eye-watering vocal howls. The result? A very different kind of blues.