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The 40 Greatest Led Zeppelin Songs of All Time

The definitive guide to Zeppelin’s finest recorded moments

Led Zeppelin

Jimmy Page performing live onstage, playing his Gibson Les Paul guitar.

Robert Knight Archive/Getty

World-changing riffs, blues fury, power-ballad grandeur, Hobbits – the definitive guide to Zeppelin’s finest recorded moments.

This list appears in Rolling Stone’s new collectors edition, Led Zeppelin: The Ultimate Guide to Their Music & Legend.

Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page Robert Plant John Bonham John Paul Jones
7

‘Immigrant Song’ (1970)

No hard-rock song has ever had a more ominous opening line: "We come from the land of the ice and snow." It was inspired by the band's concert in Iceland in June 1970, a month when the sun never fully sets. Plant started fantasizing about vikings and wrote in the voice of a Norse chieftain leading a sea invasion and expecting to die. It "was supposed to be powerful and funny," he said. Page's menacing staccato riff could scare Thor into surrendering, and Plant's Tarzan holler adds another layer of primal barbarism.

Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page Robert Plant John Bonham John Paul Jones
6

‘Good Times Bad Times’ (1969)

The first song on the first album introduces the band with a declaration of surly defiance ("I don't care what the neighbors say"), a stun-gun riff and a restless, syncopated drum pattern, which Page cited as evidence of Bonham's "amazing technique." Though the lyrics are a standard evil-woman blues complaint, the message was as immediate as a car accident: Zeppelin intended to use four-piece dynamics in exhilarating new ways.

Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page
5

‘Ramble On’ (1969)

The song where Plant first nails his mystic-storyteller alter ego combines familiar folk-blues concerns – hitting the road, looking for a woman – with a riff on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. It starts with Page's acoustic strumming and Bonham patting out a rhythm (probably on his knees, possibly on a guitar case or a drum stool; no one seems to recall). Then the chorus crashes in and Page switches on, flinging knife-edge licks while Plant turns from a Hobbit back into a sex machine.

Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page Robert Plant John Bonham John Paul Jones
4

‘Kashmir’ (1975)

It's their hugest-sounding track, partly because it was one of the few that used outside musicians – a string and brass corps that augmented Jones' Mellotron swirls, Bonham's druid storm-trooper processional and Page's Arabic-­Indian vibe ("I had a sitar before George Harrison," he said). Plant's lyrics were born from an endless car ride through southern Morocco, and his 15-second howl around the four-minute mark may be his most spectacular vocal moment. Plant called it "the definitive Zeppelin song."

Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page
3

‘Black Dog’ (1971)

Arguably the most badass Led Zeppelin riff: It was cooked up by Jones, who had a Muddy Waters song stuck in his head. Page turned it into a chain-saw ballet on his Les Paul over Bonzo's stealth groove, with snarling multitracked rhythm guitar tearing up the midsection. But Plant's vocal come-on – "Hey, hey, mama, said the way you move/Gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove" – brings the real alchemy. It may not be Shakespeare, but as Plant later said, songs like "Black Dog" "make their point."

Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page Stairway to Heaven Madison Square Garden
2

‘Stairway to Heaven’ (1971)

The signature power ballad on Led Zeppelin IV towers over Seventies rock like a monolith. From the Elizabethan ambience of its acoustic introduction to Plant's lyrical mysticism to Page's spiraling solo, the eight-minute song is a masterpiece of slow-reveal intensity that withholds power, then ascends skyward like nothing in rock. "It speeds up like an adrenaline flow," said Page, whose on-the-spot improvisation was the perfect complement to Plant's evocation of excess and salvation. "It was a milestone for us."

Led Zeppelin Robert Plant
1

‘Whole Lotta Love’ (1969)

Led Zeppelin's defining song – obscene, brutish and utterly awesome. "Way down inside," squeals Robert Plant, "I'm gonna give you every inch of my love" – adding, "I wanna be your backdoor man!" just for extra romance. His post-verbal singing is even dirtier, especially around the 4:30 mark, where he starts saying "love," and then shoots his wad into a black hole of echo. (The ghost vocals were a happy accident, the result of a bleed-through from an unused vocal track that Jimmy Page decided to leave in.) Years later, Plant freely admitted his heavy lyrical debt to "You Need Love," by uncredited blues-master Willie Dixon (who sued and won); "I just thought, 'Well, what am I going to sing?' That was it, a nick. Now happily paid for." But "Whole Lotta Love," recorded at London's Olympic Studios and mixed in New York, was far more than a remake. The midsection is a black-light head trip, a tornado of orgasmic moans, cymbal teases and shivering theremin foreplay, all magnified by wild stereo-panning. Page's pumping riff – made with a metal slide and augmented with some backward echo – is one of the most straightforwardly bruising to ever come out of a Les Paul, and John Paul Jones and John Bonham back it up thrust for thrust. Said Page, "Usually my riffs are pretty damn original. What can I say?"

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