Led Zeppelin produced eight studio albums of the highest quality over 13 years throughout their emphatic career. Their output was unparalleled over that period, as their heavy rock sound dominated the airwaves. With John Bonham and John Paul Jones as one of the most formidable rhythm sections of all time, the group was completed by the talents of Jimmy Page on guitar and Robert Plant on vocals with prolific efficiency.
The four-piece formed in 1968, after the mercurial talent of Page saw him go in search of a new band having seen The Yardbirds fall apart, Led Zep quickly made waves and made Page’s previous success look like a speck of dust in comparison. Recruiting Plant, Bonham and Jones, the group found their name thanks to Keith Moon, who said their new band would go down like “a lead balloon”.
The group were quickly signed up as part of the growing roster of rock acts on Atlantic Records, which didn’t take long to become the hottest place to be in the world of music. The band toured relentlessly and refined the idea of a rock show like no other band had done before them. With their touring schedule, the group showcased a vision of the future and laid the blueprints for most modern rock shows as we know them today.
Though the band spent a few years in comparative obscurity, eventually, the world caught on, and Led Zeppelin became one of the biggest bands the world had ever seen. Their live shows became more and more epic while their albums matched their growing vision and enlargening egos, doing what most bands can only hope to achieve: walking the walk as well as talking the talk.
The eight albums are all majestic pieces of work, but what are the greatest songs on each record? This feature tackles that impossibly difficult question, although if our list was written on another day, it could easily look entirely different.
Best song on each Led Zeppelin studio album
‘Good Times Bad Times’ – Led Zeppelin (1969)
Few albums in music history make as emphatic entrance on the opening track as ‘Good Times Bad Times’. Not only did this open their eponymous 1969 album, but it was also their debut, and the track is the most audacious way to announce yourselves to the world. It was clear from the moment that the needle dropped and ‘Good Times Bad Times’ began playing that Led Zeppelin wasn’t here to mess around.
Page explained how the song came together in an interview with Rolling Stone in 2012: “John Paul Jones came up with the riff. I had the chorus. John Bonham applied the bass-drum pattern. That one really shaped our writing process. It was like, ‘Wow, everybody’s erupting at once.'” An eruption for the ages, phenomenal from start to finish.
‘Whole Lotta Love’ – Led Zeppelin II (1969)
Led Zeppelin II might well be the most complete record that the group ever released. That is saying something as the quartet never did anything in half-measures. Whilst the record spawned a plethora of songs that could quite easily take the mantle on this list, such as ‘Ramble On’ or ‘The Lemon Song’, it remains impossible to look back on the sheer iconic radiancy of ‘Whole Lotta Love’.
The opening track for the band’s second album, Led Zeppelin II, flies out of the traps like a greyhound with a riff-fuzzing bottle rocket in the wrong end. Jimmy Page’s guitar sound would go on to define and energise a generation—raucous, unrestrained and unflinching; it drives the whole song and much of the decade that followed.
Plant’s valiant vocals backed amply by John Bonham’s drums’ crashing power and the definitive bassline of the decade from John Paul Jones the track is a thing of unbridled beauty.
‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ – Led Zeppelin III (1970)
When Led Zeppelin released Led Zeppelin III in 1970, the chances are that many people expected them to flop. They had produce two outstanding records, and nobody thought their express train to the top could continue to chug so heartily. As we know now, the band did just that and delivered one of the finest, most underrated, moments of their career.
It was through songs like the bombastic ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ that we can hear their evolution.
Robert Plant’s vocals are the star attraction on this number and showed he was much more than your archetypal rock singer. Commenting on his performance, Plant told MOJO in 2003: “The musical progression at the end of each verse — the chord choice — is not a natural place to go. And it’s that lift up there that’s so regal and so emotional. I don’t know whether that was born from the loins of JP or JPJ, but I know that when we reached that point in the song you could get a lump in the throat from being in the middle of it.”
‘Stairway To Heaven’ – Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
It’s hard not to fall head over heels in love with ‘Stairway’. After all, it’s eight minutes of pure songwriting brilliance. Lyrically abstract and musically complete, Plant’s tender vocals juxtaposed with Jimmy Page’s sublime guitar licks, along with Bonham and Jones making sure everything ticks over beautifully. It’s arguably the closest thing to a perfect rock song in existence, pure brilliance from start to finish and Led Zeppelin at their absolute peak.
“To me, I thought ‘Stairway’ crystallized the essence of the band. It had everything there and showed the band at its best as a band, as a unit. Not talking about solos or anything. It had everything there. We were careful never to release it as a single. It was a milestone for us.” Page proudly professed to Rolling Stone in 1975, adding: “Every musician wants to do something of lasting quality, something which will hold up for a long time and I guess we did it with ‘Stairway’.”
‘The Rain Song’ – House of the Holy (1973)
With Led Zeppelin IV in the bag, the group had realised that they had the world at their feet, and their exploration of music had been given the green light by the music world. It saw the band’s ambitions increase as they approached their new album House of the Holy.
The experimental nature of the record didn’t work on every song, but everything clicked perfectly placed when they decided to venture into ballads on ‘The Rain Song’, effortlessly slick and the highlight of the record. “It defies classification,” legendary producer Rick Rubin told Rolling Stone. “There’s such tasteful, beautiful detail in the guitar and a triumphant feel when the drums come in – it’s sad and moody and strong, all at the same time. I could listen to this song all day,” — you ain’t alone on that one, Rick!
‘Kashmir’ – Physical Graffiti (1975)
Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page both look back on ‘Kashmir’ as being up there with the band’s very best work, and it’s hard to disagree. Although ‘Kashmir’ might not quite be the best-ever Led Zeppelin track, it’s certainly in the conversation and is the most electrifying moment on Physical Graffiti.
“It’s difficult to be asked, ‘What’s your favourite Zeppelin track?’ They all were,” Page told Rolling Stone. “They were all intended to be on those albums. I suppose ‘Kashmir’ has to be the one,” he said. “All of the guitar parts would be on there,” he added. “But the orchestra needed to sit there, reflecting those other parts, doing what the guitars were but with the colours of a symphony.”
Plant is equally as positive about the song, noting: “I wish we were remembered for ‘Kashmir’ more than ‘Stairway To Heaven. It’s so right; there’s nothing overblown, no vocal hysterics. Perfect Zeppelin.” It’s a song that has been widely cited as one of Zep’s best and shows a band who are capable of so much more than just heavy rock.”
‘Achilles Last Stand’ – Presence (1976)
You’ll struggle to find a Led Zeppelin fan who would place 1976’s Presence as their favourite body of work by the group, but it still had it’s eureka moments and opener, ‘Achilles Last Stand’ would be worthy of a place on any record by the Zep.
This song epitomised why John Bonham was such an integral part of the success of the band. It’s a clear indication that his powerhouse talents were still going strong in the later years of his life and perhaps even improving with age. The drummer still possessed all the rhythm and technique which had seen him grow in majesty as one of the world’s best.
Page later commented about the boldness they showed by opening the album with this number, stating: “We could have just eased into familiar stuff but we went straight into the deep end by trying out ‘Achilles’. I thought I’d have to use the twin-neck [6- and 12-string Gibson EDS-1275 guitar] but it actually sounded better with the six-string using different effects. When we did that first rehearsal it just all clicked all over again.”
‘Fool In The Rain’ – In Through the Out Door (1979)
This final era of Led Zeppelin is a slightly sore point for some fans of the legendary rock band is it came about just before the band’s split and John Bonham’s tragic death. ‘Fool in the Rain’ is the third song on Led Zeppelin’s 1979 album In Through the Out Door. It was the last single released in the US before they formally disbanded in 1980. The song reached number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1980.
Although their final album was their weakest, ‘Fool In The Rain’ was a reminder of their brilliance and whilst this magnetism wasn’t on show throughout the entirety of the album — it’s unavoidable on this track that sees Zeppelin firing on all cylinders, with Bonham once again at the heart of their brilliance.