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Best Led Zeppelin Songs: 20 Tracks That Redefined Rock’n’Roll
List & Guides

Best Led Zeppelin Songs: 20 Tracks That Redefined Rock’n’Roll

Absorbing everything from blues to folk and funk, the best Led Zeppelin songs prove the rock behemoths still deserve a whole lotta love.

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Arguably the world’s biggest rock band during the 70s, Led Zeppelin didn’t do anything by halves. Famous for their marathon live shows, the group more or less invented stadium rock, and while tales of their hedonistic excesses are legion, that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that the best Led Zeppelin songs redefined the very notion of rock’n’roll.

The punks may have tried to bury bands like Led Zeppelin in the late 70s, but their DNA is easily detectable in younger rock acts such as Wolfmother, Kings Of Leon and Greta Van Fleet. Though widely lauded as progenitors of heavy metal, the group absorbed everything from blues and folk to funk and some of the more exotic strands of what would later be termed “world music” into their mighty sonic arsenal.

Our 20 best Led Zeppelin songs reveals exactly how that happened…

20: In The Evening

Led Zeppelin’s final studio album, In Through The Out Door, was less than well received in 1979. In retrospect, though, it was a diverse and forward-thinking record. While its obvious highlight is the dense, anthemic In The Evening, the heartfelt All My Love and daring, disco-prog epic Carouselambra are also contenders for placement among the best Led Zeppelin songs.

19: No Quarter

Primarily the work of bassist/keyboard player John Paul Jones, No Quarter first surfaced during the sessions for Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album (aka “Led Zeppelin IV”) at Headley Grange, in Hampshire, but came into its own during the Houses Of The Holy sessions in 1972, when the band slowed it down and Jones added synth, bass and piano effects. The song’s title, derived from the military practice of showing no mercy to a vanquished opponent, and singer Robert Plant’s ominous lyric (“Walking side by side with death/The devil mocks their every step”) perfectly matched the music’s dark, otherworldly feel. Live, No Quarter mesmerised audiences, becoming a centrepiece of all Led Zeppelin concerts from 1973 up to their final tour.

18: Celebration Day

A tight, compact rocker from 1970’s Led Zeppelin III, Celebration Day lived up to its title, with the band in upbeat, confident mood and Robert Plant’s lyric (“We’re gonna dance and sing in celebration/We are in the promised land”) reflecting the euphoria he felt when the band visited New York City for the first time. Influential producer and lifelong Led Zeppelin fan Rick Rubin later told Rolling Stone that the track “feels like a freight train, even though it’s not one of their heavier songs. There’s tremendous momentum in the way they play together.”

17: Trampled Underfoot

Anyone believing Led Zeppelin stood merely for muscle, volume and overkill needs to hear Trampled Underfoot. One of numerous highlights from 1975’s superlative Physical Graffiti, this flamboyant and convincingly funky workout is as sassy as they come. Easily standing Led Zeppelin’s best songs, it finds Jones’ Stevie Wonder-esque clavinet and Jimmy Page’s wah-wah-drenched guitar riding a monster disco groove, leaving just Plant’s Robert Johnson-inspired, automobile-based innuendos (“Mama, let me pump your gas”) as the song’s only discernible link to the blues.

16: Babe I’m Gonna Leave You

Led Zeppelin came to this Anne Breedon-penned folk standard via Joan Baez’ 1962 version of the song, which Jimmy Page had played for Robert Plant at the very start of the group’s career in the autumn of 1968. “I wanted to do a version of this but with a certain dynamic edge,” Page told Record Collector in 2018 – and Zeppelin did just that, transforming it into the epic song filled with darkness and dread which so memorably graces their self-titled 1969 debut album.

15: Ramble On

Vacillating between bucolic ballad and anthemic rocker, the quixotic Ramble On is one of the greatest Led Zeppelin songs, and a highlight of the group’s second album. Making subtle use of a sustain built especially for him by guitar effects king Roger Mayer, Page’s quicksilver solo is inspired, while at least part of Plant’s vivid lyric is based upon the adventures of Frodo Baggins and his journey “to the darkest depths of Mordor” in JRR Tolkien’s influential fantasy novel, The Lord Of The Rings.

14: Communication Breakdown

It’s ironic that Led Zeppelin were later pilloried by the punks, as you could convincingly argue that they invented punk with Communication Breakdown: a shot of pure rock’n’roll adrenaline from their self-titled debut album that remains as raw and vital as anything proto-punk outfits The Stooges and MC5 released on the cusp of the 70s. In the documentary Ramones: The True Story, Johnny Ramone later revealed he developed his no-nonsense guitar style by playing this Zeppelin song over and over while learning his craft.

13: Thank You

Though known primarily as purveyors of ferocious hard rock, the best Led Zeppelin songs found the group equally capable of making music rich with subtlety and poise. A high point of Led Zeppelin II, the poignant Thank You was entirely personal for Robert Plant, its heartfelt lyric (“If the sun refused to shine/I would still be loving you”) being a tender tribute to his wife, Maureen. His bandmates also played decisive supporting roles, with Jones’ church-y organ and Page’s delicate acoustic guitar parts performed with an admirable lightness of touch.

12: Gallows Pole

One of Led Zeppelin III’s numerous highlights, Gallows Pole was originally an obscure traditional folk ballad, The Maid Freed From The Gallows, in which the song’s subject escapes execution. Led Zeppelin, however, significantly reinvented it, recording a version that takes on a far more sinister hue, with the hangman taking the money and still killing the woman (“But now I laugh and pull so hard/And see you swinging on the gallows pole”). If that isn’t enough to give you goosebumps, the song is also a folk-rock masterpiece, Robert Plant matching the stomping beat and duelling mandolin and banjo with a truly barnstorming vocal.

11: Dazed And Confused

Dazed And Confused was written by US singer-songwriter Jake Holmes and performed in a folk-rock style on his 1967 album, “The Above Ground Sound” Of Jake Holmes, but The Yardbirds – in their final incarnation, featuring Jimmy Page – reworked it and played it live in early 1968. Page then further adapted into one of Led Zeppelin’s best songs: the intense, six-minute centrepiece of the group’s self-titled debut album. A staple of their set from their earliest shows, this slow, eerie psychedelic epic quickly became a showcase for Page’s famous violin-bowed electric guitar technique. When the band were in the mood, they stretched live versions of the song out to 30 minutes.

10: Rock And Roll

Frustrated by his band’s inability to complete the track Four Sticks during the sessions for “Led Zeppelin IV”, drummer John Bonham kicked into the drum intro to Little Richard’s Keep A-Knockin’, to which Jimmy Page immediately added a memorable Chuck Berry-style riff. Fifteen minutes later – and with a little help from guesting ex-Rolling Stones pianist Ian Stewart, who was at Headley Grange with the Stones’ mobile recording truck – Led Zeppelin had minted a classic original track. The rampaging, full-tilt boogie of the aptly-named Rock And Roll was later described by critic Robert Christgau as “simply the most dynamic hard-rock song in music”. That still rings true today.

9: In My Time Of Dying

Clocking in at just over 11 minutes, Physical Graffiti’s mighty In My Time Of Dying was the longest studio track ever recorded by Led Zeppelin. While its timespan seems daunting on paper, it’s a masterpiece of rock dynamics. Based upon a traditional gospel song, Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed, the song’s religious overtones (“Meet me in the middle of the air/If my wings should fail me, lord”) derive from a passage from Psalms, while the music’s seemingly effortless fusion of Delta blues and elemental heavy rock ensures it never drags.

8: The Rain Song

The Beatles’ George Harrison inadvertently inspired Houses Of The Holy’s The Rain Song when he told John Bonham that Zeppelin “never do ballads”. Gently provoked by the comment, Page worked up this exquisite seven-minute ballad embroidered by Page’s delicate, layered guitars and John Paul Jones’ Mellotron-generated strings. Robert Plant later cited it as both one of the best Led Zeppelin songs and one of his favourite vocal performances. “I’d reached a point where I knew that to get good I couldn’t repeat myself,” he told Rolling Stone in 2005. “The high falsetto screams had become a kind of calling card.”

7: Black Dog

Brimming with swagger, Black Dog is the sound of Led Zeppelin at their most primal and powerful. With its monster riff and an almost impossible-to-copy rhythmic swing, the song was influenced by Tom Cat from Muddy Waters’ Electric Mud album (“It has a long, rambling riff and I really liked writing something like that – a riff that would be a linear journey,” John Paul Jones told Record Collector in 2011). It copped its name from an old black Labrador which the band saw wandering around outside Headley Grange during the sessions for “Led Zeppelin IV”.

6: Achilles Last Stand

More than earning its place among Led Zeppelin’s best songs, Presence’s opening track, Achilles Last Stand, was both one of Led Zeppelin’s most sonically complex songs and also one of their most visceral. Stretching across ten minutes, this leviathan of a track was powered by Bonham and Jones’ surging rhythms, over which Page layered no less than six guitar tracks and Plant weighed in with an equally epic lyric touching upon the Greek myth of Atlas, William Blake’s Jerusalem and the Greek hero Achilles, along with his and’s Page’s own travels throughout Morocco, Greece and Spain during the summer of 1975.

5: Immigrant Song

Led Zeppelin’s one-off gig in the (then relatively unknown) Icelandic capital of Reykjavik in June 1970 clearly made an impression, for the band quickly drafted a new track, Immigrant Song, with Robert Plant’s lyric (“We come from the land of the ice and snow/From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow”) relating directly to the trip. Immediately taking its place among the best Led Zeppelin songs, the band unveiled it live in front of 150,000 fans at the Bath Festival just six days later. They then honed it further and, several months later, it sprang out of the traps as Led Zeppelin III’s opening cut. Goaded on by Page’s thunderous riffing, Plant crammed the song’s lyric full of references to both the Norsemen (“Valhalla, I am coming!”) and Viking mythology, and also turned in a suitably explosive vocal performance.

4: When The Levee Breaks

The closing track to “Led Zeppelin IV”, When The Levee Breaks was based on Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie’s country-blues standard of the same name. Crediting Minnie, the band kept the lyrics detailing the devastating Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Outside of that, however, Zeppelin rebuilt the song from the ground up, turning it into a truly apocalyptic-sounding blues-rock behemoth. Each band member’s contribution is essential, but John Bonham’s gargantuan drum sound – achieved by engineer Andy Johns recording his kit in the hallway at Headley Grange – is rightly accepted as the song’s defining characteristic. Among the great drum sounds of all time, Bonham’s singular beat has since been sampled by artists as diverse as Beastie Boys, Eminem and Massive Attack.

3: Whole Lotta Love

Colossal-sounding and horny as hell – but also daringly experimental – Whole Lotta Love needs no introduction. Propelled by Page’s iconic, chugging riff, Led Zeppelin II’s signature rocker is instantly recognisable to rock fans of all persuasions – and, indeed, readers of a certain age will always recall it as the Top Of The Pops theme tune. While the music oozes swagger, and Plant’s suggestive lyric (“I’m gonna give you every inch of my love”) is charged with sexual braggadocio, Zeppelin were also brave enough to include the free jazz-style breakdown at the core of the track, wherein Page twiddled with his Theremin antennae and the band brought the sound of the avant-garde to the masses.

2: Stairway To Heaven

Both milestone and millstone for the group, “Led Zeppelin IV”’s Stairway To Heaven is arguably the most successful album track of all time: even though it was never commercially released as a single, it became the most requested song on FM radio stations across the US during the 70s. It’s still a remarkable piece of work – equal parts folk, progressive rock and hard rock garnished with medieval flavours – but it polarised opinion within the band. Sick of performing it by the late 70s, Robert Plant labelled it “sanctimonious”, though Jimmy Page felt it remained one of the greatest Led Zeppelin songs, later telling Rolling Stone it “crystallized the essence of the band – it had everything there and showed us at our best as a band and as a unit.”

1: Kashmir

Stairway To Heaven may be synonymous with Led Zeppelin, but for sheer audacity, Kashmir trumps it to top our list of the best Led Zeppelin songs. Formidable, brooding and eminently cinematic, the music for Physical Graffiti’s epic centrepiece was influenced by Page and Plant’s trip to India in 1972, while Plant’s mystical lyric was inspired by a drive through the desert in southern Morocco. Built around Page’s iconic, shape-shifting guitar riff and further embroidered by strings and horns, the song has effortlessly retained its otherworldly quality. As the band’s archivist Dave Lewis said in 2010, it’s surely “the finest example of the sheer majesty of Zeppelin’s special chemistry”.

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