Ranking Led Zeppelin’s albums in order of greatness
One of the biggest bands to have ever graced the earth, Led Zeppelin, made up of Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones, made some of the most defining studio albums the world has ever known. However, if you’ve never had the pleasure of introducing yourself to the founding fathers of heavy metal, where is the best place to start?
Well, we’ve done the hard work for you and we’ve ranked the studio albums (and Coda too for the kicks) in order of greatness so you know where to begin. 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. 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”.
Led Zeppelin were quickly signed up as part of the growing roster of rock acts on Atlantic Records. 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.
Led Zeppelin’s albums ranked from worst to best:
9. In Through the Out Door
Released in 1979, it’s fair to say that just over a decade after their formation, Led Zeppelin had hit a creative wall. As the world, now burned by the fires of punk and disco, looked incredibly out of sorts form the purist hard rock sound the band had continued to belt out. Even in that category, the band were up against it with Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth taking on the role of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant with aplomb.
Within the group, trouble was never far away and, in ’79, it was nearing implosion. John Bonham and Jimmy Page were dealing with substance abuse and Plant was still grieving having recently lost his son. The album is hinged on one factor and one factor alone—Jimmy Page. The guitarist’s involvement in the album is comparatively minimal and while Jones and Plant are capable enough musicians, losing Page’s talent would reduce any band to a shadow of their former selves.
Naturally, the record is still a punchy number, with ‘Fool in the Rain’ being often regarded as one of Zeppelin’s finest songs and certainly one of Bonham’s best moments.
It’s easy to dismiss Coda as a piece of throwaway listening from one of the most vital bands of rock. In fairness, the LP is openly confirmed as a collection of odds-and-ends so it’s no surprise that it doesn’t land as well as the rest of the band’s canon. Thanks to this conception the record has notable bumps in the road.
When relistening to the album it’s easy to see how these bumps could affect one’s love of the LP but, in truth, the record is still imbued with some joyful moments. Taking music from the band’s heyday and repackaging it in a new format was likely the best way to go only two years after Bonham’s tragic death, as it brought us away from the whimper of ‘In Through The Out Door’ and replaces it with a triumphant beat.
Where John Paul Jones and Robert Plant took the lead on In Through The Out Door, it was John Bonham and Jimmy Page who were the men in charge of 1976’s Presence. It’s perhaps some of Page’s finest work as he unleashes a flurry of incredible grooves and searing riffs.
Looking back, however, it is easy to call this LP Bonahm’s triumphant moment as he rages across his kit like a stampede of warhorses. Typically loved for its song ‘Achilles Last Stand’ another Bonham moment of brilliance comes on ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’. By this point, the band were nearing ten years in the business and the decadence of the decade was starting to creep up on them, it means this is one of the group’s sleaziest efforts.
6. Led Zeppelin
To ignore Led Zeppelin’s debut album as one of the pivotal moments in rock history would be to forget a large chunk of modern music as we know it today. The blues-heavy sound laid the foundations for heavy metal and countless other genres and it shook the music scene to its core. While The Beatles and The Stones were getting trippy, Zeppelin had got heavy, real heavy.
Many people would have this LP much further up the list and, we bet, if you witnessed the explosion of Zeppelin first hand, and picked up this record as it was released, then chances are it will be your favourite—such was its incredible impression on the kids of the day. However, what the album has in power it lacks in craft and on reflection it feels more akin to a Yardbirds II rather than Led Zeppelin’s debut LP.
It’s still one of the most important records of the 20th century but it just so happens that Zeppelin made five better ones.
5. Led Zeppelin III
This album is Led Zeppelin showing their musical chops. They had already blasted away the cobwebs of the sixties while they were still in them and now they were ready to ditch being just a band and become icons. To do that, you need depth and to gain depth you need variances and it means the switch to folk wasn’t just warranted but wanted. It was a clear signifier to the world around them that Zeppelin wasn’t just ‘the biggest band on the planet’, a title they had only just stolen from The Beatles, they were artists too.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have some big thumping songs on there. In fact, it may well contain Led Zeppelin’s most deliberately heavy rock track in ‘Immigrant Song’. It also welcomes ‘Celebration Day’ and ‘Out on the Tiles’ as some rockier moments on the record. But it is safe to say, that the majority of the album turns its back on rock music. The slow, bubbling blues of ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ is intoxicating while the touching vulnerability of ‘That’s The Way’ adds yet more colour to the band. Completed with ‘Tangerine’ and ‘Gallows Pole’ it is hard to see this album is anything but a misunderstood gem.
4. Houses of the Holy
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. It saw the band’s ambitions increase as they approached their new album House of the Holy. There’s a couple of strange songs on the record too with ‘The Rain Song’ and ‘No Quarter’ sounding particularly non-Zeppelin.
As many of their fans turned disgruntled at the new approach to their sound, leaving behind the strict purist view of heavy rock they had brought to the fore, Zeppelin cared not and delivered a searing record. As the album was released so close to IV its comparisons have often left the LP in the dust, but House of the Holy showcased a band on the run towards their own musical Mekkah.
3. Physical Graffiti
When asked by Rolling Stone in the same interview which Zep album was his favourite, Plant didn’t hesitate and revealed: “Physical Graffiti, strong stuff. And it sounded good too. It sounded very tough, but it was also restrained, exhibiting a certain amount of control as well.” It also featured one of the band’s biggest songs ‘Kashmir’.
As recently as 2018, in a feature-length piece with Dan Rather, he spoke in further detail about the intricacies of the track that make it so perfect to him: “It was a great achievement to take such a monstrously dramatic musical piece and find a lyric that was ambiguous enough, and a delivery that was not over-pumped,” said Plant.
“It was almost the antithesis of the music, this lyric and this vocal delivery that was just about enough to get in there.” Physical Graffiti was a dawning of a new chapter for the band as they had now full creative control with no overlords following their exit from Atlantic Records and go independent with their new label Swan Song Records.
2. Led Zeppelin II
Difficult second album syndrome was not something that affected Led Zeppelin. On their second record, aptly named Led Zeppelin II, the group emerge from their chrysalis as a beautiful heavy rock butterfly. Having used their debut to make a big impact, on II the group delivered a truly potent record capable of knocking out anyone in front of them.
The band’s gruelling touring schedule had honed not only their sound but their vision for the future too. They implemented that vision with aplomb on this record. Still resting heavily on the deep and leathered blues sound the band had brought us on their debut but this time it came with extra verve and a double dose of swaggering rock.
The record was proof of a band who had big plans and looked more than capable of achieving them. With songs like ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ it’s easy to see how this LP set the band on their way to domination.
1. Led Zeppelin IV
We feel quietly confident that almost every single Led Zeppelin fan will agree that you really don’t get much better than Led Zeppelin IV, it’s an album that is recognised as marked achievement in rock music. The untitled album saw the band transform from blues-rock musicians into the aforementioned Godlike figures of rock ‘n’ roll.
Their potent new vision for rock saw their expansive sound be matched in the studio as they welcomed orchestral arrangements and grandiose creativity, they somehow managed to frame it within the spectrum of rock and, in turn, elevate the genre to near-mythical status. It was this album that made rock stars into musical geniuses.
With Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham at their creative peak, the album was always likely to become a classic. One thing Zeppelin had that other groups didn’t was a band who fired on all cylinders. Page was easily one of the best guitarists around, Plant, the Golden God himself, was rightly regarded as a rock singer extraordinaire while Bonham and Jones were one of the best rhythm sections about. On IV, these four parts work together to create a simply perfect album.
It combines the best bits of the band that had been and with it provides a searing vision of the future of rock ‘n’ roll.