Led Zeppelin’s originality stemmed from the mesmerizing vocals of Robert Plant, the phrasings, riffs and sound effects of Jimmy Page’s guitar work, the intensity of John Bonham’s bass and snare, and the brilliant musicianship of the much underrated John Paul Jones. The merger of these four brilliant musicians resulted in a ten year period of albums and tours that presented fans with the greatest rock and roll band of all time.
I saw Led Zeppelin perform at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1977. Words can not describe the euphoric feeling of seeing that band live. They were bigger than life. They did not seem human. They were the ultimate representation of rock stardom. They were Gods !
A few months ago we released our Top 10 Led Zeppelin Songs Deep Tracks List. We released that specific list because we thought it was just too difficult to pick the 10 best Led Zeppelin songs. No other band has a fan base as passionate as Led Zeppelin. So choosing what we believe are the 10 best Led Zeppelin songs is perhaps our most difficult task to date. In the end ,we might have bent a few rules we usually stick to in composing our top 10 lists. But hey, it’s Led Zeppelin!
# 11 – Good Times Bad Times / Nobody’s Fault But Mine
We can not write about the greatest rock band of all time in a list that only goes up to 10. Yes, you know what we are talking about. In opening up our best Led Zeppelin Songs list we thought it would be fitting to start out with the first song to ever appear on a Led Zeppelin album. The classic “Good Times Bad Times,” was the opening track on Led Zeppelin I. The song displayed the perfect manifestation between guitar licks and drum grooves. Bonham holds back until midway through the song when the band lets loose on Page’s guitar solo. Hello world, things will never be the same.
“Good Times Bad Times,” was the first single ever released by Led Zeppelin. It was also one of the shortest Led Zeppelin songs clocking in at only 2:43. However for a short song, it packed in a great deal of punch. All the hallmarks of Led Zeppelin were present in this one.
While we decided to start out our Top 10 Led Zeppelin Songs list with the first great Led Zeppelin song, we thought it would be fitting to also include in a tie, the last great Led Zeppelin song. The last great Led Zeppelin track was also released on the last great Led Zeppelin album in 1976 entitled Presence. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” was the opening track on side two of the record. Jimmy Page’s flange guitar riff was simply stunning and completely addictive. It’s that riff that separated the song entirely from the original Blind Willie Johnson version. (Probably why Plant and Page took sole writing credit for the song) However, the opening line and melody was taken straight from the 1927 recording. Nonetheless, like he did with every blues song they covered, Robert Plant made it his own by adding original lyrics and spectacular vocal licks. John Bonham and Jones lit it all the way up. A brilliant track book-ended with side one’s opening track “Achilles Last Stand,” made it one helluva Led Zeppelin album.
# 10 – Dazed and Confused
Led Zeppelin’s first album was released on January 12, 1969. The album was recorded at Olympic Studios in London. The record reached No. 6 on the U.K. charts and No. 10 on the U.S. charts. The album’s fourth track “Dazed and Confused,” was originally credited as being written by Jimmy Page. However, the song “Dazed and Confused,” would become a source of contention between Jimmy Page and Jake Homes who had written the original version of the song “Dazed and Confused,” in 1967 and released it on his debut album entitled The Above Ground Sound” of Jake Holmes.
In 1968, Jake Holmes had been opening for the Yardbirds. Soon, the Yardbirds would begin performing the Jake Holmes song “Dazed and Confused,” while altering the lyrics and adding musical passages to the song. The Led Zeppelin version also featured alternate lyrics and extended solos. However, the name of the song and the music’s iconic slow descending bass lines all stayed true to the original. Yet, Jake Holmes never received any writing credit or financial compensation for the song. It wasn’t until 2011, when an out of court settlement resulting from a lawsuit Jake Holmes brought against Jimmy Page resulted in Holmes being given writing credit as an inspiration for the song on the new Led Zeppelin remastered CDs and vinyl. The writing credit was listed as “Written by Jimmy Page (inspired by Jake Holmes).”
# 9 – Since I’ve Been Loving You
If one ever needed evidence that Led Zeppelin at its core was a blues band at heart than look no further than the track “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” Released on Led Zeppelin III, the song “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” contains one of Jimmy Page’s greatest guitar solos. Robert Plant’s vocals on the track are simply to die for. Led Zeppelin III was released on October 5th 1970 in the United States and only a few weeks later in the United Kingdom. We had a bit of an argument here on deciding between “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” or “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” to be included on our top 10 Led Zeppelin songs list. In the end we felt the blues element of “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” was too powerful to ignore for our Led Zeppelin songs article.
# 8 – TIE- Trampled Under Foot / The Rover
The importance of John Paul Jones to the band Led Zeppelin is very evident on Led Zeppelin’s greatest album Physical Graffiti. This Top 10 Led Zeppelin Songs list hosts more songs from the Physical Graffiti album than any other Led Zeppelin record. Of course, its only our opinion, but if if you ask, the majority of Led Zeppelin fans would agree that Physical Graffiti was their best work with the fourth album close behind. Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti defined the band’s growth not just as songwriters and musicians but also as arrangers. There was more depth to the music on Physical Graffiti. The amount of musical counterpoint on the album was daunting.
The track opens with a dynamically exciting bouncing keyboard line by John Paul Jones that wraps around one of Robert Plant’s most intense vocals. Jimmy Page’s guitar riff is intoxicating. The song’s break towards the middle defines one of those magnificent moments in rock. I have been listening to this song for forty years and I never get tired of it.
“The Rover,” is one of those classic Led Zeppelin songs that never gets enough mention on top 10 list. Just the opening drum fill and guitar lick alone warrants it as one of the greatest Led Zeppelin songs ever. It’s too bad we never hear guitar grooves anymore like the riff that Jimmy Page plays between verses on “The Rover.” What an incredible track, and brilliant performance by the entire band. There is a great cover version of “The Rover,” done by Van Halen before they hit it big. It’s fun to listen to Eddie Van Halen play Jimmy Page guitar parts.
# 7 – The Immigrant Song
Its amazing that a song with such an iconic opening vocal line that is purely defined by the talent and resonance of Robert Plant’s golden vocal chords is one of the most covered of all the Led Zeppelin songs. Yet the “Immigrant Song,” has been covered by Ann Wilson of Heart, Sammy Hagar of Chickenfoot and Van Halen, Stryper, Vanilla Fudge, Great White, Nirvana, and so many more.
The “Immigrant Song,” was the opening track on Led Zeppelin III. It can be easily argued that the “Immigrant Song,” is one of the best album openers of any 1970’s classic rock album. Easily one of the most famous Led Zeppelin Songs of all time. Even little kids know this one, thanks to Shrek.
# 6 – TIE- The Song Remains The Same / The Rain Song
Your a band that has just released an album that contains what many people were calling perhaps the greatest rock and roll song ever released in “Stairway To Heaven.” Not only did Led Zeppelin IV present fans with “Stairway to Heaven,” the album also contained bigger than life tracks like “Black Dog”,” Rock and Roll”, “Going To California,” and “Misty Mountain Hop.” How in the world do you follow up an album like that? Well the answer was, put out an album like Houses of the Holy that contained eight more magnificent soon to be iconic treasured Led Zeppelin tracks.
Our 6th and 5th spots on our Top 10 Led Zeppelin songs list go to half the album’s tracks. However, these four picks could easily be interchanged with the four that are missing like “Dancing Days,’ No Quarter,’ ‘The Crunge,’ and ‘D’yer Maker.” What an incredible rock record. and for many Zep fans their favorite.
# 5 – TIE – The Ocean / Over The Hills and Far Away
Led Zeppelin was the band that defined the concept of classic rock riffs. If we had to choose the greatest guitar riff in rock and roll history, well that would probably be impossible to do. However, one song that would easily join that conversation would be Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean.” It’s not a difficult riff to play, hence the thousands of garage bands that included “The Ocean,” in their setlists. Nonetheless the greatest guitar riffs of all time were not always the most challenging ones to play.
Great guitar riffs are about simplicity and originality. It’s much more difficult to write a simple iconic guitar riff than a complex detailed one. It’s not about speed or how many notes you play, it’s about picking the right ones, with the right rhythm and feel. It’s about coming up with something no one has ever written before and making musicians shake their heads asking why they could not think of that?
There have been many amazing guitar riffs in classic rock history that defined the concepts of simplicity, and originality. Jimmy Hendrix wrote a ton of them including Purple Haze, and Foxy Lady. Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love, The Beatles “Day Tripper,” Deep Purples’s Smoke On The Water, Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear The Reaper, Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days, Neil Young’s Hey Hey My My, Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, Joan Jett’s I Love Rock and Roll, and so on
Oh yeah and there is one other huge reason besides the riff that we love “The Ocean.” Two words, John Bonham!
# 4 – Kashmir
While we have already written our praise to what we believe is Led Zeppelin’s greatest album, it’s time to recognize that album’s great musical performance and composition. I actually have to take a breath before I begin writing about perhaps one of the greatest rock and roll compositions and performances of all time. Led Zeppelin were a band of four human beings, but fans never recognized them as being human. They were gods, not gods in the sense of Greek mythology or any of that Percy Jackson nonsense, they were ROCK GODS.
There were many famous bands that came out of the 1960’s like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but somehow you felt that maybe you could have a beer or a smoke with a Keith Richards, or a Paul McCartney if you got lucky enough to meet them. A big as they were, they still did seem human. Led Zeppelin has a mystical quality about them that only fans from that period could understand.
If there was one songs that would define that rock god mystical phenomena that surrounded Led Zeppelin, it would undeniably be Physical Graffiti’s “Kashmir.”
# 3 – Stairway To Heaven / When The Levee Breaks
Some will argue that “Stairway To Heaven,” is Led Zeppelin’s greatest song. Some will also argue that “Stairway To Heaven,” is the greatest classic rock song of all time. Who are we to say they are wrong? This is obviously a list that is purely subjective. However here are the facts. “Stairway To Heaven,” was released on the band’s fourth album Led Zeppelin IV. An album most fans refer to as Led Zeppelin even though the band never officially titled the album. That album was released on November 8th 1971. The album was recorded at Headly Grange, Hampshire; Island Studios London. Led Zeppelin IV. has been the band’s biggest selling album of their career.
The success of “Stairway to Heaven,” on AM and FM radio was stunning. The three-minute pop song reigned over the airwaves for over two decades. Suddenly a five part, 7-and-a-half-minute mini opera bathed in mystical lyricism and morality was ruling the airwaves. “Stairway To Heaven,” was groundbreaking. The song paved the way for Top 40 radio to play long rock songs. If “Stairway to Heaven,” had not broken the three-minute barrier and proven that fans would listen to long songs without switching stations, who knows if Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, Foghat’s Slow Ride, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird and so on would have been given the airplay they all received. The only song that had been close to the length of “Stairway To Heaven,” and had received as much airplay up to that point in time on AM radio was the Beatles “Hey Jude.”
Tales of mysticisms fueled the rock god status of Led Zeppelin. Robert Plant cited Lewis Spence’s Magic Arts In Celtic Britain as being one of the influences behind the lyrics of “Stairway To Heaven.” In the end, the lyrical meaning of the song “Stairway to Heaven,” is quite simple. It’s a tale of two women, one influenced and enamored by material wealth while the other finds beauty in the natural world. “Stairway to Heaven,” became part of mainstream culture in the 1970’s. Every kid or adult who picked up a guitar tried playing that 12 string acoustic guitar opening line. You could not escape the song. You heard it every day either on the radio, a friend’s turntable, or somebody just singing it acapella. It was in your daily discussion.
There was no rock song more popular than “Stairway To Heaven,” in the 1970’s. A few came close, “Free Bird,” anything from Dark Side of The Moon or Wish You Were Here, “Born To Run,” “Layla,” the Rolling Stones “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” were all songs ingrained in daily lives. But “Stairway to Heaven,” somehow went beyond the popularity of them all. It’s why we won’t argue against it being their best. We just personally happened to like a few other Led Zeppelin songs a little bit better.
(When we first published this list, the one song that everyone complained about that was missing was “When The Levee Breaks.” Most people were friendly about it, but of course there were those who were downright nasty. We just ignore those people. However we could not ignore the amount of people who were talking about this tune. What is even more interesting is how many Led Zeppelin fans did not like the selection of “Stairway To Heaven,” to be included in the top 10 Led Zeppelin songs. As interesting as that was, it was not surprising.
Most Led Zeppelin fans, at least the real hardcore fans are just tired of the song. We feel the same way. However, I do remember being completely blown away by the song the first time I heard it. The problem is we all just heard it too many times and in the end it lost something. But as historians we have to respect the magnitude of the work and that’s why we included it. We also have to respect the readers, and so that why we added “When The Levee Breaks.” And yes, we agree, its one of their best, we love it too!
# 2 – Whole Lotta Love
Before there was “Stairway To Heaven,” there was a “Whole Lotta Of Love.” Released on their second album labeled appropriately Led Zeppelin II, “Whole Lotta of Love,” was groundbreaking in so many ways. Not many rock guitarists up to that point, if any, had played a guitar solo with a violin bow. The production on the song, especially in the mid-section was revolutionary. However, the greatness of the song began instantly with the song’s mind-blowing metal meets pop, meets metal, guitar riff. Played on a 1959 Gibson Les Paul, Jimmy Page’s perfectly phrased guitar lick played using the first, third and fourth notes of the b minor scale was life changing. When John Paul Jones joined in doubling the line, rock and roll history changed forever. The moment Robert Plant howls “You need cooling, Baby I’m not fooling,” millions of Led Zeppelin fans were born.
The album version of “Whole Lotta Love,” ran over five minutes. However, there was a version that was played on the radio by many stations that cut out the middle section bringing the song down to three minutes. It’s astonishing that a song with such potent sexual lyrics was even played on mainstream radio. in the early 1970’s. Nonetheless the song’s popularity and the bands insane rise to fame easily swayed AM and FM radio to jump on the “Whole Lotta Love,” juggernaut.
Led Zeppelin II was released in the Fall of 1969. Within a very short time it was the most popular album in the world. It hit number one on both the United States and United Kingdom music charts. At that moment in time, Led Zeppelin was more popular than The Beatles Black Sabbath, Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Who, or Jimmy Hendrix. And this was just after Woodstock. The Fall of 1969 symbolized the real birth of Led Zeppelin. And that awakening was due to the album’s opening track entitled “Whole Lotta Love.”
# 1 – TIE – Rock and Roll / Black Dog
Most top 10 Led Zeppelin songs list label “Stairway to Heaven,” as the number one Led Zeppelin song. And if not “Stairway To Heaven,” it’s usually “Whole Lotta Love,” or “Kashmir.” However, our choice for the number one spot is a tie between the first and second tracks of Led Zeppelin IV. “Black Dog,” and “Rock and Roll,” are two completely different styled Led Zeppelin songs. Yet for us here at ClassicRockHistory.com “Black Dog,” and “Rock and Roll,” represent everything we have come to love about Led Zeppelin.
Is there any other song more recognizable in its opening moments than Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll?” From the very first millisecond Bonham hits the snare, you know what’s next. “Rock and Roll,” is the only song on Led Zeppelin IV in which Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham are all given writers credit for the song. There entire song is based on the standard 12 bar blues progression. However there was nothing standard about any recording or performance by Zep. Any musical concept they touched, they made their own. Even though it was a typical 12 bar blues progression, Jimmy Page’s guitar riffs on the changes were completely original. Its just one of those songs, you will never get tired off.
John Paul Jones has taken credit for writing the lick to “Black Dog.” It is a lick that was often referred to as being inspired by a Muddy Waters song called “Tom Cat”. Its call and response arrangement is somewhat similar to Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well.” But in the end, despite all the references and inspirations, the final recording of the song is all Led Zeppelin. Every member of the band featured in full, and displaying all their individual talents that when united, formed the greatest rock band off all time. When Bonham died, so did Led Zeppelin. They would never sound the same without him. However, for ten years they were the gods of rock and roll and even though the song “Black Dog,” may not have been their most commercially successful or even most popular song, it was for us their peak moment.
Special thanks given to my five of my oldest friends who I grew up with in high school in the 1970’s and listened to Led Zeppelin music all day long, every single day. These guys knew Led Zeppelin. They knew there best stuff and they set me straight with this article. When I asked for their picks and comments, Danny Sobstyl said it best,”All Of Them.”
Top 10 Led Zeppelin Songs
The Top 10 Led Zeppelin Songs (Alternate Choices)
These are the Led Zeppelin songs we wanted to include but just could not fit.
# 10 – Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
# 9 – Misty Mountain Hop/ The Battle Of Evermore
# 8 – Fool In The Rain/ Dancin’ Days
# 7 – The Wanton Song (or every song from Physical Graffiti)
# 6 – Gallows Pole/ Ramble On
# 5 – Communication Breakdown/ Hey Hey What Can I Do?
# 4 – Tangerine/ Going To California/ Thank You
# 3 – Heartbreaker/”Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)”
# 2 – Achilles Last Stand
# 1 – Ten Years Gone
Thanks for taking the time to read the article. There will never be another band like Led Zeppelin.