If you’re reading this, you’re likely in one of the following camps. Either you’re a long-time Led Zeppelin fan, or you’re someone that wants to know how a long-time fan would rank the best Led Zeppelin albums.
During the thirty-plus years I’ve been a Zeppelin fan, I’ve developed a solid opinion on the matter of “best” and “worst.” Most fans will agree on the top four or five on any list but argue on the order. That suits us just fine here because we love talking about Led Zeppelin. So, without further ado, here is my list.
Top Led Zeppelin Albums Ranked
Let’s kick this off with #13 on my list, which is “In Through the Out Door.”
13. In Through The Out Door (1979)
In Through the Out Door was Led Zeppelin’s final proper studio album. If there is such a thing as their worst, well, this would be it. Recorded the year after Robert Plant’s son passed away and released the year before his good friend and drummer John Bonham died as well, In Through the Out Door tells a heartbreaking chapter in the band’s history.
There is no doubt the album has some great moments, though. “In The Evening” is a memorable opener and a song often heard on classic rock radio, along with “All My Love,” and “Fool in the Rain.”
My favorite song from In Through the Out Door: “I’m Gonna Crawl.” I’ve always liked “Fool in the Rain,” but that’s mostly due to the guitar solo. “I’m Gonna Crawl” is a much better-realized song. Though the band’s performances are devastatingly sad, it reminds me of Led Zeppelin in earlier days.
12. Celebration Day (2012)
This is the Led Zeppelin recorded live at the O2 Arena in London on December 10, 2007, with late drummer John Bonham’s son Jason performing in his place. The debate over whether the son could convincingly fill in for the father had been raging for decades and was a questionable prospect through the 1980s and ‘90s.
Page and Plant often recorded together since John Bonham’s death, fueling rumors of a reunion. The only person it ever could have been was Jason Bonham, but could he do it? This recording proves beyond a doubt that being the drummer for Led Zeppelin has been in Jason’s blood the whole time.
Page and Plant are both in top form here, and John Paul Jones has plenty of time to shine. In “Ramble On,” and “No Quarter,” in particular. The music the four of them played together that night is (most likely) the closest thing we’ll ever hear to a straight-up Led Zeppelin reunion.
My favorite song from Celebration Day: “In My Time of Dying.” This comes early in the set, which is perfect because they warmed up with more popular songs like “Black Dog,” and “Ramble On.” “In My Time of Dying” is a deep cut as far as classic rock airplay goes but has certainly been a fan favorite since its release on the Physical Graffiti album in 1975. This version proves Jimmy Page and Robert Plant never lost their musical chemistry.
11. BBC Sessions (1997)
When it was released, Led Zeppelin’s BBC Sessions made fans happy, particularly because it was their chance to hear the band in concert from an earlier time. 1969-71, to be exact, which was between the release of Zeppelin’s first and third albums. Whereas The Song Remains the Same presented a more established Led Zeppelin touring between their fourth and sixth albums.
In case the numbers confuse you, try to think of Led Zeppelin before “Stairway to Heaven.” That’s when the songs on BBC Sessions were performed. An expanded, Complete BBC Sessions was released nearly two decades later, which gifted the world with even more material from the “underground” Zeppelin days.
My favorite song from BBC Sessions: “How Many More Times – 10/8/69 Playhouse Theatre.” It’s tough to choose a favorite from this one. There’s an 18-minute “Dazed and Confused” on disc two that’s just wonderful, but “How Many More Times” wins out for a couple of reasons. John Paul Jones gets a better showcase, and the Page/Plant connection is stronger. At least it sounds that way to me. This is one of my all-time favorite Zep tunes, and I love hearing this live version.
10. CODA (1982)
Released two years after John Bonham’s death, CODA is a collection of B-sides and rarities that still serves as a wonderful tribute to the late drummer. The showcase starts immediately with “We’re Gonna Groove,” quickly shuffles on with “Poor Tom,” and goes absolutely bananas on “Bonzo’s Montreux.”
Both “Ozone Baby” and “Darlene” are outtakes from the In Through the Out Door sessions, which makes me wonder why they weren’t put on the album because they’re great tracks. It worked out well for CODA, though.
The remastered bonus discs on the deluxe edition of CODA (2015) have some great stuff on them. “If It Keeps Raining,” which is a rough take of “When the Levee Breaks,” and “Four Hands (Four Sticks)” are fantastic. The Bombay Orchestra performs on the latter, which sounds a lot like the stuff Page and Plant put out together on their No Quarter album (1994).
My favorite song from CODA: “Poor Tom.” Something about this song always made me feel comfortable. Even the instrumental version of “Poor Tom” on the special edition is enjoyable, though I do love Robert Plant’s voice here.
9. How the West Was Won (2003)
A set of live tracks recorded in 1972, there are a lot of great moments on How the West Was Won. This was a time in Zep history just after the release of their fourth album – which propelled the band to even greater worldwide success. You can year the size of the venue by the way the music has room to soar into the crowd.
My favorite song from How the West Was Won: “Going to California,” and “That’s the Way.” I chose two songs here because they make such a great Zeppelin moment. I’ve heard stories about how the crowds at the time were so loud that Page and Jones had trouble hearing themselves play. That doesn’t appear to have been the case on this occasion, but it’s worth noting how well the two guitarists play together. Page and Jones’s chemistry isn’t talked about as much as it should be.
8. Houses of the Holy (1973)
Fifty years old this year, there’s no question Houses of the Holy holds a special place in the hearts of Zeppelin fans. This was the album that came after the massive success of Led Zeppelin IV, which we’ll get to shortly.
Houses of the Holy contains the all-time Zeppelin classics “No Quarter,” “The Rain Song,” and “The Song Remains the Same,” and I’d be hard-pressed to name a song my friends and I sang more as youngsters than “The Ocean.”
Released between Zeppelin IV (“Stairway to Heaven”) and Physical Graffiti (“Kashmir”) Houses of the Holy didn’t stand a chance in the scheme of things. It holds up, though. It has a great sound throughout, and the compositions are spectacular.
My favorite song from Houses of the Holy: “No Quarter.” There are a couple of tracks on Houses of the Holy, right smack in the middle of the record, that I don’t find have stood the test of time. I’m talking about the section with “The Crunge,” “Dancing Days,” and “D’yer Mak’er” one after the other. But “No Quarter” is so good it erases the bad taste the middle section leaves in my mouth.
7. Presence (1976)
Many would dislike me ranking this here. The music stands the test of time, as evidenced by the Celebration Day version of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” The problem is the production, for me. Specifically, the guitar sound, which I find too liberal with the treble. It’s the only Zeppelin record that sounds this way, however, which is certainly nothing to dismiss.
The standout moment of the special edition disc is “10 Ribs & All/Carrot Pod Pod (Pod).” It’s a beautiful John Paul Jones piano solo for the first two and a half minutes. Page comes in slowly with a few swells, reminding you why he was such a sought-after session man. Bonham at 3:02 with an unmistakably Bonham lead-in. I like this insight into what things were like in the studio at the time.
My favorite Presence track: “Tea for One.” Even with Jimmy Page playing a Stratocaster, nothing beats Led Zeppelin jamming slow blues. This one takes me back to “Since I’ve Been Loving You” from Zep III, but “Tea for One” has a very dark vibe, which links it to songs like “Dazed and Confused” and “When the Levee Breaks.”
6. The Song Remains the Same (1977)
In the mid-1980s Led Zeppelin enjoyed a resurgence of popularity, due in part to the advent of home video and the release of a VHS version of the film “The Song Remains the Same.” Kids who were too young to have seen the band live had heard the soundtrack to the movie, but the visuals sealed the deal. That along with the fact that it could be watched repeatedly.
This version of “No Quarter” is even better than the one on Houses of the Holy, and I prefer the longer versions of the title track, “The Rain Song,” and “Moby Dick.” The Song Remains the Same was my first real exposure to Led Zeppelin, so it holds a special place in my heart – I don’t care how bad a movie it is.
An iconic string of three shows recorded at Madison Square Garden in New York.
My favorite Song Remains the Same track(s): “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” No contest here. Seeing Jimmy Page play his Les Paul on this song is the reason I picked up a guitar at the age of thirteen. Many would point out “Dazed and Confused” for the same reason.
5. Led Zeppelin II (1969)
From the opening notes of “Whole Lotta Love” to the Les Paul lead guitar sound on “The Lemon Song,” Led Zeppelin’s second album is full of highlights and hits. Bonham’s signature drum sound and maniacal delivery make an early appearance on “Whole Lotta Love,” and the majority of the album proved beyond any doubt that Page and Plant were borrowing from the best of the blues. For better or worse, I believe this to be true.
Overall Led Zeppelin II has a pacing problem. “Thank You” is a fan favorite and an excellent song, but its placement is awkward to me. Classic rock radio ruined the combo of “Heartbreaker” and “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman),” and that’s a big chunk of the album.
My favorite Led Zeppelin II track(s): “Ramble On,” and “Bring It on Home.” For me, it’s a package deal. “Ramble On” saves the day for an action-packed ride from themes of Tolkien to John Bonham’s extended drum solo on “Moby Dick.” Then, when Bonham is finished mopping the floor with every other rock drummer alive in 1969, he and the rest of Zeppelin “Bring It on Home.” Wow, what a song!
4. Led Zeppelin I (1969)
There are several moments on their first record that became emblematic of Led Zeppelin. Starting, of course, with Bonham’s triple-quick bass drum on “Good Times, Bad Times,” moving to Jimmy Page’s use of the violin bow on an electric guitar on “Dazed and Confused,” and Robert Plant’s banshee howl on “How Many More Times.” John Paul Jones looms large but remains expertly in the background – setting the tone.
Each of Zeppelin’s four members proves their worth right out of the gate, proudly screaming “Here we are!” One thing that can be said about the album, however, is that it doesn’t showcase much of their songwriting abilities. It’s more of a blues jam, and an opportunity to improvise. There certainly isn’t anything wrong with that, especially in Zeppelin’s case. Led Zeppelin I is a tough debut album to beat.
My favorite song from Led Zeppelin I:“How Many More Times.” My guess is most people would pick “Dazed and Confused” from this record, and that’s just as good a choice. Completely understandable, in fact, but I just love the riff and groove on “How Many More Times.” To me, it’s less about Jimmy Page and more about John Paul Jones’s ability to weave in and out of the forefront. Such a solid track. I never tire of it.
3. Physical Graffiti (1975)
Physical Graffiti is a double album of mostly B-sides and outtakes from their sessions for Zeppelin III and IV. Some people think the album is too long. I think those people are nuts. Although, I’d have been just fine if Page left “Down by the Seaside” on the studio floor.
This album has so many great tracks, “Kashmir” being the most well-known. “Custard Pie,” “In My Time of Dying,” “Ten Years Gone,” “The Wanton Song,” and “Sick Again” are all personal favorites of mine and have supplied conversation fuel for Zeppelin chats as long as I can remember.
My favorite song from Physical Graffiti: “Kashmir.” This song makes the whole album worthwhile, and to hear Robert Plant tell it, is more quintessential Zeppelin than even “Stairway to Heaven.” It’s absolutely massive, and nothing else in the world sounds quite like it.
2. Led Zeppelin III (1970)
Known affectionately as Zeppelin’s “acoustic” album – even though it’s got “Immigrant Song” – Led Zeppelin III ranks high in retrospect. The first two Zep albums were much heavier and more bluesy, focused on layers of electric guitars and swirling echoed vocals. Zep III finally shows how well Page and Plant wrote songs together.
There’s an intimacy on Led Zeppelin III that may have thrown fans off at the time. In the fifty-plus years since its release, the album has become an almost stand-alone example of Led Zeppelin exercising simplicity and brevity to explore the various ways they could make music sound gigantic. It is a masterful record.
My favorite track from Led Zeppelin III: “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” It’s quite difficult for me to explain why I love this song so much. It’s very personal to me on a soul level, which is to say I identify with the feelings it exudes. Beyond that, I love the guitar sound and that intro! I saw Jimmy Page play this in concert once (about 1996) and I almost passed out. Absolute brilliance.
1. Led Zeppelin IV (Also known as “Zoso,” 1971)
At a certain point, there comes a clear before and after. Kiss before and after makeup. Aerosmith before and after “Dude Looks Like a Lady.” Led Zeppelin before and after “Stairway to Heaven.” That song has become so popular, and such a sought-after tune to learn to play, there is no escape from its grasp.
If you play “Stairway to Heaven” at a guitar shop they’ll kick you out! Yet it is consistently pointed out as the quintessential Led Zeppelin song. By extension, Led Zeppelin IV has come to exemplify Led Zeppelin as a portrait of 1970s rock and roll.
Everything about Led Zeppelin IV is iconic. Each of its eight songs is a staple of classic rock radio and a bona fide Zeppelin megahit. “Black Dog,” “Rock and Roll,” and “When the Levee Breaks” have been covered by countless rock bands. The album’s cover is striking in its simplicity – and entirely memorable image.
Zeppelin IV is also known by fans as “Zoso,” due to the use of the now-famous symbols each band member used as a logo. Jimmy Page’s logo is responsible for the “Zoso” epithet. Itself an illustrious symbol that conjures thoughts of mystery and magic.
My favorite song from Led Zeppelin IV: “Stairway to Heaven.” Considered one of the greatest rock and roll songs ever recorded, “Stairway to Heaven” is untouchable. If someone asked me to show them the one Led Zeppelin song that best personifies the band and its history, I would show them “Stairway to Heaven” without hesitation. A lot of folks will tell you they’re tired of hearing it, but I would not be one of them. To me, it is perfect.
This article was written by Joel and edited by Michael.
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