From Nirvana to Jeff Buckley: The 10 best Led Zeppelin covers of all time
We’re taking a look back at one of the greatest bands of all time, Led Zeppelin, and the many artists’ different attempts to match their power and intensity. While that is a fool’s errand, they sure do have some fun trying. Here are the best Led Zeppelin covers of all time.
The most covered band of all time? Not quite. But Led Zeppelin is right up there. The band were a force for the good of rock in the sixties and seventies, they changed the way people spoke about rock and roll. Their incredible playing across Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham, meant they soon became the darlings of the rock world.
With strong musical credentials, the group were one of the first true rock acts. The group arrived in the late sixties with a no-holds-barred approach to songwriting. Their output elevated what The Beatles and The Rolling Stones had started, into something wonderful, weird and way bigger than anything before it.
The band, likely because of their wide-ranging influence on the youth of that generation and beyond, have often found themselves at the receiving end of tributes and covers from various artists. While not all of the covers below are note-perfect, something which may annoy the die-hard Zep fans among us, but they all have a purpose on this list.
See the full list, below.
10 best Led Zeppelin covers of all time:
10. Iron Maiden – ‘Communication Breakdown’
One of the forefathers of heavy metal, it’s impossible to discount Led Zeppelin’s effect on an entire genre. If you needed proof listen to Iron Maiden’s cover of ‘Communication Breakdown’
We couldn’t start this list any other way than with Bruce Dickinson and Iron Maiden. Doing their heavy metal forefathers, Led Zeppelin, the ultimate service with not only a perfect cover of their famous hit but by giving it the Iron Maiden spin.
9. Karen O and Trent Reznor with Atticus Ross – ‘Immigrant Song’
It’s hard to quantify the kind of musicians Led Zeppelin had to play with when making their albums. All four members of the band were incredibly gifted in their fields. However, we’d suggest this mini-supergroup goes quite far to match it.
The track takes on a decidedly more industrial sound with Reznor at the helm of proceedings, but did you expect anything less? Karen O does her best screeching siren act and combined with Reznor’s musical vision, the Zep tracks leap away from anything you might associate with the legendary band.
8. Frank Zappa – ‘Stairway To Heaven’
Of course, we couldn’t have a list of Zeppelin covers without visiting this, ‘Stairway To Heaven’ the band’s most recognisable hit.
Not the most popular choice on our list, many people have labelled Zappa’s cover of Zeppelin’s most famous song as disrespectful. If you truly believe that in 1988, backed by a full band, that Zappa would be making fun of one of the biggest bands on the planet… you’d be dead… well, you might actually have a point. But this charming effort still ranks as one of the most memorable covers.
7. 4 Non-Blondes – ‘Misty Mountain Hop’
Taken from the 1995 album in tribute to Led Zeppelin, Ecomium, the 4 Non-Blondes take their alt-rock ’90s vibe to the Zeppelin classic.
The alt-rock outfit that came to be known for their much-mangled karaoke hit, ‘What’s Up’, it is their quite sumptuous cover of Zep’s ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ which has us reeling. Listen to the big and bolshy cover below, with Linda Perry’s vocals a triumph.
6. Nirvana – ‘Heartbreaker’
One of the few songs to be credited to all four members of Led Zeppelin, ‘Heartbreaker’ is a behemoth song on Led Zeppelin II and has remained a fan favourite ever since. The solo on the song famously inspired Eddie Van Halen to create his Tapping Technique.
Often regarded as a sloppy guitar player, Kurt Cobain’s solo work on this live cover of Led Zeppelin’s track show he was a match for any player out there. Taking on a famous Page lead line may be scary, but Kurt gives it a good old fashioned try!
5. Jeff Buckley – ‘Night Flight’
First recorded in 1971, the song was meant for Led Zeppelin IV the track only found a home on Physical Graffiti. It’s a track about a man trying to dodge the draft and was composed largely by John Paul Jones. Jimmy Page once commented: “To be able to fuse all these styles was always my dream in the early stages, but now the composing side of it is just as important.”
The enigmatic character and voice of Jeff Buckley would endear him to a generation bereft of the rock star ideal. Buckley may have been a tortured soul, but he got himself up and raring to go on this wonderful cover of ‘Night Flight’ from 1993. Buckley’s soaring vocal performance truly quite special.
4. The Flaming Lips – ‘Communication Breakdown’
A full-frontal assault.
The Flaming Lips provide the most like-for-like cover on our list with this classic Zep song from ’69. It’s a bulbous cover from start to finish, never relenting, not even for a second. Fitting for a song which dominated the band’s early live shows.
The track will go down in history as one of the band’s best but it was only released as a B-side to ‘Good Times Bad Times’ seemingly not good enough for the A-side release. Nowadays, you will be hard-pushed to find a Zep fan that doesn’t count it as one of the band’s best tracks.
3. Rollins Band – ‘Four Sticks’
If there’s one man in rock capable of matching Led Zeppelin’s intensity all on his own then it has to be Henry Rollins. The former Black Flag leading mand was in his own group by the time he attempted a cover of one of his favourite bands.
Taken from the Led Zeppelin tribute album Encomium, the song became a part of Henry Rollins repertoire as his 1995 version smacks of everything that makes him great and Zeppelin undeniably brilliant. Power and lots of it.
2. Chris Cornell – ‘Thank You’
While we firmly believe that Chris Cornell could sing the McDonald’s menu and still make people love it, this very special cover of Led Zeppelin remains one of our favourite songs he ever performed. Recorded unplugged in Sweden, the song is hanging off of every varnished and soulful vocal fleck Cornell give us. It’s damn near perfect.
Featuring on Led Zeppelin II the song has always stuck out as perfect for Robert Plant’s impressive vocals. So it is no surprise that Cornell’s remarkable vocal performance shines too.
1. Rodrigo Y Gabriela – ‘Stairway To Heaven’
There are few things left to be said about Zeppelin’s classic ‘Stairway To Heaven.’ The song is as ubiquitous with the band as almost any other track and remains a remarkable moment of rock ‘n’ roll storytelling, despite it now weighing heavily on the members of the band.
One of Led Zeppelin’s most powerful hits given a complete makeover by a truly mesmeric artist. We could go on about how much we love this cover, how it pays homage to the original and yet still makes it Rodrigo’s own, but you’re better off listening to it.