If you listen to classic rock radio enough, you’d think that the only songs Led Zeppelin recorded were “The Ocean, “Whole Lotta Love,” or “Over the Hills and Far Away.” As much as I love those songs, enough already.
The good news is that despite a lot of Zep’s catalog being way overexposed, plenty of their songs still sound fresh to this day. So here’s a list of 10 Led Zeppelin cuts that will never, ever get old.
1 — “Poor Tom” (from Coda, 1982)
It’s hard to imagine Led Zeppelin III being any better, but this track (recorded during those sessions) would’ve done just that. Above all else — Robert Plant’s understated vocals or Jimmy Page’s delicate acoustic guitar — John Bonham’s ridiculously bouncy drumming makes this track.
2 — “Communication Breakdown” (from Led Zeppelin, 1969)
In direct contrast to the group’s more expansive take on American blues, this song is 100% rock adrenaline. It’s short and brutally effective, with the only bit of rock indulgence being a blistering Page solo — which only enhances the ass-kicking qualities of the track.
3 — “Wanton Song” (from Physical Graffiti, 1975)
“Wanton Song” is all I love about Zeppelin in one package — aggressive guitars, wailing vocals, and a sick, sick groove. Is there a better rhythm section in rock history than Bonham and John Paul Jones? Listen to that drum fill at around the 11-second mark. So sweet.
4 — “Royal Orleans” (from Presence, 1976)
I love Presence, but it is a fairly drab affair. “Royal Orleans” stands in direct contrast to that. It’s bouncy and fun, while still retaining that trademark Zeppelin crunch. And dig those bongos!
5 — “Four Sticks” (from Led Zeppelin IV, 1971)
Can a case be made for any song from Zoso being underexposed? Why yes it can, and this is the one. That chugging, four-chord Page riff on top of Bonham’s impeccably played drums (with four drumsticks of course) was awesome to begin with, but the spacy, synth-driven bridge is the icing on the cake.
6 — “I’m Gonna Crawl” (from In Through the Out Door, 1979)
No bombast, no bloat. This is the last track on what turned out to be Zeppelin’s last studio album. It turned out to be a beautiful elegy for the band’s career. Plant, whose voice had darkened considerably since the ’60s, pours his soul out, while Page (deep in the throes of heroin addiction) contributes an achingly gorgeous solo.
7 — “That’s the Way” (from Led Zeppelin III, 1970)
I don’t use the word “pretty” very much with Led Zeppelin songs, but I can’t think of a better description of “That’s the Way.” It’s sad and tender without being morose or sappy. Page’s pedal steel playing imbues this song with an almost ethereal quality; it’s a sadly underused instrument in rock.
8 — “No Quarter” (from The Song Remains the Same, 1976)
Yes, you read that right, I picked a song from the much-aligned live album. Why? I was only five years old when the group broke up, so I never got a chance to witness the majesty of a Zeppelin show. This album is the closest I could come, and while a lot of it sounds rather tired and ragged, “No Quarter” is a standout. I lost count of the number of times I listened to this track with the lights out and just let John Paul Jones’ brilliant keyboard playing take me to another world.
9 — “The Crunge” (from Houses of the Holy, 1973)
This is one of the few overtly humorous tracks in the band’s catalog, but by no means is it a throwaway. This is the band’s tribute to the great James Brown, and I’d say it’s pretty worthy. Any doubts about Jones/Bonham’s ability to lock into a groove should be dispelled with this one. But just where was that confounded bridge?
10 — “Achilles Last Stand” (from Presence, 1976)
If Wikipedia is to be believed, this is Jimmy Page’s favorite Led Zeppelin song. Who am I to argue? He is all over the thing with his orchestrated guitars. But the pounding heart of “Achilles Last Stand” is Bonzo. Without his power and impeccable timing the whole thing would’ve become a complete mess. It’s an epic rock song without an ounce of flab.
- Robert Plant and Band of Joy – 2011-04-20 – Seattle, WA (FLAC) (theultimatebootlegexperience2.blogspot.com)
- Led Zeppelin – 1980-06-17 – Dortmund, DE (FLAC/mp3) (theultimatebootlegexperience2.blogspot.com)
- Jason Bonham Finishes Abandoned Led Zeppelin Song (wzlx.radio.com)
- Flashback: Led Zeppelin Plays Reunion Set at Jason Bonham’s Wedding (wcbsfm.radio.com)