Led Zeppelin is without a doubt one of the greatest rock bands of all time. They broke up in 1980 after the tragic death of their phenomenally talented drummer John Bonham, since the rest of the band agreed that without John Bonham, there could be no Led Zeppelin. So, the band was only around for a decade or so in change. But during their short tenure, they left us with some of the most incredible and influential music ever created across some terrific albums (and some admittedly not so terrific ones). Here are all of those albums, ranked from worst to best.
Coda is the final album by Led Zeppelin and it’s also their weakest. The problem with it was that they only released it to make some extra money. See, after the sudden death of their drummer John Bonham in 1980, the band decided mutually to break up, since they couldn’t in all conscience go on without their iconic drummer. He was part of the crucial structural integrity of the band, and if they tried to continue without him, it simply wouldn’t work. The band would crumble. So, they laid the Led Zeppelin name to rest and got on with their lives. But then there was a rise in the sales of bootleg recordings of Zeppelin’s previous work, so in order to personally profit from this, they decided to get together everything that wasn’t already on their existing albums and put it together on one last album. The band was mostly tapped out, since they’d released most of their stuff on their previous albums, so all we really got here were the scraps. Of course, in the secret, previously released recordings of Zep, there are some very interesting sounds on the album. But ultimately, since it was more or less just an attempt to squeeze some extra cash out of the band, the passion that came through so clearly on their earlier albums was all but gone now. It’s just a good thing that they didn’t decide to release more albums after that, because without Bonham, there is no Zeppelin.
It’s a shame that Presence is only an average album that doesn’t stack up to Led Zeppelin’s best and didn’t sell very well, because it came at such an important time for the band. They were going through all sorts of personal issues, including Robert Plant still recovering from a terrible car accident when the album was being recorded, and they still managed to prevail. That’s why Jimmy Page has said that it’s the band’s “most important” album ever made – he saw it as a sign that the band could stay together and continuing making music through thick and thin. The album was a response to how the band had reached the height of their popularity. Plant’s car accident had led to the band having to cancel their upcoming world tour, so they decided to record a new album instead. The theme of it being based on their fame – or their ‘presence’ around the world, if you will – was taken from an experience that Plant had in the hospital. He was in Rhodes and heard the guy in the bed next to him start singing “The Ocean,” which had been the final track on Houses of the Holy that was written as a tribute to the ‘ocean’ of fans who had been attending their concerts. All of a sudden, it hit him how famous the band had become, and then the groundwork was laid for Presence. Unfortunately, that inspiring tidbit is the most interesting thing about this album, which is a bit of a middling affair.
7. In Through the Out Door
First of all, In Through the Out Door, what a terrific title! So poetic. This album sees the band at a difficult time in their lives. It was recorded just a year before John Bonham died, so his benders were the worst that they’d ever been. Robert Plant’s young son had just died from a disease in his stomach. The band members were feeling burned out by greedy record labels taking advantage of them. The whole band had left the UK indefinitely in order to avoid the steep income tax, which meant they couldn’t tour there and therefore had to struggle their way back into he public eye (hence the title – it was like trying to get back in through the ‘out’ door). Still, despite the troubled production, the album still made it to the number one spot on the Billboard charts and sold well over a million units in no time. Unfortunately, in retrospect based on what happened next, with this being their final proper album and all, it does sound like a band that is on its way out. Zeppelin were past their prime and they were beginning to realize it. The ‘80s were right around the corner and rock was about to change and the musical landscape as a whole was about to change. Bonham’s drumming is too intense and Plant’s lyrics start to make less and less sense and you can sense that Page is slowly giving up. In Through the Out Door, despite its beautifully poetic title, is one of the least satisfying of all the albums by Led Zeppelin.
6. Led Zeppelin III
Led Zeppelin III is considered to be a very important turning point in the history of Led Zeppelin’s music. This was when they showed the world that they had a wider variety of sound than just your average rock band. They expanded into the realm of folk music in their third album, with a lot of acoustic sounds. This was important for the development of the band, but unfortunately, as with most times that a band tries to expand out into new areas of the musical spectrum, it’s very hit and miss. Plus, with it being so different from what had come before, many critics and fans at the time of release hated it. Retrospectively, it’s not a bad album. It does have “Immigrant Song” and “Gallows Pole” that rock, as well as the fantastically surreal “Friends.” But it’s let down by the ballad “Tangerine,” which was born out of disagreement amongst the band members and isn’t very Zeppelin, and “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper,” which is a tribute to an obscure musician who did nothing like Zep do. Still, the band’s third album helped to develop Robert Plant’s skills as a lyricist, and even if its expansion into other genres and style than just rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t a resounding success, it did set the stage and start the band off on the path to become what they really were, a truly special and unique band that would influence the future of rock music.
5. Houses of the Holy
Houses of the Holy is one of the most heavily produced Zeppelin albums. The bands were layering their recordings with all kinds of production techniques that really enhanced the sound. The track listing includes a strong opener “The Song Remains the Same,” which was later used as the title of the band’s first concert film, as well as “The Rain Song,” which saw Robert Plant’s improving lyric writing become a little more mature and most away from all the allusions to fantasy and science fiction novels (seriously, these guys were considered cool) that he had been writing before. The band had always been trying new styles, like folk and the blues, but with this album, they really pushed the boat out. They tried reggae and doo-wop and acoustic piano and mystical, Pink Floyd-esque keyboard sounds and funk and even a cappella! They managed to expand across all these different genres because the album was recorded over several years. The band evolved over the course of those years and you can hear that in the album as it progresses. It may have lost its title track for whatever reason, which ended up on the next album and is a great song, but this is still a pretty strong album.
4. Physical Graffiti
Funnily enough, the song “Houses of the Holy” was not actually on the album Houses of the Holy. It was recorded for that album and was even used as the title track, but for whatever reason, it didn’t actually make it onto the track listing and was instead held back to be used on the later album, Physical Graffiti, which is one of the finest albums ever created by the band. It’s definitely their most artistically creative – it’s Led Zeppelin’s Sgt. Pepper. It was featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “The Definitive 200: Top 200 Albums of All Time,” the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” Guitar World magazine’s readers’ poll to find the “100 Greatest Guitar Albums,” and it got the number seven spot on Classic Rock magazine’s “100 Greatest British Rock Albums Ever” and the number five spot on their list of the “100 Greatest Rock Albums Ever” (even though that doesn’t quite work out, if it’s higher on the list with a wider reach – what?). Anyway, point is, this is a great album in the latter days of Led Zeppelin and everyone in the industry agrees.
3. Led Zeppelin II
Led Zeppelin are one of the best selling musical artists of all time. Despite the fact that they only ever released nine studio albums throughout their run, they have still managed to sell over 300 million albums. Their second studio album, Led Zeppelin II, contains their best selling single ever, “Whola Lotta Love,” and that’s not all. The best stuff by Led Zeppelin is their heavier stuff, which allows Jimmy Page to really show off his skills as a guitarist with strong solos and riffs, and the band’s second album is by far its heaviest. It also showcased their evolving musical style from being a purely rock ‘n’ roll band to incorporating some sounds and styles from the blues genre. “The Lemon Song” demonstrates this perfectly, and of course, “Moby Dick” has that iconic drum solo by John Bonham. Led Zeppelin II’s only weak spot is the track “Ramble On,” which even in its title is emblematic of one of the main problems with a lot of Zep tracks – that they tend to ramble on a bit. Still, the album is considered to be a revolutionary step towards the creation of heavy metal, being a major influence on bands like Aerosmith and Guns ‘N’ Roses and Iron Maiden. Most albums would be lucky to be certified platinum at all. If they’re really lucky and they really connect with people, they’ll be certified double platinum. But Led Zeppelin II has been certified twelve times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America!
2. Led Zeppelin I
Led Zeppelin’s debut album is not their finest, but it is close. The quality of its tracks are inconsistent, but there are many classic gems on there. There’s “Good Times Bad Times,” “Dazed and Confused,” and “Communication Breakdown.” The contemporary critics weren’t too kind to Zeppelin’s debut album, because they didn’t know what to make of it. This was new stuff. This album was a game changer. It was as trippy and mind-bending as Cream or Hendrix, but the structure was more considered and the music was more precisely composed. This was a turning point for rock music. You could essentially have your cake and eat it too. You could take a bunch of drugs and let that inspire some mind-blowing music, but you could also refine the riffs and the arrangements later to make it a more coherent track. This album has been massively influential, so much so that Rolling Stone magazine named it the 29th greatest album of all time and it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Like the debut albums of Black Sabbath and Guns ‘N’ Roses, this album was a calling card for what would eventually become one of the greatest rock bands of all time. They were already shaking up the way that rock ‘n’ roll was made – who knew where they’d go from there? It was very exciting.
1. Led Zeppelin IV
This album is technically untitled (and sometimes known as Four Symbols or The Fourth Album), but come on, everyone calls it Led Zeppelin IV. There’s no doubt that this album is Led Zeppelin’s finest. It is constantly ranked on lists of the greatest albums ever made, it’s one of the best selling albums of all time with over 37 million units sold, and it’s tied for the third highest certified album in the United States with a whopping 23 times platinum certification. It should be enough said that this is the album that has the band’s opus “Stairway to Heaven” on it. The song is a classic, perfectly structured into three parts, with the tempo and the volume rising as each subsequent part begins – simply put, it’s epic! But that’s not all. There is simply no dead weight in the track listing of this album. They’re all either bona fide classics or underrated gems. There’s the beautifully soft and melancholic “Going to California,” the dark and surreal musical odyssey that is “When the Levee Breaks,” “Rock and Roll,” a tribute to the forerunners of Zeppelin’s musical style like Chuck Berry and Little Richard, the sexually charged “Black Dog” – every track on this album is a phenomenal one.