I’ve been an avid blues purist since I was 8 years old. I don’t really care for blues-rock, and I especially do not care for bands which call themselves blues, but are actually blues rock – or just rock.
Led Zeppelin is one of the only bands who’ve ever been able to pull off classic blues songs and turn them into something which I cannot even begin to categorize. It’s not blues, obviously, but it’s absolutely fantastic, whatever it is.
As for the rest of what they did.. simply put, Zeppelin was the greatest heavy rock band of their time, and with good reason – they had the stuff. So much so, I couldn’t come up with a 10 Best list – I had to make it 20, and even that was difficult. Can you name another band which you’d have difficulty narrowing down the best songs?
The following is my list of faves. You’ll notice Stairway to Heaven is NOT on this list. It’s a good song, but it’s not their best – it’s just the most commercially promoted. Also, I’ve only included album art from the albums mentioned here – there are several other albums, and countless more songs which are more than worthy of your attention. And they are finally available at iTunes! So here they are, in no particular order: The Top 20
Buy Led Zeppelin Albums
Dazed and Confused
This was actually a folk song written by someone else – but I’ll be damned if Zeppelin didn’t make this their own. Slow, sexy – hot as anything. I hear this song and I want to do very naughty things. One of the best songs ever recorded.
When the Levee Breaks
This song was originally recorded by Memphis Minnie – and let me assure you, Zeppelin’s version is more than a little bit different, apart from the words. The groove in this song is so sexy it’s not funny. Hawt, people. Hawt.
Your Time Is Gonna Come
This is an awesome song about an evil-doing woman. (That would be most of us, eh?) Honestly, it makes a great anthem. When I was an angst-ridden teenager, I used to blast this from my bedroom and sing it at the top of my lungs. I wonder if my mother knew to whom I was singing.
Led Zeppelin: Dazed and Confused (1969)
All four band members wrote this one – which is rarity in and of itself. The Ocean is what they used to call the mass of fans clustered at the stagefront. The riff in this song is very famous due to the Beastie Boys sampling it on one of their albums.
The incredibly famous riff in this song was completely improvised on the spot. The song’s about a girl named Annie, who’s been up to no good. You know how women are! One of the best Zeppelin songs ever written, and credited to all 4 musicians.
I love the pauses in this song, and the many, many changes in style throughout. Hard, soft, low, high. The title comes from John Bonham recording his part while using two sets of drumsticks. Yet another excellent Zeppelin song.
The Wanton Song
This song is here purely for that riff. The bridge does get a bit soft, but when it goes back to that hard, sexy groove….yummy. And it goes well with the lyrics. This is a lesser-known song, but one which easily makes this list.
The Lemon Song
A Howlin’ Wolf number. Oh my.. what can I say about this song that won’t get me into trouble? This is one saucy, saucy song. The lyrics may sound innocent at first, but on closer inspection… these are classic blues lyrics, and blues lyrics often involve naughty subject matter. That said, they were innocent enough to be recorded in a time when you couldn’t even use the word “hell” on a lyric sheet.. so I guess it’s not too naughty.
Classic US Interview with Robert Plant and John Bonham
This album was kind of dissed by the media, but that doesn’t mean some great songs weren’t on it. This one, for example. The groove here is relentless. It’s dedicated to viking Leif Ericson.
Hey Hey What Can I Do?
I used to have this single on vinyl, if you can believe it. And for those of you too young to vote yet – I am from the tape era, not the vinyl era! Which means it took a lot of work to find it. This song is playful and catchy – and rare. I don’t understand why it was never properly released on one of their main albums.
What Is and What Should Never Be
This is a popular song, and with good reason; it's amazing. And it’s classic Zeppelin. The beginning is ethereal, and then it goes back and forth between that and hardcore. You have to love this song – if you don’t, this band is not for you.
Led Zeppelin: No Quarter (1975)
This is the first song Plant wrote by himself. The lyrics, anyway. It’s a semi-slow number, acoustic and heartfelt. It’s really very lovely and has always been popular with the ladies.
Not my favorite album, but one of my favorite songs. The orchestral background in a heavy number was so ingenious its almost amazing. Both Page and Plant have said this is the quintessential Zeppelin song – so add this to your list.
Going to California
This is an acoustic number. It’s very melodic and hauntingly beautiful. I sometimes don’t even hear the lyrics, because the music is so hypnotic in places. Speaking of lyrics, this song is allegedly about Joni Mitchell.
Over the Hills And Far Away
This starts out acoustically and then gets into the nitty gritty. It’s a love ballad, and a very sweet one, at that. Not your typical overtly sexual Zeppelin groove – this one is far more tender and romantic than the usual.
Since I’ve Been Loving You
This was a return to the classic blues covers they’d done on the previous two albums. As I’ve said, they took blues and turned into something I cannot categorize in any way other than to simply say it’s fantastic, whatever it is.
Bring It On Home
The beginning is from a Willie Dixon song, but the bulk is original. And it’s awesome. I don’t usually like harmonica, but I love it in this song. And I love the vocal phrasing. Make sure you give it a listen.
You Shook Me
This is a Willie Dixon song Zeppelin covered on the first album. It’s a classic blues number, and, as such, pretty much revolves around the true meaning of rock and roll, if you can follow that. If you can’t.. well.. listen to it anyway.
Whole Lotta Love
The music is pure Zeppelin, but the words came from a Willie Dixon song. The result was magic. You cannot listen to this song without suddenly feeling like you need to get up and do something. Anything. A very energizing song.
As much as they were hard rock, they also had a number of acoustic-based songs, most of which also had hard elements. This is one of them. It’s beautiful and heavy at the same time. I love this song, it’s so amazingly unique.
I don’t listen to Led Zeppelin much these days, as I had an intense obsession with them in my teenage years and kind of overdid it. But I have to say, listening to them tonight has really reinforced my previous opinions that they were one of the greatest bands the world has ever known.