It’s a new year and I’m happy to bring you some more Listen to This, Not That, and what better way to start off the year than with Led Zeppelin, a band that I’ve wanted to talk about and do a deep dive into for a long time. As with the previous posts, I’ll be talking about what makes Led Zeppelin special and why I love them, what songs .
I write this series as a way to introduce people to classic rock from a different angle. I’ve already talked about bands of The British Invasion and Psychedelic rock, so let’s move onto hard rock and finish up the part of the series where I talk about the six “basic bitch” classic rock bands: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Queen (coming next month). I’ve also written a blog post about The Kinks and ones about The British Invasion and Psychedelic Rock.
This blog post, like all the others in the series, is for anyone: from longtime fans who want to hear someone else’s opinion and analysis to people who want to get more into Led Zeppelin beyond the hits to people who are totally new to Led Zeppelin. As always, everyone is welcome to The Diversity of Classic Rock. I’m proud to say that this is a judgement free zone to learn more about classic rock. With that said, let’s get started!
Loop Zoop? Lead Balloons? What’s so special about them?
I got into Led Zeppelin quite early on in my love of classic rock. I was around 15 or 16 when I started listening to their songs. I loved their versatility. They had songs that were more acoustic/country/bluesy like music on Led Zeppelin III and they had heavy rock that you could headbang to: “Immigrant Song”, “Kashmir”, “Rock and Roll”. That’s enough about me and why I love Led Zeppelin.
To address the elephant in the room, Led Zeppelin get criticism from the classic rock fandom because they ripped off blues musicians, many of whom lived in poverty and didn’t get the credit or royalties they deserve after a popular rock band took their songs, make them more hard rock, and popularised them. It’s up to you to decide whether that’s a dealbreaker or not. I don’t believe in telling people what to think. I like to share my opinions and why I think the way that I do, while encouraging you to come to your own conclusions.
You can still enjoy a band’s work and acknowledge that they have some issues. I don’t think white musicians (Robert Plant is half Romani though) covering black musicians’ songs is evil or cultural appropriation. Music is art and art is for all to enjoy. And I think there is a positive side to rock stars covering blues songs by black southern musicians and rearranging them and performing them in a different style and introducing them to younger audiences. Chances are, some of these fans’ curiosity might be piqued and they might want to do research and find out more about who wrote those songs, the stories behind the songs, and find out about the musicians and songwriters who originally performed these songs. From there, those under appreciated blues musicians get more fans and a revival in popularity. Of course, adoration doesn’t pay the bills and these musicians (or their families if the musician is deceased) must be credited and get the royalty payments they deserve.
With the controversy about Led Zeppelin aside, what do people think is special about Led Zeppelin? What’s the hype? The two main reasons behind the hype are that they are heavy metal and hard rock pioneers and the band members are all masters of their craft. And I guess if I had to pick a third thing, they made being nerdy cool, like they’d talk about Lord of the Rings and stuff and make it sound metal af, how? When you think hard rock, Led Zeppelin are one of the first bands you think of, no doubt.
Hard rock bands are always compared to Led Zeppelin because they were making music in this style before a lot of their contemporaries. They released their first two albums in 1969 – so it wasn’t even the 70s yet and they were making music that sounded heavier than a lot of what you’ve heard before. Picture “Dazed and Confused” or “Communication Breakdown” playing on the radio in 1969. What was popular then? Looking at the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 chart, it was a lot of poppy, bubblegummy, happy hippie music. Not a surprise because what’s on the charts isn’t the groundbreaking alternative heavy rock and roll headbanger music that blows your mind. Radio’s not looking to appeal to niche audiences who like mindblowing music, they’re trying to appeal to wide audiences. Lots of bands call Led Zeppelin a big influence whether it’s 70s bands like Rush, Queen, Heart, and Aerosmith; or punk bands like The Ramones and Joy Division; 80s glam metal bands like Motley Crue and Skid Row; 90s grunge bands like Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, and Nirvana; or modern bands like The White Stripes and Greta Van Fleet. Led Zeppelin will continue to influence rock bands for a long time.
And the second main reason, each band member being a master of their craft is absolutely true. All of the band members are ranked pretty highly in their respective role in the band. Jimmy Page is considered one of the best guitarists. John Paul Jones is very respected as a bass player. John Bonham is often considered the best drummer ever. Robert Plant is considered one of the best lead singers and a big reason why their live shows were so great, he has great stage presence. Both Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were established session musicians before joining Led Zeppelin and remember that Jonesy can pretty much play every instrument and he’s good at it too.
That’s enough blathering about how awesome Led Zeppelin are because we have a discography deep dive to do!
Not That! Overplayed Led Zeppelin songs
There’s no question about it, Led Zeppelin are one of the most played rock bands on classic rock radio. If you look up any starter pack memes about classic rock radio stations, you’ll always find Led Zeppelin in there. If you turn on the classic rock radio station, there’s a good chance there’s a Led Zeppelin song on. What this means is I’m going to have to be strict with this Listen to This, Not That and go with the traditional rules I used for the first three blog posts: no top 20 hits and no greatest hits. However, this is where we run into a problem and this is one of the most shocking things about Led Zeppelin. Remember when I said The Who were a band that never had a #1 hit in their home country? Well here’s something even more surprising! Led Zeppelin, in their time as a band never had a chart hit in the UK, bar a 1997 re-release of “Whole Lotta Love”, which charted at #21.
You might ask so how were Led Zeppelin so popular if they never had a chart hit? Well the 70s were a different time. In the present, it’s all about singles because we have the attention span of a goldfish. Back in the good old days, it was all about the album and you can tell. Albums back then were so much more solid, a lot of all killer, no filler albums in classic rock. Today though, it’s rare to have an album that I’d call perfect: all killer tracks and doesn’t make me want to hit the skip button. Listening to music was a whole different experience then: there was no MTV then and listening to music was all done physically: no digital downloads. To make the album buying experience special, thought was put into album covers, gatefolds, and little freebies and marketing stuff inside albums: lyric sheets, stickers, posters. It was important to have an album that was good start to finish because you can sit back, relax, listen to the album, and immerse yourself in it. Led Zeppelin were not a singles band. They wanted you to buy the album and they made it worth it because their albums are excellent. You know you’re going to be hearing something great when you put on a Led Zeppelin album. The albums sold like hot cakes, and how! In the UK, every album except for Led Zeppelin I topped the albums charts. In the US, everything but Led Zeppelin I and IV topped the albums charts. Those albums that didn’t top the charts were still top 10. Think of what other bands could do that. This easily makes Led Zeppelin legendary.
So since we can’t really talk about top 40 hits, since that’s not exactly applicable to Led Zeppelin, we’ll need to compile a list of their greatest hits, so what compilation will I use as my blacklist for songs I can’t recommend? I’m going to pick The Best of Led Zeppelin: Early Days and Latter Days, released in 1999 and 2000, as the blacklist. It’s a popular enough compilation album and pretty much covers all the overplayed radio songs and songs everyone knows. The complete track list:
- “Good Times, Bad Times”
- “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”
- “Dazed and Confused”
- “Communication Breakdown”
- “Whole Lotta Love”
- “What Is and What Should Never Be”
- “Immigrant Song”
- “Since I’ve Been Loving You”
- “Black Dog”
- “Rock and Roll”
- “Battle of “Evermore”
- “When the Levee Breaks”
- “Stairway to Heaven”
- “The Song Remains the Same”
- “No Quarter”
- “Houses of the Holy”
- “Trampled Under Foot”
- “Ten Years Gone”
- “Achilles Last Stand”
- “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”
- “All My Love”
- “In The Evening”
I’m surprised “Ramble On”, “Heartbreaker” (a concert staple), “Going to California”, and “Over The Hills and Far Away” aren’t on the best of compilation since all of these are very popular, so those won’t be included in the Listen to This section. I think this best of album is missing a lot of tracks!
As with all other Listen to This, Not That, we won’t be looking at live albums. All we will be looking at are studio albums: from Led Zeppelin I through In Through The Out Door. That’s 8 albums, so it’s definitely not the most intimidating discography. I think the good news with bands with relatively short discographies is that they are better as a whole. You know my opinion on The Beatles, they have the best, most consistently good discography of any rock band, which is why I’m not upset that they broke up when they did – The Beatles never had a trainwreckord, to borrow a term from Todd in the Shadows. Usually when a band have a really long discography and have been releasing albums for 20 some odd years, there are going to be some duds. Does what I said about The Beatles hold true for Led Zeppelin? You’ll see.
Listen to This: Overlooked/underrated Led Zeppelin Songs
As with previous posts, the deep dive is done album by album and I’ll share my thoughts on each album and share what songs I think are underrated. The playlist will be linked below.
Led Zeppelin I (1969)
Released at the beginning of 1969, this is how you start the year! It’s a fabulous debut album and recorded in such a short time frame: just 36 hours of studio time over the span of a few weeks and on Jimmy Page’s dime. They didn’t even have a record deal yet when they recorded the album in the autumn of 1968. The opening track “Good Times, Bad Times” begins the Led Zep discography and this album with a bang! Like a lot of classic rock debut albums, there are a lot of covers: half this album is covers, brilliant ones though. There’s a reason that F is for Family parodied Led Zeppelin as Lifted Riffs. “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” was famously performed by Joan Baez in 1962 and written by Anne Bredon in the 50s. “You Shook Me” was written by Willie Dixon and performed by Muddy Waters. “Dazed and Confused” was written by Jake Homes. “Black Mountainside” ripped off the folk song “Down by Blackwaterside”, famously performed by Bert Jansch in 1966. “I Can’t Quit You Baby” was another Willie Dixon composition, but performed by Otis Rush. “How Many More Times” was inspired by Howlin’ Wolf’s “How Many More Years”.
Besides the fan favourites, I like “Your Time is Gonna Come”, which flows nicely with the instrumental “Black Mountainside”, I think these are songs you have to play back to back along with “I Can’t Quit You Baby” and “How Many More Times” (I can hear some influences from “Beck’s Bolero” and Jimmy’s work in the Yardbirds on this one). Overall, this is an album I would consider a “perfect album”. Great debut.
Led Zeppelin II (1969)
Led Zeppelin aren’t an ordinary band. They released not only one good album in 1969, but two good albums in 1969 and toured heavily that year, playing 168 shows that year, according to setlist.fm. The album was conceived while on tour and studio time was just squeezed in, with the album being recorded in various studios on both sides of the Atlantic. Some songs came from improvisations the band did on tour. However, Zeppelin being Zeppelin, a lot of the songs were ripped off of blues songs, but man these ripoffs sound good! “Whole Lotta Love” was written by Willie Dixon as “You Need Lovin'” and famously performed by The Small Faces in 1966, this version surely inspired Robert Plant! “The Lemon Song” rips off Howlin Wolf’s “Killing Floor”. “Moby Dick” is based on Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step”.
The tracks I chose to put on my playlist are “The Lemon Song” (a favourite in the Led Zeppelin Tumblr fandom, what a throwback!), “Thank You” (a beautiful love song Robert Plant wrote for his wife, Maureen), “Living Loving Maid” (never played live because the band considered it a filler song), the instrumental “Moby Dick” (a live favourite, but hardly ever played on classic rock radio), and “Bring it On Home”.
Fun fact, did you know Led Zeppelin never played “Ramble On” live until the Ahmet Ertegün Tribute Concert in 2007?
Led Zeppelin III (1970)
This album is clearly different from the previous two because on the whole it has more of a folk and acoustic sound to it and it makes you realise Led Zeppelin are more than just hard rock and they’re actually versatile, in fact I don’t think they’re the heaviest band of their time. However, hard rock isn’t completely forgotten because the opening track is the famous “Immigrant Song”, but if you want a song that’s hard rock on this album to listen to instead of that, listen to “Celebration Day” and “Out on the Tiles”, and I recommend listening to “Friends” and “Celebration Day” back to back, since they blend nicely together. Three songs on the album were written while Jimmy and Robert were holidaying in Bron-Yr-Aur, a cottage in Snowdonia in Wales. The cottage was so remote that it had no electricity or running water, so you couldn’t plug in any amps. It was a real back to basics sort of experience. Musically, the biggest influences on this album are Davey Graham, Bert Jansch, and John Fahey. This was an album that I previously slept on, but it’s really good. Led Zeppelin don’t let you down, it’s another perfect album! Other highlights from it are “Gallows Pole”, “Tangerine”, “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”, and “Hats off to Harper”.
Also known as Led Zeppelin IV, this album is a fan favourite and has so many classics: “Black Dog”, “Rock and Roll”, “The Battle of Evermore” (duet with Sandy Denny, the only guest vocalist to appear on a Led Zeppelin album – she even got her own Led Zeppelin symbol), “Stairway to Heaven”, “Going to California”, and “When the Levee Breaks”. It’s considered one of the best rock albums of all time and for good reason. It also is their best selling album, with over 37 million copies sold! All of these are classic rock radio staples. The album is called Untitled because the band members titled it with each of them picking a symbol that represents them.
I suppose if I had to include songs from this album that are “under appreciated”, I suppose “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Four Sticks”. Simply put, Led Zeppelin did it again, another perfect album. Most of my favourite bands can manage three legendary albums in a row, but Led Zeppelin having more than 3 good albums in a row? That makes them legends in my book for that.
Houses of the Holy (1973)
Two years break and Led Zeppelin finally have an album with a title that isn’t their band’s name with a Roman numeral next to it. Spoiler alert: there is no song on here called “Houses of the Holy”, you’ll have to wait until Physical Graffiti for that one. Real Galaxy Brain move, Queen copied that and had a 1974 album called Sheer Heart Attack, but the song “Sheer Heart Attack” was on their 1977 album, News of the World. Hipgnosis designed the album cover based on a photo taken of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.
Led Zeppelin being Led Zeppelin, this is another great album. The most popular songs on this album are “The Song Remains The Same”, “No Quarter”, and “Over The Hills and Far Away” frequently played at concerts. “Dy’er Maker” is one of the best known songs on the album and was a rare single from Led Zeppelin, reaching the top 20 in the US. If you’re tired of those songs, I recommend “The Rain Song” (beautiful song), “The Crunge” (a Bonham composition), and “The Ocean” (I loved this song so much that at one point I had it as my ringtone).
Physical Graffiti (1975)
Led Zeppelin’s first and only double album, it is made up of a mix of new songs written at Headley Grange supplemented with some previously unreleased tracks from the sessions of Led Zeppelin III (“Bron-Yr-Aur”), IV (“Down By The Seaside”, “Night Flight”, and “Boogie With Stu”), and Houses of the Holy (“The Rover”, “Houses of the Holy”, and “Black Country Woman”). Sound wise, it has a mix of hard rock, prog rock, and folk rock songs. Once again, another strong album from Led Zeppelin that proves their consistent excellence as a band. Jim Miller wrote in Rolling Stone that Physical Graffiti was Led Zeppelin’s Tommy, Beggar’s Banquet, and Sgt Pepper rolled into one. Page and Plant consider this album one of their favourites they made and the band at their best. The album cover is iconic and classic rock fans who go to New York City try to find the Physical Graffiti building on 96 and 98 East 8th Street/St Mark’s Place.
If you’re tired of “Trampled Under Foot”, “Kashmir”, and “Ten Years Gone”, try “The Rover”, “Houses of the Holy”, “In The Light”, “Bron-Yr-Aur”, “Down By The Seaside”, “Night Flight”, and “The Wanton Song”.
Although it reached the top of the British and American albums charts, this album was considered a disappointment, receiving mixed reviews from critics. It was Led Zeppelin’s worst-selling album and recorded during a difficult time for the band: Robert Plant was seriously injured in a car accident and was recovering from injuries, which meant that Led Zeppelin had to cancel tour dates, and Jimmy Page allegedly started using heroin. This album has a simpler, less intricate sound than past work. I don’t think it’s at the same level as their earliest work. The greatest hits album definitely gets it right with “Achilles Last Stand” being a highlight. It’s a great song! This is an album I’d skip and I don’t think my opinion has changed much on that. This album doesn’t have the heart, soul, and oomph like the previous albums do. Not awful and I wouldn’t say Led Zeppelin went downhill like The Who and The Kinks did, but a disappointment considering their previous work. I guess the nicest thing I can say is the album artwork is iconic because it’s Hipgnosis. Besides “Achilles Last Stand”, my second favourite track is “Hots On For Nowhere”. Honestly, unless you have to listen to everything, you can skip this album.
In Through The Out Door (1979)
Led Zeppelin’s last studio album was once again made during a difficult time, this time Robert Plant mourning the death of his son, Karac, and the band being tax exiles and unable to tour in the UK for 2 years, making it hard to promote their music in their country. Album artwork was once again Hipgnosis. The greatest hits album sums it up pretty well, “In The Evening” and “All My Love” are the highlights. If you want to go beyond that, I really liked “South Bound Saurez”, the Latin influenced “Fool in the Rain” (reached #21 on the US charts, so it was a hit, but not a top 20 hit), and the yeehaw meme song “Hot Dog”. You finally hear some synthesisers. I don’t think Led Zeppelin’s sound works well with synthesisers (it just sounds cheesy and like they’re jumping on a trend), in my opinion, but it’s better than when The Who tried it on Who Are You. It’s better than Presence, but I don’t think this album is essential. Doesn’t help that Robert Plant’s voice isn’t what it used to be.
An album of odds and sods, songs that Led Zeppelin recorded but didn’t release in the past. There were only 8 tracks on the original release because Led Zeppelin didn’t have a lot of leftover songs and used pretty much everything they recorded. It’s a cash grab, released to counter all the bootleg Led Zeppelin stuff that was released. There are a couple worthwhile songs, like “We’re Gonna Groove” (a Ben E. King cover), “Poor Tom” (outtake from the LZ III sessions, reached #18 on the Mainstream Rock charts), a drum solo called “Bonzo’s Montreux” (those electronic effects are cheesy, but I love Bonzo’s drumming), and “Hey, Hey, What Can I Do” (b-side of “Immigrant Song”).
In Conclusion: Led Zeppelin, pretty consistently good, but went a bit downhill with their last two albums, still not a car crash like other bands and there were more redeeming things about those albums than other bands’ bad albums. Still, no one beats The Beatles as far as consistency in album releases.
Here’s the Listen to This, Not That playlist for Led Zeppelin
As a bonus, here’s a playlist of songs Led Zeppelin covered/ripped off:
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Yes, I agree with the essence of your comments re Zep and blues musicians here. I have no problem with the cultural appropriation angle per se because art has always borrowed and adapted from other cultures. I do have a problem with the failure to credit the original writers though and thus deny royalties. I think this is the difference between Zep and the Stones. They both took but the Stones gave back, too. Giving royalties and credits where they were due and also Keith Richards personally did a huge amount to track down some of these old guys driving buses etc and reconnect them with audiences.
On another matter I did once end up spending an evening out with Jimmy Page…
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Thank you! That’s pretty incredible what Keith Richards did! Kudos to him! Hanging out with Jimmy Page sounds like a dream! I’m jealous! 🙂
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Yes a gloriously unexpected turn of events that evening!
On the Keith Richards thing this video of (chuck Berry sideman) Johnnie Johnson’s induction speech at rock and roll hall of fame recalling the moment Keith R helped rediscover him when working as a bus driver in 80s always gets me https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLV9dLMXj0c
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Great post but I would add ‘Tea For One’ as a track worth listening to from ‘Presence’; and ‘Carouselambra’ , that opens side 2 of ITTOD, took a few years to work its magic on me but when I heard the remastered version it was like a brand new song for me! Also if you take ‘Hot Dog’ off ITTOD and replace it with ‘Wearing And Tearing’ from ‘Coda’, you get a much better album. Looking forward to your Queen post. 🤘
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