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Best Led Zeppelin Albums: Their Complete Studio Discography, Ranked And Reviewed
List & Guides

Best Led Zeppelin Albums: Their Complete Studio Discography, Ranked And Reviewed

Balancing thunderous power with subtle delicacy, the best Led Zeppelin albums still soar far above the competition.

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Unlike their often thunderous live shows, Led Zeppelin’s studio work told a subtler story. Yes, their fantastic self-titled debut album is regularly cited as one of the cornerstones of heavy metal, but their eight studio albums (nine, if we rightly include the outtakes collection Coda) mirrored the legendary quartet’s relentless desire to change, progress and release records full of richness and diversity. During their 12 years of active service together, frontman Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist Jean Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham produced one of rock’s most esteemed catalogues, and the best Led Zeppelin albums reveal exactly why their music still soars today.

Listen to the best of Led Zeppelin here, and check out the best Led Zeppelin albums, below.

9: ‘Coda’ (1982)

Though it’s effectively a collection of rarities and outtakes left over from the band’s eight official studio albums, Coda deserves to be submitted for consideration among the best Led Zeppelin albums. Released two years after John Bonham’s death brought an end to the band as an active unit, the record is consistently fine throughout, and the three tracks culled from the In Through The Out Door album sessions (Ozone Baby and the aggressive Wearing And Tearing, in particular) are so strong it beggars belief that they remained in the vault.

Must hear: Wearing And Tearing

8: ‘In Through The Out Door’ (1979)

Received wisdom tries to convince us that the punk movement made dinosaurs of hard-rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, yet the struggles the band faced during 1977’s infamous “Summer Of Hate” were far closer to home. On 26 July of that year, Robert Plant’s beloved five-year-old son, Karac, died from a viral infection, with the grief over his loss making the singer question whether he even wanted to be in Led Zeppelin anymore.

In the end, the band reconvened for one more studio set, In Through The Out Door, which – while not intended as their final album – became their swansong following the death of John Bonham. Containing songs such as the ambitious, disco-flavoured Carouselambra and the glorious ballad All My Love, the album suggested that Zeppelin would have been well equipped to fly on into the future had fate not intervened.

Must hear: All My Love

7: ‘Presence’ (1976)

It’s ironic that Led Zeppelin found themselves fighting off offensives from the likes of Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned, for they released one of their most thrillingly aggressive albums in the same year that UK punk’s first wave was breaking. The punks might also have been impressed to learn that Led Zeppelin recorded the Presence album during a rapid, seat-of-the-pants three-week spell, even if that timeline was dictated by the fact the studio they were using (Musicland, in Munich) had been block-booked by another of punk’s collective nemeses, The Rolling Stones.

Circumstances largely dictated the way Presence turned out: the group only decided to record the album after abandoning an extensive world tour in support of Physical Graffiti – a necessary move after Robert Plant broke his ankle and elbow in a horrific car crash during a family holiday in Sicily. He recorded most of his vocals for Presence while still in a wheelchair, while the band took their collective frustration out by working up some of the most abrasive material of their career. Accordingly, Presence is narrower in stylistic scope than most of the best Led Zeppelin albums, but it compensates through energy and exhilaration, with the likes of Hots On For Nowhere, the angsty Nobody’s Fault But Mine and the thunderous, ten-minute Achilles Last Stand all ranking among the most ferocious music the band ever committed to tape.

Must hear: Achilles Last Stand

6: ‘Houses Of The Holy’ (1973)

Most bands who experience multi-platinum mainstream success are loathe to mess with the formula, but Led Zeppelin weren’t – and never will be – most bands, and they had no intention of replicating the content of their untitled fourth album (aka “Led Zeppelin IV”) for 1973’s Houses Of The Holy. Housed in one of the best Led Zeppelin album covers, the group’s fifth outing was arguably their most diverse collection to date. The rockers (Dancing Days, The Ocean and the shape-throwing, Who-esque The Song Remains The Same) were still reliably fierce, but the band also dabbled with reggae (D’Yer Maker) and James Brown-style funk (The Crunge), while John Paul Jones excelled on the keyboard-heavy selections, The Rain Song and the brooding No Quarter.

Must hear: No Quarter

5: ‘Led Zeppelin’ (1969)

It may not top this list of the best Led Zeppelin albums, yet there’s no denying that the group’s self-titled debut is still one of the most influential records in the history of rock. Recorded in just 30 hours mere weeks after Plant, Page, Jones and Bonham first plugged in and played together, Led Zeppelin still exudes a thrilling rawness; its DNA is easily detectable in the evolution of heavy metal and hard rock, and there are even shades of proto-punk in the Johnny Ramone-endorsed Communication Breakdown. Cementing its status as one of the best debut albums in history, Led Zeppelin also delivered range, with the hymnal Your Time Is Gonna Come, the Bert Jansch-inspired Black Mountain Side and the gripping prog-folk reworking of Anne Bredon’s Babe I’m Gonna Leave You contrasting starkly with the album’s supercharged blues-based workouts.

Must hear: Babe I’m Gonna Leave You

4: ‘Led Zeppelin II’ (1969)

Despite being pieced together from sessions snatched on rare days when they weren’t on the road in 1969, Led Zeppelin II maintained Led Zeppelin’s strike rate. In fact, if anything, the pressure arguably helped the band to focus on making the record even heavier and more intense than its landmark predecessor. In retrospect, they achieved that aim in style, as Led Zeppelin II included several of their brawniest rockers, courtesy of Heartbreaker, Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman) and their signature, hit Whole Lotta Love, driven by one of the best guitar riffs of all time. Once again, though, Led Zeppelin II wasn’t all about muscle and volume, as the heartfelt Thank You, the jazzy What Is And What Should Never Be and the JRR Tolkien-inspired folk-rock of Ramble On displayed the group’s softer side on a fantastic record which displayed a heightened grasp of dynamics.

Must hear: Whole Lotta Love

3: ‘Led Zeppelin III’ (1970)

After their first two albums had turned them into one of the most influential bands on the planet, it would have been perfectly natural for Led Zeppelin to churn out more of the same. However, as Robert Plant later told Uncut magazine, the group were “obsessed with change” and, after Page and Plant took themselves off for a songwriting session at Bron-Y-Aur, a remote cottage in Snowdonia, in the northwest of Wales, a more pastoral direction presented itself. That said, it’s a misnomer to label Led Zeppelin III as the merely the band’s “acoustic album”, as it also includes several of their heaviest rockers, in the shape of Immigrant Song, Celebration Day and Out On The Tiles. Yet there’s no doubt Led Zeppelin sounded equally godlike when they dialled down the volume on Tangerine, the contemplative That’s The Way and the wholly compelling, mandolin-assisted Gallows Pole.

Must hear: Gallows Pole

2: Untitled (aka “Led Zeppelin IV”) (1971)

Having radically changed direction with Led Zeppelin III, the band embraced even greater stylistic diversity on their stellar fourth disc. Recorded primarily in rural isolation at Headley Grange, in Hampshire, the officially untitled record (usually referred to as “Led Zeppelin IV”) captured Led Zeppelin cresting an almighty wave of creativity, with this rich and eclectic album embracing everything from the complex yet graceful Stairway To Heaven to the time-signature-defying Black Dog and the band’s much-sampled cover of Memphis Minnie’s When The Levee Breaks. Their label were concerned about the record’s obscure sleeve and its lack of a proper title, but “Led Zeppelin IV”’s inherent quality and subsequent sales (37 million copies and counting) prove it’s one of the very best Led Zeppelin albums, whatever you care to call it.

Must hear: When The Levee Breaks

1: ‘Physical Graffiti’ (1975)

It’s so easy to marvel at everything from the silverware they amassed to the concert attendance records they broke that we often forget Led Zeppelin’s most staggering feat was their ability to hit ever-greater creative peaks – no matter how big they got. And this is writ largest with Physical Graffiti, a double album released at the very height of the group’s mid-70s pomp.

Despite filling four sides of vinyl, Physical Graffiti displayed barely an ounce of fat, and much of its material demands inclusion among the best Led Zeppelin songs. Its trademark gut-level rockers (Custard Pie, The Rover, Houses Of The Holy) were hard and unrelenting; its stylistic departures (Black Country Woman, the estimably funky Trampled Underfoot) were as cool as they were unexpected; and its daring epics (Kashmir, the suite-like In The Light) were executed with a greater audacity than ever before. Reviews showered praise on the collection, comparing it with 60s game-changers such as The BeatlesSgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Who’s Tommy. It’s up against seminal competition even among its creators’ own work, but when it comes to the best Led Zeppelin albums, it’s still Physical Graffiti that makes the most indelible mark.

Must hear: In The Light

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