My Top 10 Songs by the Mighty Led Zeppelin

This is no easy task as a case can be made for nearly every song in their catalog to be included in this list. They all have something unique or innovative about them.

Led Zeppelin never suffered from the “every song sounds the same” syndrome that plagues so many artists. It would be easier to just list them all in chronological order and call it “The Best of Led Zeppelin or Everything They Ever Did.”

10 – Black Dog – The opening track on Led Zeppelin IV, commonly called ZOSO for the four Celtic or Arabic looking symbols that make up the album title, the first of which appears to spell ZOSO. Led Zeppelin IV was released in November, 1971. Black Dog begins with some erratic scratching of the guitar strings and breaks into Robert Plant singing “Hey, Hey, Momma, said the way you move, gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove.” Plant’s voice and Jimmy Page’s guitar riffs trade back and forth though-out the song. Black Dog is perhaps the most straight-forward rock-and-roll radio ready song in their catalog but is still un-mistakably Led Zeppelin.

9 – Whole Lotta Love – The opening track on Led Zeppelin II, released in October, 1969, was the first Led Zeppelin song I ever remember hearing. Jimmy Page’s choppy guitar rhythm, buzz saw sound effect, and the psychedelic echo effects interplaying with Plant’s soaring vocals and sexual moaning make it probably the most widely recognized Led Zeppelin tune. It stands the test of time as exemplified by 40 years later, Jimmy Page playing these classic riffs in the closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics.

8 – What Is and What Should Never Be – The second track on Led Zeppelin II is perfectly juxtaposed with Whole Lotta Love. Page’s rhythmic strumming and John Bonham’s gentle tapping of the cymbals combined with Plant’s sleepy vocals slowly build to “wake up with the sunrise and find all our dreams are still as new.

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7 – Heartbreaker – The first song on side 2 of Led Zeppelin II re-ignites the album the same way Whole Lotta Love opened side 1. Jimmy Page’s impeccable guitar is underscored by the magnificent bass of John Paul Jones. Heartbreaker is immediately followed by Living Loving Maid as a natural extension of the song as if to say “Yeah, she broke your heart, get over it, she’s just a woman.

6 – The Lemon Song – This is the fourth song on this list from Led Zeppelin II. Then, I promise, I will move on to other albums. The many tempo changes in this bluesy epic are a classic Led Zeppelin signature trait. Plant’s passionate vocals are the real treat in this one. “Squeeze me baby, ’til the juice runs down my leg. The way you squeeze my lemon, gonna fall right out of bed…”

5 – No Quarter – This comes from Led Zeppelin’s fifth album, Houses of the Holy, which was released in March, 1973. An interesting side note, the song, Houses of the Holy, does not appear on this album. It is on the seventh album, Physical Graffiti. The star of this song is the synthesizer and keyboard work of John Paul Jones. Add that to the wailing and moaning of Plant’s vocals and you get deep, dark, classic Led Zeppelin.

4 – Stairway to Heaven – The closing song to side 1 of Led Zeppelin IV is, as Robert Plant states in the intro to this song on the live album and movie soundtrack, The Song Remains the Same, a “Song of Hope.” I suspect it may be false hope in expecting your reward of gold in heaven for “Your stairway lies on the whispering wind.” The truth is re-stated in the last line of the song, “And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.” This is actually a beautiful soft ballad which builds to a crescendo with a powerful Jimmy Page guitar riff and solo. Stairway to Heaven is probably the most played Led Zeppelin song which is unusual because not many eight minute long songs get much radio play. “And it makes me wonder”

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3 – Gallows Pole – The first song on side 2 of Led Zeppelin III which was released in October, 1970. Gallows Pole features incredible acoustic guitar by Jimmy Page and surprisingly, banjo by John Paul Jones. It tells the story of a condemned man pleading with the hangman to wait for his friends to come buy his freedom. The friends come up empty. He then pleads to wait for his brother who brings silver and gold, but that is not enough for the hangman. He then pleads for his sister to put a smile upon the face of the hangman. This wins his freedom but the sister tries to steal the silver and gold. As he rides away, the hangman is laughing while the sister is swinging on the gallows pole.

2 – Dazed and Confused – The last song on side 1 of the first album, simply titled, Led Zeppelin, released January, 1969 is a Jimmy Page psychedelic tour de force driven by Robert Plant’s powerful and passionate vocals. It has the Led Zeppelin signature tempo changes all held in check by John Bonham’s brutal drumming. Page’s use of the violin bow on his guitar is nothing short of genius. Dazed and Confused is what earned the band the nick-name “Hammer of the Gods”

1 – Kashmir – Here we are at last, the number 1 song on the list comes from Physical Graffiti released in February, 1975. Kashmir is the last song on disc 1 of this 2 disc set. Everything, all the elements that make up Led Zeppelin, comes together in this one track. Originally titled “Driving to Kashmir” the song was inspired by a long drive across southern Morocco on a desolate road cut through the barren desert. “All I see turns to brown, as the sun burns the ground. And my eyes fill with sand, as I scan this wasted land.” Robert Plant delivers the most powerful and passionate vocals of any Led Zeppelin song. John Bonham’s powerful drumming is beautifully under-stated here as is Jimmy Page’s guitar. What really makes Kashmir stand out are the exquisite orchestrations of John Paul Jones. For a really special treat, find the CD “Kashmir – Symphonic Led Zeppelin” performed by The London Philharmonic Orchestra. It includes a beautiful instrumental version of Kashmir as well as 8 other Led Zeppelin classics.

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There you have it; my top 10 picks from Led Zeppelin. Now take this same list, keep the top five on it in any order you wish, replace the bottom five with any five other Led Zeppelin songs, and it is still a valid, perfectly acceptable top 10.

I have never seen Led Zeppelin perform as whole and probably never will. I have seen Plant and Page perform on their tour supporting the CD “No Quarter: Page & Plant Unledded” released in 1994. This performance included the string section from the Denver Symphony and an Egyptian Ensemble. Believe me; Kashmir was as perfect as it could possibly be.