Led Zeppelin

      Led Zeppelin (Atlantic, 1969)
       Led Zeppelin II (Atlantic, 1969)
      Led Zeppelin III (Atlantic, 1970)
       Untitled (Atlantic, 1971)
       Houses of the Holy (Atlantic, 1973)
      Physical Graffiti (Atlantic, 1975)
     Presence (Atlantic, 1976)
    The Song Remains the Same (Atlantic, 1976)
     In Through the Out Door (Atlantic, 1979)
    Coda (1982; Atlantic, 1994)
      Led Zeppelin (Atlantic, 1990)
     Remasters (Atlantic, 1992)
    Box Set, Vol. 2 (Atlantic, 1993)
      The Complete Studio Recordings (Atlantic, 1993)
      BBC Sessions (Atlantic, 1997)
     Early Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin Vol. 1 (Atlantic, 1999)
     Latter Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin Vol. 2 (Atlantic, 2000)
     Early Days and Latter Days, Vol. 1 & 2 (Atlantic, 2002)
      How the West Was Won (Atlantic, 2003)
     Mothership (Atlantic/Rhino, 2007)

Led Zeppelin is sometimes credited with inventing heavy metal. That's an understandable misconception, given that few songs bring the godless thunder quite like "Whole Lotta Love," from the British quartet's second album. But Zep's scope was far wider. Though the band wrote some indelible songs, its primary innovations were in pure sound: the orchestration of bass, drums, guitar, and voice into music that embraced mayhem and subtlety, light and shade, Eastern drones and city blues, proto-punk ("Communication Breakdown") and centuries-old folk ("Gallows Pole").

Talk about telegraphing your punch: The cover of Led Zeppelin shows the Hindenburg airship, in all its phallic glory, going down in flames. The image did a pretty good job of encapsulating the music inside: sex, catastrophe, and things blowing up. The swagger is there from the get-go, on "Good Times Bad Times": Jimmy Page's guitar pounces from the speakers, fat with menace; John Bonham's kick drum swings with anvil force around John Paul Jones' dexterous bass line; Robert Plant rambles on about the perils of manhood. Hard rock would never be the same. Zep dances with Chicago blues, British folk, and Eastern ragas, though subtlety would play a larger role on later works; on Led Zeppelin, the mission is to create music of extremes, a concept that appeals to hard-core album buyers rather than the Top 40 marketplace.

Led Zeppelin II contains the epochal "Whole Lotta Love," which became a starting point for Aerosmith, Guns N' Roses, and Van Halen, among others. It's an amazing song not just for its seismic riff and bingeing-on-lust vocal performance, but for its mind-bending midsection, in which Page orchestrates the aural equivalent of an orgasm (theremin included). Elsewhere on Led Zeppelin II, excess abounds: more heavy blues ("Bring It on Home"), more pastoral splendor ("Thank You"), more sex ("The Lemon Song").

Though there are hints of bucolic folk on the first two albums, Led Zeppelin III embraces it, the album split evenly between metallic boogie and acoustic reverie. Plant's voice in particular achieves a conversational grace that had eluded him earlier; by dialing down the volume, he begins to approximate the gravity and maturity of the blues singers he admires.

The untitled fourth album weaves together the disparate musical threads of the preceding releases, most auspiciously on "Stairway to Heaven." Though its pleasures have been muted by radio overexposure, "Stairway" is in many ways the quintessential Zep song and arrangement: an electro-acoustic hybrid that builds over seven minutes to a crescendo in support of a fancifully cryptic lyric that sounds like it contains a thousand mysteries, or none at all. Zep's hard-rock blues was never more momentous than on "When the Levee Breaks," and their folk-hippie aspirations peak on "Going to California" and "The Battle of Evermore."

Houses of the Holy is a bit of a letdown, overextending the band's reach to funk ("The Crunge") and reggae ("D'Yer Maker"), while making more extensive use of overdubbed orchestration than ever before. The arrangements and performances are more intricate and less propulsive, yet the classics keep coming: "Thank You," "The Ocean," "Over the Hills and Far Away."

Filler bloats the double-album-length Physical Graffiti, but it remains a Zep touchstone, thanks to the epic Eastern swirl of "Kashmir," and the closest thing to a dance tune in the band's discography: "Trampled Underfoot." In contrast, Presence is more focused, one-dimensional, and rushed. The ragged force of "Nobody's Fault but Mine" and "Achilles' Last Stand" nearly compensates for the album's lack of diversity.

In Through the Out Door finds the band responding to punk's challenge by making its most experi-mental, keyboard-heavy album. Maligned upon its release as a retreat from heaviness, it now stands as an art-rock oddity with some alluring tangents. It suggests that Zep, at the very least, never stood still.

Bonham's death a few months after the album's completion left the band to anthologize itself endlessly over the next two decades. Coda collects unexceptional studio leftovers; the well-chosen, brilliantly sequenced four-CD box set Led Zeppelin includes four rarities (notably the B side "Hey Hey What Can I Do"); while the largely unnecessary Box Set 2 unearths a first-session outtake, "Baby Come On Home." The desultory The Song Remains the Same stood as the band's lone concert document until the arrival 27 years later of How the West Was Won, which documents two swaggering 1972 California performances.

In 2007, both the film and the soundtrack to The Song Remains the Same were released in expanded versions, and were accompanied by yet another best-of collection, the band-curated Mothership.

The long-rumored Zeppelin reunion finally occurred on December 10th, 2007, at a London concert in honor of Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegün. With Jason Bonham on drums, the band performed 16 songs. The performance sparked speculation that more reunion shows—and possibly even a worldwide tour—might be in the works, but Plant declined. Persistent subsequent rumors suggested that Jones, Page, and Jason Bonham might be on the verge of recording with a new singer, but no such group ever materialized.

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