More often than not, you can track the most incendiary work of an artist’s career back to their debut, but Led Zeppelin can count their fourth album is their defining sound. Sure, the LPs that preceded Led Zeppelin IV were fearless pieces of work but this album landed most succinctly as the unequivocal proof of Zeppelin’s prowess as the kings of rock.
Almost every single Led Zeppelin fan will agree that you really don’t get much better than 1971’s 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 all-powerful Godlike figures of rock ‘n’ roll. It was the album that not only sealed the deal but gave credence to their everlasting presence. Below, we’ve ranked the songs on the record from worst to best.
Their potent new vision for rock with this record 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. But, as with everything in this world, there are certainly some bits that are better than others. So we’ve ranked the album’s eight songs in order of greatness.
Led Zeppelin IV ranked from worst to best:
8. ‘Four Sticks’
On this song, it’s all about Jimmy Page and his magnetic guitar playing as he powers a riff through the speakers that could cut down a Redwood. Add to this that John Bonham’s thunderous drums are being hit with four drumsticks (hence, the title of the song) and you’ve got yourself a winner.
Naturally, because of the extra sounds, the song was incredibly difficult to put down on tape. It required more takes than usual and therefore leaves the complex arrangements of the songs feeling a little overly constructed.
7. ‘Going To California’
The previous album had seen the powerhouse quartet change things up. Instead of producing heavy rock gold they went acoustic and provided some hippie-centric folk, laboured with allegory and fantasy imagery. This song acts as a hangover from that feeling.
‘Going to California’ perfectly encapsulates that sound and the growing West Coast soft rock that was beginning to infiltrate the masses. Robert Plant, in particular, had begun to find favour with this sphere of singing.
6. ‘Misty Mountain Hop’
Though he is one of the pivotal members of the band, John Paul Jones is often the forgotten member of Led Zeppelin. But it is on songs like ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ that John Paul Jones really shows off his style.
The electric piano is simply beguiling and when backed by John Bonham with some of his more doom-laden fills then things really kick up a notch. Plant is still finding the summer of love a pleasing place to construct his lyrics as he sings tales of being busted by the cops for holding drugs while having a sit-in.
5. ‘The Battle Of Evermore’
While John Bonham, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones all handled the music side of songwriting without too much vast deviation, lyrically, Plant was taking the band through many different guises.
This track was pulled from a book about the Celtic wars and then latterly inspired by the Fairport folk legend Sandy Denny when he arrived to provide the call and response lyrical theme of the track. It’s a song that was rarely played live because of the vocal gymnastics, it’s a track capable of carrying you off through the air and out of your own mind, if only for a short while.
4. ‘Rock And Roll’
One of the band’s most instantly recognisable songs, ‘Rock And Roll’ has got a slinging rock star jam at its core. As the quartet performed with the Rolling Stones mentor Ian Stewart out on the piano, the track bubbled out of the ether and is a potent and intoxicating song.
It started when Bonzo performed the intro of Little Richard’s song ‘Keep A Knockin” when Jimmy Page’s ears pricked up and he kicked into a noticeable fifties inspired riff. Within a few minutes, the band were already forming an integral part of their standout album. It’s a classic that deserves far more attention than it gets.
3. ‘Black Dog’
For us, this is Led Zeppelin nearing their magical best. While Robert Plant delivers vocal licks that would make a Nun shudder, Bonham pounds out his kit like a furious butcher, John Paul Jones brings the groove and Jimmy Page weaves a delicate tapestry of steel intertwining them all—and that’s just the first 30 seconds of 1971’s ‘Black Dog’.
The sounds at the beginning of the song are Page warming up his guitar something which he called: “Waking up the army of guitars.”
The fact that Page waits until the end of the song to deliver his crescendoing guitar solo shows what an expert eye he had for song construction. Marvel below:
2. ‘Stairway To Heaven’
It would be impossible to ignore the sheer weight and gravitas that ‘Stairway To Heaven’ holds. It’s easy to fall in love with ‘Stairway’, after all, its eight minutes of pure songwriting brilliance. Lyrically abstract and musically complete the fact we have Plant’s tender vocals as the cherry on top.
Plant had gathered up a lot of fans for his gravel toned screech of the band’s early efforts but, on ‘Stairway’, he returns to a vulnerable and tender sound that showed the world he was capable of far more than he offered in Led Zeppelin. When you add to that Jimmy Page’s incendiary guitar solos and Bonham’s powerful playing and you find one of the greatest songs ever written, certainly one of the most ubiquitous.
1. ‘When The Levee Breaks’
‘When The Levee Breaks’ is an old bluesy number which when delivered by Led Zeppelin breathed new life into a genre that had been overdone in the swinging London scene. In 1971 Zeppelin would show the world how it should be done. The song is one of Zeppelin’s finest moments on record, thanks to some studio wizardry, and despite difficulties with reproducing the sound on stage, the track remains a fan favourite.
Zeppelin recorded the track in a stairwell to gather that muffled and echoing drum sound, Bonham is powerful and commanding on every last beat, so much so that Page and company built the song around it. The band couldn’t recreate this same sound live to do the recording justice meaning they’ve often avoided the song when performing live. That just makes the album version all the more perfect.
It may be easy to point to ‘Stairway To Heaven’ as the greatest Led Zeppelin song but to ignore this powerhouse tune is to ignore everything that is great about Zeppelin.