Led Zeppelin Albums From Worst To Best
Led Zeppelin is a formative experience. They’re the kind of band you discover early on, that kicks open the door to a whole bunch of other things. It’s hard to separate those experiences, eventually. I can’t tell you the last time I listened to Nevermind or Appetite For Destruction the whole way through, and for a while that was becoming the case for Zeppelin as well. They were my favorite band for a while, at a time where I primarily listened to classic rock and ’90s alt-rock, and then at some point I abandoned them. Distantly, I could acknowledge they were one of the absolute Greats, one of the legends, one of the most important bands in rock music (and for the way we think of large-scale touring and live performance), etc., etc. But I’d reached a point where I had zero patience for blues rock, where I really didn’t want to hear all the solos and big riffs, where I’d simply come to prioritize different things in the music I liked. I basically started to look at Zeppelin like this important phase in the development of me as a listener and a music fan, but a place I couldn’t go back to. My guess is that there are a lot of others out there that had a similar experience. Zeppelin becomes the band you loved when you were a teenager, but that also becomes part of the problem — it starts to feel a little weird to be an adult in 2014 and still be sitting around talking about Zeppelin obsessively.
Well, that was my arc at least, and mistakes have been made. Because revisiting Zeppelin for this piece had me floored by their catalog all over again, had me scouring YouTube for some of the insanely powerful live performances I recalled from the Led Zeppelin DVD released in 2003. (I mean, good God.) Part of this is attributable to the way the band has been so thoroughly canonized at this point, but their body of work somehow feels entirely unassailable even with plenty of evident flaws along the way. (We’ll get to this, but — “Hot Dog”? Come on.) Though it was John Bonham’s death that made Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones decide to disband, it wound up cementing the band into the big narrative of things. They started at the tail end, the fall of the ’60s, and then conquered and defined the ’70s, only to spool out and, eventually, hit tragedy because of their own participation in the decade’s hedonism. Eight records released over ten years, and then it was over. When the output was this good, this game-changing, how was there any way the band and all their work wouldn’t become a symbol?
Of course, as it’s been said again and again, the band was initially hated by the critics of the time. (If you want to talk to crazy people, poke around the internet and you’ll find those who try to apply this “Zeppelin Rule” to Creed and Nickelback, as if those bands are headed toward some sort of critical reckoning where we all realize they were geniuses all along.) This only contributes to the mythos of the band. As we get further and further from the ’60s and ’70s, we reach a strange point. The best of those eras continues to be reaffirmed by endless Rolling Stone or other Boomer-related retrospectives, but the reality is that they’re still touchstones today. Everything is accessible now, and you can discover this stuff alongside Cocteau Twins or the Roots or Sun Ra. Legends like Zeppelin continue on because the people who lived through it don’t want to let it go, but also because they’re right there still kicking on the screens in front of those of us who didn’t.
Zeppelin in particular, though, feels like some unattainable legend, some myth. Even amongst the other greats, there are precious few who feel quite like this. Aside from Springsteen, the Stones are probably my favorite classic rock artist, but there’s no denying they have uh, altered their legacy by continuing on into what is essentially self-parody. This is different than how Robert Plant or Paul McCartney are still around, still doing their own thing and playing some of the older favorites. Groups like the Beatles and Zeppelin are left to rest as they were, the story allowed to become part of this ether where it will define itself. I’m talking about the groups who essentially sustained one genius streak for a closed amount of time, and never revisited it. That latter part, in this age of reunions and most musicians absolutely needing to tour to make money, is getting increasingly rare.
The members of Zeppelin will be asked about reunions until they or all the people who interview them die, whichever comes first. That’s the way it goes. Over the years, there have been small gestures. Little one offs, Page and Plant collaborations, that 2007 concert in honor of Ahmet Ertegun with Jason Bonham filling in for his dad. That was enough for Plant, and that’s good for him; a lot of his recent solo stuff is really interesting, and is a far better look for an aging rock singer than strutting out to “Black Dog” ad infinitum. Page seems less willing to let Zeppelin rest, whether it was the rumors of he and Jones considering touring with another singer (Steven Tyler, or Myles Kennedy from Alter Bridge, and I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit), or whether it’s the extensive reissue campaign he’s currently embarking on, the latest iterations of which were released this week. I like Zeppelin how they are. Something kind of mysterious and lost to time, but also undying and ever-present, a perennial reference point, and one of the finest gateway drugs pop music has ever yielded.
There’s no reason to try to revive or relive it. But, it is time to revisit it.
Coda is, as the name suggests, not a full-fledged Led Zeppelin album. Released -- possibly as a means of fulfilling contractual agreements -- in 1982, it was the first bit of unheard Zeppelin material since the death of Bonham. It's composed of leftovers, random odds and ends spanning their career (though three of the eight tracks date from the In Through The Out Door sessions). As has been noted over the years, Zeppelin wasn't a band that had some massive store of B-sides and outtakes stored up; what you hear on the records is most of what they did. (Just take a look at the superfluous nature of these recent reissues -- each one comes with a second disc primarily comprised of ultimate super-fan curiosities like alternate mixes or isolated tracks rather than long lost songs.) In general, this tends to solidify that overwhelming sense of just how strong and united the Zeppelin catalog is. It was so tight not because they were diligent editors who had a bunch of songs they deemed unsuitable for a record; rather, they were simply capable of crafting these albums one after the other, and that energy never seemed to be directed towards any distractions.
As a result, the content of Coda itself is a mixed bag. Being a fan of Led Zeppelin's folkier side, I'm partial to the Led Zeppelin III outtake "Poor Tom." I've also always had a soft spot for "Ozone Baby," a solid piece of late-‘70s pop; I'm actually not sure why that and "Darlene" wouldn't have been included on In Through The Out Door in the first place. Otherwise, you've got: "We're Gonna Groove," a solid if not mind-blowing remnant from the time between I and II; what is in reality a cleaned up live version of "I Can't Quit You Baby"; and another drum solo track from Bonham, "Bonzo's Montreaux." (I don't know about you, but even with a ton of admiration and respect for Bonham, I'm not sitting around listening to drum solos too much when I revisit my old favorite bands.) You've also got "Wearing And Tearing," which comes off like a half-hearted acknowledgement of punk but, essentially, feels stale in the way that Presence did as a whole in 1977. When Coda was re-released on CD in 1993 as part of The Complete Studio Recordings, "Hey Hey What Can I Do" and a few other tracks were tacked on. That song's a contender for one of the greatest outtakes in rock music, ever, and puts everything else here to shame, even if it's good stuff on its own. Coda does have its role in the story and arc of Zeppelin's career, but it's hard -- from its name to its stature relative to the cohesion of their actual records -- to regard it as much more than an afterthought, easily the least essential entry in their catalog.
There seems to sometimes be a running argument that Presence is this massively underrated and wrongfully maligned Led Zeppelin album, the one most suited for critical reevaluation and induction into the pantheon alongside the band's other work. On one hand, this is true. In the grand scheme of '70s albums, Presence probably is pretty underrated, hopelessly overshadowed by the band's other achievements. And, in hindsight, we know that Zeppelin was close to burning out by 1976, where there would be new and exciting sounds rising up to dethrone this kind of expansive hard rock from the forefront of things. The album suffers most in relation, though, to their other work -- it definitely belongs towards the bottom of their output. But lesser Zeppelin is, simply, still a lot better than a lot of other stuff that's been released. So, Presence is still great at moments, it just sounds somewhat beaten down compared to the heights previously reached by the band.
Presence is a moment where all the mythology of Zeppelin might actually, for once, get in the way of interacting with the music (where in other places, it enhances it, makes it feel all the more powerful). This was the record that came after Plant's traumatic car accident in Greece; he and Page wrote the bulk of it while Plant was still recovering in Malibu, and he was in a wheelchair throughout the recording sessions. It was also recorded and mixed in only eighteen days, which, sure, sounds really crazy and impressive if you churn out a classic in that time, but Presence feels somehow both rushed and over-stuffed. It, essentially, sounds exactly like it was speedily done in eighteen days and wasn't given enough time to be thought over or tweaked or anything, really. Again, I feel the need to stress that most of these criticisms are only meant in the larger context of Zeppelin's career; of course it's impressive for a band to be in the studio for a little over two weeks and come out with something like "Achilles' Last Stand" or "Nobody's Fault Buy Mine," let alone a whole album around those songs. Ultimately, though, you can hear that Plant was injured, and you can hear in general that the whole band might've been getting a bit ragged with the pretty constant clip of excess and touring they'd been living through since the late '60s now. Presence is full of grooves and tons of guitar work and interesting rhythms. It should move, it should feel like a victorious bit of reinvigoration after Plant's injuries. Instead, it sounds tired and bloated. As good as some of the songs still are -- though it's telling "Achilles' Last Stand" and "Nobody's Fault But Mine" were the only Presence songs the band played on their 1977 tour, or the only ones ever included on their greatest hits compilations -- I can never shake the feeling that Presence feels cluttered, and inert compared to the band's other work. It sounds like a band running out of road. That might make it one of the most interesting Led Zeppelin records, but it also makes it one of the worst.
In Through The Out Door (1979)
When I first got into Led Zeppelin, I remember In Through The Out Door essentially being anathema. Anyone I talked to -- friends who were getting into Zeppelin at the same time, or teachers or uncles or family friends who'd been living with the band a bit longer -- either didn't remember it existed or considered it to be complete garbage. Led Zeppelin using so many synthesizers, Led Zeppelin writing straight up pop songs -- surely, this was a symbol of the Great Era of Classic Rock's total and complete collapse. All of which seems very serious, and very definitive, when you're fourteen. Now, In Through The Out Door strikes me as the obvious wrongfully dismissed Zeppelin album, far more so than Presence ever did.
In a way, In Through The Out Door is actually quite symbolic of where '70s mainstream rock had wound up by the end of the decade, and how its luminaries would either change or become extinct. But not because it's bad, simply because it comes off as something of an experimental, transitional album, as some of the band members have alluded to in the past. Due to Bonham's untimely death and the band's subsequent end, it turned from connective tissue into an eternal ellipsis. There aren't any stubbornly Zeppelin moments, really -- much of it does try to reconcile what was becoming in vogue (or tries to catch up to what was already in vogue) with the interests and styles already existent within the band. Like a lot of artists reared in the late '60s and early '70s, not all of that sounds natural. Jones' synths were way up front for much of the record, and while the notion of Zeppelin using synths isn't as outlandish or offensive as I recall it being when I first heard this record, they're one of those bands that aged into the era and had absolutely terrible taste in the particular synths they did use. "Carouselambra" is actually a lost gem amongst Zeppelin's work, hindered only by the fact that its opening synth riff sounds like it should be in some sort of late '70s sci-fi action TV show. I mean, check out that gorgeous guitar break that comes in around 4:05, first clean and chiming and then moving into mournful swaths of distortion. Take away the wonky prog affectation of some of the synth tones here, and you've got an epic in the style of Physical Graffiti's most enigmatic cuts. The only real, abject stumble here is "Hot Dog"; there's just no way that Zeppelin doing that sort of old school rock 'n' roll schtick doesn't come off as inherently silly.
There's also the fact that the well-known songs from In Through The Out Door -- "In The Evening," "Fool In The Rain," "All My Love" -- are all brilliant in entirely different ways, and mostly in different ways relative to anything the band had done before. "In The Evening," in particular, has become one of my favorite Zeppelin songs in recent years; that smeared, atmospheric yet still swaggering riff suggests the new textures Page and the band could've explored, the way they could've effectively brought their more psychedelic leanings into a new decade. I used to think that if Zeppelin had stopped after Physical Graffiti, the story would've ended better, neater. Part of the perfection to me now is that they did run it down until the end of the '70s. Who knows what missteps they would've made in the '80s, or how much longer the band would've lasted either way. But the reason I value In Through The Out Door now is, on some level, probably the same reason I dismissed it in the past. This is one of the most definitive bodies of work in popular music ending in a question mark made of weird genre mash-ups and experimentation and attempts to figure out where to go next, a conclusion that demanded a Coda that never could've been satisfying, a conclusion that won't ever be rounded off with more artistic closure than the little bits we've received already here and there over the years. That is, for one of the greatest bands ever, its own kind of perfect story.
Houses Of The Holy (1973)
Here's where things begin to get a bit messy. Led Zeppelin's first six albums -- particularly the first four -- are so revered, so firmly established as massively influential classics, that ranking them turns into some balancing act between acknowledging that influence and reach, and those inescapable things like "bias" and "personal taste." So, if I'm being honest: If I were to throw on a Zeppelin album from beginning to end today, chances are it'd be Houses Of The Holy before any of the first four records, which might be partially rooted in the fact that I didn't listen to this as much as those records back when I was obsessed with this band. But, also, with the far-reaching influence of Zeppelin in general, you're talking about a danger of over-exposure of songs that, while remaining great, become increasingly difficult to hear on any terms beyond "This is a very famous Led Zeppelin song that was long since established as iconic before I ever came across the band, that I can understand from an objective standpoint is a great rock song." It's harder to find your own way into that kind of stuff.
There are still a lot of famous Zeppelin songs on Houses Of The Holy. But this is sort of the second tier stuff -- not in terms of quality, but in terms of the order in which you'd likely explore this band. Once you get past "Whole Lotta Love" and "Black Dog" and that whole lot, there's stuff like "Dancing Days," which is a perfect song. (To be fair, I'll probably say that a few times over the course of this list.) Material like "The Rain Song" or "No Quarter" is the kind of stuff I (and, I'd imagine, a lot of other kids first getting into classic rock) was tempted to skip; I now find them more evocative than a blues rock song, but they're songs you need to let unfold, or songs you need to wade into. Zeppelin hadn't lost their rock side, entirely, of course, considering "The Ocean" is amongst their best rock songs.
In their relatively young career, Zeppelin had already proven supernaturally adept at playing with genres, combining different strands of things to create something new, as it goes. This is, after all, a major part of why they're credited with what they are. Houses Of The Holy marked a more distinct turn of experimentation, though, jumping from "D'Yer Mak'er" and "The Crunge" (these days, those are the songs I'm tempted to skip) to ostensibly more traditional Zeppelin stuff like "Over The Hills And Far Away" and "The Song Remains The Same," songs that grew naturally out of what the band had already done into more complex directions. Overall, it makes for a slightly less streamlined listening experience than some of the other records. For some reason, Houses Of The Holy has always struck me a record compiled of songs that had been re-recorded after not making it onto other records, despite the fact that this isn't true, and the fact that a lot of this did mark a stylistic shift from the first four albums. Either way, there's obviously incredible stuff here, but Houses Of The Holy will probably forever be the sort of album recommended as a "next step" once you've thoroughly dug into the slightly more famous Zeppelin albums.
Led Zeppelin (1969)
Depending on how you look at it, Led Zeppelin or "Led Zeppelin I" is either one of the most intimidating or inspiring pieces of work in pop music. When it was released in 1969, Jimmy Page was the oldest member of the band, having just turned 25; Plant and Bonham were 20, and John Paul Jones was 22. Other important and famous bands have started out that young (or even younger), and it was of course common back then. And, sure, these were all guys who had been working and were, in some capacity, veterans already -- particularly Page, who had worked extensively as a session musician before a stint with the Yardbirds directly prior to forming Led Zeppelin. The fact remains: Led Zeppelin came together, one of those mystical situations that happens so rarely where each of its four members were so crucial to the fabric of the band, so revered for what each of them did, and they arrived with a debut album that already had the plot all figured out. Here, traceable to other genres (as well as, again, allegedly other people's songwriting) yet also out of nowhere, was Led Zeppelin's sound. A lot of bands might've gotten famous when they were still essentially kids, but Led Zeppelin's on the much shorter list of bands who got famous when they were still essentially kids, and then went on to have the sort of massive, genre-altering and -creating impact they did.
All that being said, and fully acknowledging that Led Zeppelin is one of the most accomplished debut albums ever, there were even better things to come with the subsequent numbered albums. This is, admittedly, where it likely comes down to some degree of bias. Led Zeppelin is the band's most consistently and overtly devoted to the blues, a side of the band that got more interesting when they'd infuse it into sprawling, mutated versions like "In My Time Of Dying," or the massive stomp of Led Zeppelin II. The debut is, as any of the first four albums are, littered with iconic songs. Personally, I've always been into "Dazed And Confused" or "Good Times Bad Times," but have always found the later classic Zeppelin songs surpassed them. On the other side of things, "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" has always been, and remains, one of my favorites by the band, and "Your Time Is Gonna Come" is one of the most overlooked songs in their catalog. It's a mellower moment that still has some movement to it, and reaches emotional peaks that make the bluesier stuff like "You Shook Me" or "I Can't Quit You Baby" sort of drag in comparison.
When it comes down to it, though, this is nitpicking based on the elements of Zeppelin that I find most interesting years later. Led Zeppelin and everything else left on this list is where you get into the territory of essential listening, which probably goes without saying, but is true.
Led Zeppelin III (1970)
There are acoustic songs on the first two Zeppelin records, even on Led Zeppelin II, which is primarily remembered as the band's most thoroughly rock-oriented album. But after that record, the band took a left turn and delved deeper into their folk influences for Led Zeppelin III. Similarly to how it's easy to misremember Led Zeppelin II as being entirely made up of rockers, it's also easy to misremember Led Zeppelin III as being entirely acoustic (at least, after the initial wallop of "Immigrant Song"). The acoustic stuff was certainly brought to the forefront, but the record still had "Celebration Day," "Out On The Tiles," and "Since I've Been Loving You," which means that Side A was actually entirely electric aside from "Friends," the album's gorgeous second track and another one of those "Best Led Zeppelin Songs You Might've Forgotten" candidates.
From there, the record commits to folk in a way that was new territory for Zeppelin when sustained to this extent. The first four songs on Side B -- "Gallows Pole" into "Tangerine" into "That's The Way" into "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" -- is one of the strongest runs on any Zeppelin record. Especially because "Tangerine" and "That's The Way" are both flat out mind-blowingly beautiful in a way Zeppelin had never allowed themselves to be (aside from "Thank You" on II), and rarely would again. There are Zeppelin songs that are beautiful all over their catalog, but there's a restraint and an introspection here that's far different than much of what appeared elsewhere, even their mellower songs on other albums. The only thing that wrecks the flow is that the whole thing ends with "Hats Off To (Roy) Harper," and there's little you can do to convince me that is anything but a quirky tribute that functions as anti-climax coming on the heels of some of the band's most powerful songs.
Even the rock songs had a different vibe about them. "Celebration Day" and "Out On The Tiles" are both wirier than any of the thunderous stuff of II, and when they return to blues on "Since I've Been Loving You," they manage to craft a slow blues jam that's far more memorable than those they'd done in the past. (These kinds of songs are perhaps my least favorite classic rock trope, aside from when rock bands decided they could/should include a reggae song on their mid-'70s records, but "Since I've Been Loving You" crushes.) In truth, Led Zeppelin III was my favorite Zeppelin record for years, and some days still is. It seems repetitive to call a Zeppelin record dynamic -- they pretty much all are extremely dynamic -- but III in particular showed the different sides of this band operating at their peak level. It's a testament to the shadows cast by some of the other band's records that Led Zeppelin III isn't ranked higher.
Led Zeppelin II (1969)
At the same time that Led Zeppelin represented a band that already knew full well what they were doing and what they were capable of, in a way Led Zeppelin II was the moment where the band became more fully themselves. When people think of the iconic Zeppelin sound, so much of it can be traced to the archetype established on II, to "Whole Lotta Love" and "Heartbreaker" or even to "What Is And What Should Never Be," despite that song being a lot stranger than I remembered. When people credit Led Zeppelin as progenitors of heavy metal, this is the album they're talking about. When people talk about about Led Zeppelin simply sounding titanic in a way that doesn't seem humanly possible, but somehow elemental and unfathomable, this is the album they're talking about.
Perhaps because of those things, I'd sort of written Led Zeppelin II off in my head for a while. I'd probably throw Led Zeppelin III or Houses Of The Holy on before I'd throw Led Zeppelin II on, but in revisiting it for this piece I realized maybe I shouldn't be doing that. II is simply packed with heavy hitters. There's the obvious, massive Zeppelin riff of "Whole Lotta Love," the kind of song that launched thousands of bands into existence before it even hits the minute mark. While "What Is And What Should Never Be" is a weirder song that I remembered, it's also a way better song than I remembered; it's become one of my favorites currently. "Ramble On" expertly does the whole quiet verse-loud chorus business over two decades before grunge became obsessed with it. And unlike the band members themselves and seemingly anyone I know, I actually even like "Living Loving Maid (She's Just A Woman)." Of course, there's "Thank You," which, yeah, that's another one of those perfect Led Zeppelin songs.
Led Zeppelin II might be the single best entry point into Zeppelin's catalog. It gives you a good idea of what they're about, with the right balance of legendary songs and relatively lesser-known classics. Most of Zeppelin's records display an intensely confident control of their vision, but it stands out all the more on those early records when it was just this young band blazing through these brilliant records. And it stands out the most on Led Zeppelin II, the most sustained burst of this kind of raw, swaggering energy that Zeppelin ever put together. If you put an album together that starts with "Whole Lotta Love" and ends with "Bring It On Home" and does all this in between, it's almost a dare: "Try to make this thing let go of you." It's one of those albums that plays like a greatest hits collection -- and, in a way, that's because it is one.
Physical Graffiti (1975)
The weird thing about a band like Zeppelin is that, if you're first discovering them while exploring classic rock for the first time as well, all of their bigger songs are, naturally, part of the hook. But there's a danger of over-exposure with a band like this. Stuff like "Whole Lotta Love" or "Black Dog" or -- of course -- "Stairway To Heaven" are so in the fabric of the narrative of rock music from the last forty to fifty years, so ubiquitous on classic rock radio or lists of the greatest rock songs ever or whatever, that they can be the sort of material it's impossible to hear freshly the first time you're intentionally listening to them. Even if you're a kid when you decide to listen to Zeppelin, chances are you've simply absorbed this stuff already, like "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or "With Or Without You" or "Hey Jude." You can be robbed of that opportunity to be listening through Led Zeppelin's second or fourth albums and be surprised by what comes next, just by virtue of some distant, tangential memory of having heard these songs a million times in the periphery.
What's incredible about Physical Graffiti is that it exists almost entirely out of this. There's a lot of well-known stuff on this album as well, but the only one that would probably qualify in that "Stairway To Heaven Ubiquity" category is "Kashmir," and "Kashmir" still basically sounds insane relative to all those other super-famous Zeppelin songs. Any of Zeppelin's first four albums are still pivotal, but so is Physical Graffiti, and in a different way. Today, it might be the most exhilarating Zeppelin listening experience because it's lined with such superlative material that hasn't been played to death on the radio for forty to forty-five years. It stands out from the early records because of that quality, and it stands out from Presence and In Through The Out Door, because while those records have a lot of lesser-explored Zeppelin material as well, most of it can't touch this stuff.
In all its expansiveness, Physical Graffiti touches on just about everything Zeppelin ever did. It's the big, mid-'70s panoramic one. Oddly enough, it's one of those rare double albums where the sprawl feels earned and crucial and inextricable from the nature of the music, despite the fact that it wasn't originally conceived as a double album. (Several of the songs date back to the third and fourth albums and Houses Of The Holy, and were resurrected for this.) Even though there's plenty of hard rock songs here, Physical Graffiti has always struck me as the sustained image of Zeppelin at their most ethereal. There's always been some quality here that has made me feel like Physical Graffiti was Zeppelin's night album, a mysterious and twisty listen that lunges between moods and sounds, with songs that can sound decadent and lusty ("Trampled Under Foot" being the leader here) near some of the band's most spectral material (anything from "In The Light" to "Ten Years Gone" to "Kashmir"). Somehow, it all holds together perfectly, and it makes for one of the best documents of what this band was capable of.
Untitled ("Led Zeppelin IV") (1971)
For a while, I had been considering ranking Physical Graffiti #1 on this list. It's my personal favorite these days, for all the reasons I just listed. When it comes down to it, though, Led Zeppelin's untitled fourth album (often referred to as "Led Zeppelin IV" or "ZoSo," amongst a bunch of other less common names) is one of those undeniable feats. After the artistic change-up of Led Zeppelin III garnered the band more critical dismissiveness, they returned with the album that would, in hindsight, function as the capstone to their legendary first four album run, and would effectively become the centerpiece of their catalog.
Where Physical Graffiti touched on all Zeppelin's different sounds and interests by stretching out and holding all the permutations at once, the fourth album does something similar with remarkable sharpness and economy. There are eight songs here. There might not be genre workouts quite as overt as "Trampled Under Foot" or "The Crunge," there might not be songs quite as spaced out as "In The Light” or "No Quarter," and there isn't anything that hints towards the synthesizers of In Through The Out Door or the loose progginess grazed by the band's last two albums in general. But these eight songs still, in some way, seem to capture every element of the essence of Led Zeppelin. These eight songs are also, it should be mentioned, completely bulletproof.
On some level, it's easy to get sick of the fourth Zeppelin album. When I'm talking about over-exposure of Zeppelin's classic material, this is the key album. How many times have you seen someone wearing a T-shirt with the cover? How many times have you seen it, just hanging around on a shelf at Target or Best Buy, alongside Born In The U.S.A. and The Black Album and a few Beatles records? How many times has someone referenced the "No 'Stairway To Heaven'" joke from Wayne's World, and -- if you've spent any time in guitar shops -- how many times have you heard a young musician give it a shot in public anyway, alongside "Black Dog?" It's one of those albums that's so inescapable that it's easy to write off; admit it's a classic, move on, don't listen to it for a decade.
For years, the only song I really went back to on the untitled record was "When The Levee Breaks," one of the comparatively less over-exposed songs here. Also, this is another one of those perfect Zeppelin songs, and it still sounds insane over forty years later. That drumbeat, that way-out-there harmonica -- it's one of the most cinematic, enveloping song intros I've ever heard. It comes at the end of the record, but feels like a rupture, an opening into some journey beyond the experience the album's already taken you through.
After putting the other songs away for a while, though, revisiting them has made them sound incredible all over again. Having gone through Zeppelin's catalog for this, I was struck, in general, by how well most of it has aged, how exciting it still sounds, even with all the knowledge of how tired these sounds became in the hands of less competent or visionary artists. The fourth album is the linchpin to that. As an album, it's simply perfect in the way of Rumours or Born To Run; there is an impeccable balance to its structure. Until pop culture fades entirely in some sort of, I don't know, complete collapse of the internet and society or something, Zeppelin's probably going to always be legendary. There are a lot of reasons for that, but the fourth album is the key one. This album, like only a few others out there, feels truly immortal.