Led Zeppelin finally put their catalog on Spotify this month, allowing users of the service to stream their entire catalog. Everything from Led Zeppelin I to Celebration Day (a live chronicle of their 2007 reunion concert) is there right now. So we figured it was a good time to poll our readers and determine their favorite Led Zeppelin albums. Click through to see the results – and listen to our favorite tracks off each album below. —Andy Greene
Led Zeppelin ended the moment that John Bonham was found dead on September 25th, 1980, but they left behind a bunch of unused material dating all the way back to their first LP. They also had one more album on their Swan Song contract and bootlegs of their outtakes were beginning to surface. The obvious move was to put together an album of odds and ends. The clear highpoint is the frenetic In Through The Our Door reject "Wearing and Tearing," but the live soul and blues covers "We're Gonna Groove" and "I Can't Quit You Baby" are fantastic too. Coda is far from the band's most cohesive release, but songs that Led Zeppelin toss to the side are better than the greatest hits of most bands.
Led Zeppelin were merely a decade old when they began cutting In Through the Out Door in late '78, but were already unsure about carrying on. They'd been out of commission ever since Robert Plant's young son Karac died in 1977, and their last tour was an endless series of disasters culminating in multiple riots. In their time off, the punk movement exploded in New York and London, and they were in danger of coming off like dinosaurs. Making matters worse, Jimmy Page was using heroin and John Bonham was a hopeless alcoholic. Somehow they managed to make an album, though In Through the Out Door left fans and critics divided. It's the most mellow and experimental disc in their catalog. "Fool In The Rain" and "All My Love" (a tribute to Karac) became radio hits and the ten-minute synth-jam "Carouselambra" is a sign of where the group might have gone in the 1980s, but it was clear the creative fires were going out.
Led Zeppelin are inarguably one of the greatest live bands of all time, but unlike almost all of their peers, they never put any energy into putting together a great live album. The only live release during their original run is The Song Remains the Same, a soundtrack to their 1976 movie that mixes fantasy sequences with footage from their 1973 run at Madison Square Garden. This was the end of a very long and exhausting tour, and the band was simply not at their best. "Dazed and Confused" stretches to nearly thirty minutes, but it's weak when compared to versions from just a couple years prior. Still, this is live Led Zeppelin, and it's all anyone not prepared to delve into the bootleg world could get for decades. That alone makes it a classic.
The second half of Led Zeppelin's career was a series of never-ending disasters. The bad times began in August of 1975, when Robert Plant got into a nasty car crash in Rhodes, Greece. He broke his ankle and elbow, forcing him to use a wheelchair and causing him incredible pain for months. He began writing songs for Led Zeppelin's planned seventh album in the hospital; the group reconvened at a studio in Munich, Germany in November, banging out Presence in just eighteen days. The album begins with "Achilles Last Stand," a ten-minute beast of a song that ranks up there with the group's best work. The album originally received a mix reaction and they played very few of the songs live. But in latter years, fans recognized that tunes like "For Your Life" and "Hots on for Nowhere" are underrated gems. It takes a few listens, but Presence is a stellar album.
It seems crazy now, but Led Zeppelin III was originally seen as a bit of a disappointment. It needs to be remembered that anticipation was impossibly high by the fall of 1970. Their first two albums were huge sellers, and "Whole Lotta Love" became a huge radio hit earlier that year. Their live show rightly earned them a reputation as the most impressive new band of the era, meaning they had a lot to live up to with their third release. So they took their time with the record, cutting it at an isolated 18th century cottage in Gwynedd, Wales. The opening track "Immigrant Song" is clearly a huge rocker, but many others ("Friends," "Gallows Pole," "Tangerine") were acoustic. People looking for the next "Whole Lotta Love" didn't find it. Sales were relatively soft, leaving some to wonder whether the band was on their way out. Little did they know what was coming next. . .
People were expecting a lot of Led Zeppelin before they even heard a note of their music. Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were highly respected session men, and Atlantic Records were hyping the new group with complete abandon. Anything close to a mediocre album would have sunk the new band, but their delivered an absolute masterpiece with their debut LP. It starts out with "Good Times, Bad Times" and never lets up from there. "Dazed and Confused" is the perfect showcase for Page's guitar skills and Plant's huge voice, while "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" shows off their softer side. Perhaps skeptical because of all the hype, the critics were largely unimpressed. It didn't matter though. Fans found them, and they haven't let go since.
Led Zeppelin IV firmly established Led Zeppelin as the biggest and best band of the 1970s, and during a long and triumphant tour in support of the disc, they began writing songs for the follow-up. Houses of the Holy was recorded in New York and various studios throughout England, and it showed the band moving past their blues rock roots. "D'yer Mak'er" has a strong reggae influence, while "No Quarter" allowed John Paul Jones to mix an atmospheric classic piano with synthesizer bass. "Over The Hills" is one of the most gorgeous ballads in the Zeppelin catalog. There really isn't a weak spot on the whole collection. This is the band near the absolute peak of their creative potential.
Led Zeppelin's second album was recorded during the precious little downtime they had on their endless 1969 world tour. It took them months to record in studios all across America and Europe, yet somehow it sounds cohesive. The track listing almost reads like a greatest hits collection: "Whole Lotta Love," "Thank You," "Heartbreaker," "What Is And What Should Never Be" and "Bring It On Home." The band's punishing tour schedule infused them with new passion and creativity, and they really learned how to function as a unit. "Whole Lotta Love" became a radio smash, bringing them a huge new audience and forever taking the band out of clubs and theaters. If the band stopped right here, they'd probably still have made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But they were just getting started.
Led Zeppelin spent about eight months recording Physical Graffiti, ultimately winding up with slightly more material than would fit on a single record. They didn't want to cut anything, so they simply made it a double record and filled it out with outtakes from the past few albums. Songs like "Kashmir" and "Trampled Underfoot" are near-flawless tracks, while outtakes like "Boogie with Stu" (featuring Rolling Stones keyboardist Ian Stewart) are lots of fun. In an odd twist of fate, the actual song "Houses of the Holy" didn't surface until this record. It's the band's only double LP and features a wide-range of material, but to die-had Zep fans, it's their absolute best.
Led Zeppelin IV won this poll in a blow-out, and it's really no surprise. It captures the band at their heaviest and mightiest, and there's not a single weak moment. Few albums get off to a stronger start than the double-shot of "Black Dog" and "Rock and Roll." IV closes out with the gentle "Going to California" and the marauding "When the Levee Breaks." In between, they unleash "Misty Mountain Hop," "The Battle of Evermore" and "Four Sticks." There's also a little song called "Stairway To Heaven," which still sounds great after 500 billion spins on classic rock radio. No band (with the possible exception of The Who) was able to compete with this. It's forty-two years later, and high school kids are still blasting this thing in their cars. And if you ask us, they'll probably be blasting in in their flying cars forty-two years from now. It will never go away, and it never should.