Led Zeppelin Albums
Led Zeppelin began in the 1960’s with one of the most creative fusions of the blues, to say the least. At the time, they were revolutionary not only for their individual sounding rock n’ roll but also for making the album stand out as the true medium of rock music. For that, I will forever love them no matter what. The band sounds derivative of many blues artists in a way, but they always make old sounds fresh and unique again; in fact, I’d proclaim that their best attribute. Jimmy Page, one of rocks greatest guitarists, had soaring riffs that were ALWAYS the backbone of any LZ song – it truly was his band, he produced and wrote nearly all of the music. The band was the sum of its parts, and the tight combination of the powerhouse rhythm section of Jones/Bonham and the sometimes trivial/sometimes great lyrics of Robert Pant helped make the band what it was: the standard for mainstream rock music in the ten years of their existence. There were always two sides to Zeppelin: the folk and the hard rock. You couldn’t have had one without the other.
Jimmy Page – Guitar
Robert Plant – Vocals
John Paul Jones – Bass, Keyboards
John Bonham – Drums
Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Incredible String Band, Spirit
1969 – (3.5 / 5) – Led Zeppelin 1
1969 – (4.5 / 5) – Led Zeppelin 2
1970 – (4 / 5) – Led Zeppelin 3
1971 – (5 / 5) – Led Zeppelin 4
1973 – (4.5 / 5) – Houses of the Holy
1975 – (5 / 5) + – Physical Graffiti
1976 – (4 / 5) – Presence
1978 – (3 / 5) – In Through the Outdoor
Led Zeppelin 1 – (3.5 / 5)
I enter a treacherous path with reviewing Led Zeppelin: I do not think they are the best band of all time which is the popular opinion at the end of the 20th century. However, I could see how someone would – they fused the blues and rock music in a way no one ever had before. I mean, The Yardbirds this is not! Much more of an edge is present and Zeppelin show off their hard rock chops, as we’ll as their folk side here. As far as hard rock goes, “Good Times Bad Times” is about a blistering opener as you can get. That is followed up by “Communication Breakdown”, which is basically a harder rocking variation of The Who’s “My Generation”, and the supreme bliss of “Dazed and Confused”. With its descending riff and spaced out effects, this is Zeppelin’s entry into psychedelic territory. Just became they came at the end of the 60’s doesn’t mean they can’t have their own stab at psych rock, right?
On the softer side we have the almost acoustic “Black Mountain”, and what a beautiful guitar ballad that is. One of the more underrated tunes here is “Your Time is Gonna Come”, which might strike some as a generic folk-rocker, but I think it is good in its own way. Did I mention there are two covers? “You Shook Me” and “I Can’t Quit You Babe” are not only horrible, they are embarrassing. Closer How Many More Times” does not fare much better and is a lame closer to an otherwise solid record. Zeppelin proves that they can interpret the blues through their own music wayyyyyy better than covering their favorite artists, just compare the cover songs to “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”, a beautiful hard rock tune. So what we have here is about six good-to-decent tunes mixed in with three mediocre-to-horrible ones. It makes for a jumpy, but often suburb listen, where the good far outweighs the bad. Led Zeppelin 1 marks the beginning for a band that once they learn to harness their sound, have unlimited potential.
Greatest Songs: Good Times Bad Times, Communication Breakdown, Dazed and Confused, Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
Led Zeppelin 2 – (4.5 / 5)
With their best songs, Led Zeppelin can change the world and topple their contemporaries to their knees. The simple riffs of “Whole Lotta Love” and “Living Loving Maid” show the world how rock n roll is done, and so many bands have followed in their footsteps. Songs like “What is and What Should Never Be” and “Bring it On Home” have odd song structure, but come across great. Actually, that is where Zeppelin always shows their genius: they can make a song composed of many parts and do it so well that everything else you hear sounds lame in comparison. “Moby Dick” should also be mentioned even though it is just a virtuoso drummer and guitarist showing off, it at least has a decent tune to it.
There are a couple of songs on Led Zeppelin 2 tend to drag, “Lemon Song” & “Heartbreaker” especially. The band just has some kinks to work out of their systems with these songs, the former has a random change in the middle that just doesn’t fit at all (too much of the old fashion blues in them seeping through), while the latter has a random guitar stop and solo in it that ruins the whole song, not to mention how Plant’s lyrics really get annoying! “Ramble On” also has something I have never liked about it, maybe it tries too hard to mix hard rock with folk where as “Thank You” gets the mix just right. That brings us to my main point: Led Zeppelin achieves awesome strides toward greatness with their second record, but the thing that carries almost every song are Page’s amazing guitar riffs; I mean, the first five seconds of almost any song is instantly recognizable after only a couple of listens. With their second album, Led Zeppelin creates a minor masterpiece of hard rock.
Greatest Songs: What Is and What Should Never Be, Thank You, Bring It On Home, Whole Lotta Love
Sidenote: for their 1st two albums especially, LZ have been accused of plagiarizing several blues and folk acts, including Joan Baez, Muddy Waters, Spirit, and others. I can’t keep track of this stuff and honestly, people need to CHILL about this for the most part. Rock music, if you really break it down, is full of plagiarism everywhere you look. It’s a simple form of music and there are only so many combinations of chords out there. I’ve heard the claims, and yes some of them (especially the Spirit/Stairway to Heaven intro one) have their merit. But It’s easy to blame one of the biggest bands on earth for things like plagiarism when just about every rock band on earth does the same thing, intentionally or not 🙂 So relax! Don’t get me wrong, it exists and it can be bad, but album reviews are really not the place for that kinda talk.
Led Zeppelin 3 – (4 / 5)
Led Zeppelin’s third record is like two records in one, showing off both the hard rock and folk side of the band. Leftovers from Led Zeppelin 2 are present, or so it seems: “Immagrant Song”, “Celebration Song”, and “Out on the Tiles” are instant hard rock classics. “Friends” is a bit folky for the ‘rock side’ of the album and “Since I’ve been Loving You” is a blues standard, oh boy you know I love when the band does those! The last five songs are pure traditional rock, though interesting takes on it: “Gallow’s Pole” is an old fashioned Scottish tinged folk tale; “Tangerine” has a children’s lullaby quality to it; “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” is a standard kind of hoedown, but it is actually one of the best tunes on here! “Hats off of Harper” and “That’s the Way” don’t fare as well, they are pretty bad songs. I hate to sound so short and sudden about LZ3, but really it is just more of the same from a band that we know can deliver the goods, whether it is amazing riffs or well done traditional songs. Yes, it is fairly consistent and very good especially the first half, but the songs don’t really gel together like Led Zeppelin 2 did and it’s still a fan’s favorite kind of album.
Greatest Songs: Immigrant Song, Friends, Out on the Tiles, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp
Led Zeppelin 4(Zoso) – (5 / 5)
The thing about the mythological LZ4 (also known as Untitled or Zoso) is that it is the first LZ album without an obviously weak song on it. No covers, no blues derivatives, just the band at their creative peak. Out of the eight songs contained, four of them are obviously standouts: “Stairway to Heaven” is one of the best rock songs ever written, an evolving shifting masterwork that brings out emotion in a very unique way – by channeling it though unstable stories & tales of enchantment; “When the Levee Breaks” is the effective closer, that pounds along with enough force to truly bash a levee down – another structure shifting masterwork; “Black Dog” which has that guitar line in the chorus that no guitarist can really play correctly; “Rock n’ Roll” sums up the feeling of rock music to this point, with it’s simple sounding riff and its “been a long lonely, lonely, lonely time” lyrics. While I would incldue the mesmerizing “Four Sticks” into this category of awe inspiring tunes, the three remaining tunes would be personal preference.
“Battle of Evermore”, “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Going to California” might be favorites of some people, but they tend to be people’s least favorite (let the hate mail come!) when compared to the obvious classics. Each of those three songs are not quite in the class of the other five when you really get down to it, that is all I mean. Could every song be a “Stairway to Heaven” or “Black Dog”? I don’t see why not personally, there are plenty of albums that have done that many awe-inspiring songs in a row. This record is so iconic though, and so classic, that to listen to it enough is to maybe be too harsh or critical upon it. Personally I love this record, it is the best one out of the first four and I would never skip any tune while listening. Plants singing, Page’s riffs, Jones’s bass playing, and Bonham’s spectacular drumming all are at their peak here, as is Page’s beautiful songwriting and superb production. It is an album that always wins you over in the end, even if you tried to find a flaw in it. The band truly evolves into their own on Led Zeppelin 4, and the future looks bright.
Greatest Songs: When the Levee Breaks, Stairway to heaven, Black Dog, Four Sticks
Houses of the Holy – (4.5 / 5)
Like LZ3, Houses of the Holy is half and half. Instead of half hard rock/ half folk, it is half old fashioned music / half futuristic songs. This is the band’s most forward reaching album, and it is a masterpiece of subtlety. Being “out there” for LZ still heavily recalls the past though. The old fashioned songs are: “The Rain Song”, with its classical music touches; the repetitive but enthralling “Dancing Days”; the humorous blues of “The Crunge”; and the faux-reggae of “D’yer Mak’er”. Even if those songs had some kind of oddness to them though, but nothing touches the prog rock of “The Song Remains the Same” or the mystic bliss of the seven minute “No Quarter”. To me, “The Rain Song” is like a poor man’s “No Quarter”, and it pales in comparison on the same album. Also, while “The Song Remains the Same” is shifting and experimental (for this band), it doesn’t shift from idea to idea as seamlessly as other Zeppelin songs do.
Despite those minor flaws and having a somewhat slow start, this is a superb record from start to finish just like its predecessor (though not quite as consistent). I haven’t even mentioned my two favorite songs yet – “Over the Hills and Far Away” has three distinct sections: one folk-rock, one hard rock, and one instrumental and soothing – ’nuff said. “The Ocean” is an album closer like never before; Compare it to previous closers such as “Bring it On Home” and “Hats off to Harper” and there is no doubt it is better, the non-stop riff and bluesy breakdown are beyond comprehension, not to mention that random acapella part. Instead of singing about breaking levees, the band is now washing away mountains and progressing like no other in the history of rock music.
Greatest Songs: Over The Hills and Far Away, No Quarter, The Ocean, Dancing Days
Physical Graffiti – (5 / 5) +
I could talk all day about Physical Graffiti, the band’s sixth and best record. Pretty much, it pulls together everything the band does well on to one monolith of a record, lasting over 80 minutes but never being dull or boring at all. It has old fashioned songs: the traditional romp of “Boogie with Stu”, the blues shuffle of the friendly “Houses of the Holy”, and the beautiful twelve string acoustic guitar instrumental (which stands out as perhaps the best song on the album to me) “Bron-Yr-Aur”, a haunting recollection of one of Jimi Page’s favorite locals. It has perfect folk songs and ballads: the atmospheric and thought provoking guitar symphony of “Down by the Seaside” which is again some of Page’s best guitar work, “In My Time of Dying” which proves that their slow moving blues has not grown stale, “Ten Years Gone”, that takes the Indian treasures of Zoso’s “Four Sticks” and updates them to a new kind of radiant bliss, “Night Flight” where a simple chord progression evokes a perfect emotional response from Plant and his tale of love not lost (I always this as the song when you are running to the airport to catch the love of your life before they hop onto a plane).
It has plenty of hard rock as well: “The Wanton Song”, “Trampled Under Foot”, “Custard Pie”, “Sick Again”, “The Rover”…..ok, most of the record is devoted to hard rock I guess, but isn’t that what this band does best anyways? Yes, and these songs on a single album would absolutely rule but on a double where they are mixed into all kinds of folklore and mysticism they stand out even more. “Wanton Song” is my personal favorite of the hard rock songs, setting a precedent with its relentless drums and roaring guitars and bass like the best of 1970’s rock n roll. There are still songs that stretch rock’s boundaries of what great music is, like the unexplainable-in-words “Kashmir” and the long winding stretches of guitar glory in the epic “In the Light”. The latter song and “In My Time of Dying” are nine and eleven minute jam masterworks, never boring and ever shifting, and are true attributes to what doble albums can do. What else can I say about this album except cherish it, as it is one of the best double albums of the 1970’s (up there with Exile on Main Street, Songs in the Key of Life, and Quadrophenia) and it is the definitive statement by Led Zeppelin.
Greatest Songs: Wonton Song, Bron-Yr-Aur, Kashmir, In the Light, The Rover
Presence – (4 / 5)
Presence is underrated, but it does show the band in a more laid back state (coming only a year after the monolith that was Physical Graffiti mind you). It starts off with “Achilles Last Stand” which is good on its own merits but fails to meet past Led Zeppelin standards. With only seven songs, the band also seems to be running out of ideas and maybe stretching their good ideas too far. A cover of Otis Redding’s “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” is sustained by groove and feeling, while “Hots on for Nowhere” is similar but does not succeed as well. Both of those songs are too long, but still have good moments within. The only bad songs are “Royal Orleans” and “Candy Store Rock”, both throwaway tracks. To oppose those are the albums two great songs, which both show control and patience above all else: “For Your Love” explains the missing link between Led Zeppelin and Fugazi with Plant pre-dating Guy Piciotto’s throaty vocals, while “Tea for One” is the album’s best song – a slow jam of controlled blues that shows if the band would make more songs like this they would be back in business. In fact, a whole album full of slower blues songs in the vein of “Tea for One”, “In The Light” and Dazed and Confused” may have been the direction to go in as they have not tapped that kind of sound enough, but it’s hard to condemn a band that does so many styles so well. Presence may be a confounding listen at times, but it is hardly a bad listen. I actually prefer it to several of the bands ‘classic’ first six records such as Led Zepplin1 and LZ 3.
Greatest Songs: Tea For One, For Your Love, Nobody’s Fault But Mine
In Through the Outdoor – (3 / 5)
Led Zeppelin’s final studio record suffers in the same way that Presence does, but even more so. The album only has seven tunes, most of the ideas were not great to begin with, and it has a dated “synth” feel to it to boot. That said, it is hardly a terrible record, and I’d encourage any Zeppelin fan to eventually get it as I did after purchasing the other seven. The opening track “In the Evening” is one hell of an opener and dominates the sound and feel of the record. It’s mix of soaring guitar and synth is beautiful to behold, even though Plant’s lyrics falter quite a bit with his usual “oh baby I need your love” which is growing very tiresome. John Paul Jones has a much larger “presence” (hah) on the record, by doing the majority of the producing and writing two songs, “South Bound Saurez” and “All My Love”, the latter song being one of the sappiest things the band ever did.
“Fool in the Rain” also has a dated sound to it that plays like a Zeppelin B-side. IF there are good melodic ideas or riffs to be found here, they are stretched too long and are few and far between. I find it depressing that the band ever wrote a song as bad and derivative as “Hot Dog” too. “Carouselambra” is also the band’s weakest long-song venture, as it transforms into disco halfway through for goodness sakes, while “I’m Gonna Crawl” is pretty good and almost redeems the over synth use on the record. A band as monumental as Led Zeppelin was expected to end on a better note than this, but life proved tragic in another way for the group as John Bonham died of alcohol poisoning soon after this record was made, which led the band to call it quits. LZ had a great run though, and I can’t think of a band that has been more influential and accepted by popular music, save The Beatles.
Greatest Song: In the Evening, Fool in the Rain (sort of…)