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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 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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