Led Zeppelin is one of the most important, and most often copied bands in the history of rock music. This has done a lot to fill the cophers of the four British musicians. But, it has also affected their reputation.
At their best, Led Zeppelin was an innovative, wildly experimental group willing to take on daring challenges. They were an alternative rock band, at a time when guitar solos could still fill out stadiums.
Zep hardly ever released singles. Instead, their sprawling albums were a statement of their intentions and vision. Their body of work is almost unparalleled. With all of this in mind, what was Led Zeppelin’s best album? When did the sounds produced by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham truly click?
These are Led Zeppelin’s albums ranked according to Alt77’s standards. The best to worst. And, this list should serve as a reminder of the band’s status as one of the most copied in alternative rock and just about any other genre.
Ranking Led Zeppelins albums in order of greatness
9. Coda (1982)
Led Zeppelin crafted albums as gigantic totems. Each was a moment in time. Every album contained a direction that they would never fully embrace again. Coda is not that! It is not a proper Zeppelin album in the classic sense.
However, it’s not a record worth ignoring. Zeppelin at their loosest was a rock unit that could not be denied. This collection of odds and ends finds the group in this position. It’s a return Zep’s primal, most direct ideas.
Coda appeared in 1982, two years after drummer John Bohnam passed away. The band had split up and though they would return on a handful of reunions, this was their last official studio release. We’re gonna groove, Ozone baby and Wearing and Tearing show that Zeppling could ride a great, angry riff like no others. Poor Tom showcases their love of playful, gallows-humor folk music. The rest of the material is pleasant, albeit non-essential.
8. In Through the Out Door (1979)
In Through the Out Door dared to ask the question of whether Led Zeppelin could be a different kind of band to the one that had conquered the world during the previous decade. It wasn’t Zeppelin chasing trends. However, the record is an attempt to move forward and embrace the sounds that would define 1980s pop. It was not, however, a record that would challenge punk‘s gusto.
In Through the Out Door is also the album that showcases the least of Jimmy Page’s involvement. The band leader and guitarist were relinquishing some of their control. Robert Plant and John Paul Jones, in particular, looked to take advantage. Many of the compositions focused on Jones’ inventive keyboard sound and Plant’s cryptic lyrics. It’s a vinyl document of a band changing.
A slower number like All my love, Fool in the rain and I’m gonna crawl defines the record. Hot Dog’s tongue-in-cheek Elvis attempt might be one of the best things here. In the evening is a glimpse of old-Zep, but, perhaps, not aided by one of Page’s best riffs. And, Robert Plant’s howl on I’m gonna crawl is truly sensational.
7. Presence (1976)
By 1976 Led Zeppelin had conquered the world a few times over. In the U.S.A. in particular they were the biggest live draw, filling out stadiums regularly. They’d released double albums, epic power ballads, and proto-punk guitar assaults.
Presence was a return for Zeppelin after their longest hiatus and a series of personal mishaps that would shadow their final years. It was a record helmed by Jimmy Page’s vision. This was a direct, rocking sound. Pub-rockers and punks were targeted. If Zep were dinosaurs of rock, as some claimed, they were about to trample the ground in anger.
Achilles’ last stand is a monolithic, prog-metal song that showcases the grandeur of the band’s playing. There’s still great chemistry to be found between the four band members. For your life and Candy store rock are fun, charging rock tunes. And, Tea for you revisits the dramatic blues-rock that the band had experimented with on Since I’ve been loving you. Never is John Bonham’s playing more confident than on this album. Presence remains Led Zeppelin’s most underrated effort.
6. Houses of the Holy (1973)
Confidence was high by the time the British quartet made Houses of the Holy. This was no longer a band proving itself. The critics were bound to hate them. This they had made clear. The fans loved them. Their endorsement of each new album was also clear.
It’s also the first album to grace the Led Zeppelin angel logo. Going forward, the band’s albums were released on Swan Song, their own record label. Their concerts earned them fortunes, they owned their own airplane, and rock groupies shared gossip about meeting the band members.
Houses of the Holy is an album on which Zeppelin stretch their wings confidently, converting the sun. Each song here is essential. It’s the last of their albums where this would be true. From the gallop of The song remains the same, the tenderness of The Rain Song, or the rocking fun of Dancing Days, not a single riff, inflection of Plant’s vocals, or bass-drum attack is not vital.
5. Physical Graffiti (1975)
With little left to prove and over half a decade of a career under their belt, Led Zeppelin prepared for the future by letting of the past. Half of Physical Graffiti reveals a band that’s used to playing arenas around the world. The other half is the same band experimenting with any genre they wished. This second half is compromised of tracks that had not yet been officially released. It’s a record that bands as diverse as Soundgarden or The Cult would quote as early influence and a record that would inspire contemporaries such as Queen to rev up the stadium rock grandiosity.
Could the album have been condensed to a great single album? Yes, but that would have been missing the point. There is a great looseness about it. Towering masterworks such as Kashmir and In my time of dying sit alongside sexy, barnyard stomps like Sick again and The Wanton Song. Few rock bands would get to be as indulgent as here, or merit the kind of attention that they received.
4. Led Zeppelin (1969)
In 1968, a largely unknown post-Yardbirds group began touring. Blues festivals, Scandinavian clubs, and opening slots for bands like Iron Butterfly were their stomping ground. Practically every night, the audience would be treated to a shock. Led Zeppelin did not have a lot of songs. The ones they did, and the covers they threw in were enough to blow any rivals of the live stage away.
Yes, Led Zeppelin I is the blues-rock template for a generation of groups. It’s Howlin’ Wolf electrified and delivered with a fever. This is a band that seems shocked by its own strength. Dazed and confused and Babe, I’m gonna leave you are the most famous number. But, on pure blues-rockers like You shook me, or Bring it on home, Zeppelin is unmatched for pure excitement. It’s the record that opened a new age in pop music, one where heard rock dominated the charts.
3. Led Zeppelin III (1970)
Jimmy Page’s commitment to his philosophy of light and shade is most clear here. It’s also the album that showed that Zeppelin was not going to test the same kind of material twice. This album is most often overlooked by fans of hard rock. Some call it Zeppelin’s acoustic album. Certainly, some of the comments from critics, at the time, were quick to call an end to the group’s success.
This is not the whole story though and discontent over LZIII has been muted ever since. Opener Immigrant Song is Zepp’s most barbaric of yelps. Even Nirvana would cover it. Celebration Day shows that the band could develop a cruel side. Since I’ve been loving you is a marvel of drama and dynamics, and one of the best songs ever recorded. And, yes, Friends, That’s the way, Bon-Yr-Stomp shows that Plant and Page, in particular, were diligent, appreciative students of folk, country, and blues.
2. Led Zeppelin II (1969)
If there is a prototype for the perfect hard-rock album it’s Led Zeppelin II. Jimmy Page wouldn’t make the same album again. They chased a truly original sound. But, their imitators would drive this formula into the ground. It’s a formula that involves alternating between powerful, bombastic numbers, with graceful, gentle proto-power-ballads. It was the album that well and truly put Zepp top of the rock heap. For many, this is the best album of all time. And, it’s not uncommon for fans to own this on multiple formats, getting the CDs even if they already owned the vinyl copy.
However, there is no hint of cynicism here. And, this is, perhaps, what continues to set Led Zeppelin II apart from its competitors. There is no moment here that is not iconic and vital to the history of classic rock. Whole Lotta Love is a blues-rock tornado of lust complete with guitar-noise experimentation and Plant’s banshee yells. Ramble On shows that Zeppelin could actually understand subtlety. It’s also a tune that gives Syd Barrett a run for his money as the Pop Tour Guide of Mordor. And, The Lemon Song showed what the blues could build.
1. Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
Led Zeppelin IV, known also as Untitled, known also as Zoso, known as the defining 1970s rock record is as much a standard as Gloomy Sunday or Blowin’ In The Wind. It is Led Zeppelin’s best album because every single song on it is used as a parameter to define what rock music was and is. No wonder most of these songs would appear on Led Zeppelin’s subsequent official or bootleg live albums. It is, also worth mentioning that this is Led Zeppelin’s best-selling album.
But, sales and fame aside, there’s still pulp in these tunes. You might have heard Stairway to heaven played on rock radio a million times. Its beauty and the confidence of the playing are undeniable. This is not a shy band. Neither the powerful riffs, the menacing drum sound, nor Robert Plant’s lustful howls ever seem to claim otherwise. The four symbols remain just as iconic.
Black Dog, Rock n’ Roll, and When the levee breaks confirm Jimmy Page, with his trusty Gibson on hand, is the Master of the Guitar Riff, a title to which Keith Richard and Tony Iommy would occasionally aspire towards. The Battle of Evermore might as well be power metal fancy, were it not for the quality of the Plant and Sandy Denny’s singing. And, Going to California proves just how much the band cared, despite rumors of their regal arrogance. You probably have heard the recordings a lot. But, not even that can take away from Led Zeppelin IV’s strength and beauty.
Led Zeppelin is the definitive classic rock band. But, they are also experimenters, testers of patience, and masters of poetic beauty. They are an alternative rock band before such a term existed and in spite of their great success.
How would you rank the albums of Led Zeppelin from best to worst?
According to Alt77, the best Led Zeppelin studio album is their fourth known colloquially as IV, Zoso, or Four Symbols. Alt77 has rated Coda, the group’s final studio release, an album of outtakes, as their worst.
What is the biggest selling album for Led Zeppelin?
Led Zeppelin IV is the British group’s biggest selling album. It has sold over 37 million copies worldwide. It is the fifth highest-selling album of all time. And, it has gone platinum 23 times in the U.S.A. according to RIAA records. Led Zeppelin II is also highly successful. It sold over 12 million copies worldwide.
What’s the best album to introduce a new listener to your favorite stage in Led Zeppelin’s career?
While Led Zeppelin’s discography includes varied and artistically successful material, their fourth album, collectively known as Four Symbols or IV, contains their most emblematic songs, such as Stairway to heaven and Black dog.
Who is the most talented Led Zeppelin member?
All of Led Zeppelin’s four band members were extremely talented, versatile musicians. While guitarist Jimmy Page was the leader of the band, the other three members received a lot of praise. Drummer John Bonham, keyboardist/bassistJohn Paul Jones, and singer Robert Plant are often included on Best Of lists for their respective instruments.
Why did critics hate Led Zeppelin?
Led Zeppelin, notoriously, received a number of negative reviews early in their career. Rolling Stone Magazine, in particular, was hostile to the group, comparing them negatively to The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream. Subsequently, Rolling Stone, as well as other rock critics, began highly praising Zeppelin’s work.
Why did Led Zeppelin break up?
Drummer John Bonham passed away on the 27th of October 1980. The remaining members of Led Zeppelin took the decision to disband the group. Subsequently, they have reunited for performances on a handful of occasions. Most recently, they played together as Led Zeppelin in 2007. The concert was immortalized as the live DVD titled Celebration Day.
Why is Led Zeppelin more popular than The Who?
Led Zeppelin and The Who are two of the most popular British rock groups of all time. While Led Zeppelin is primarily known as a centerpiece of hard rock, The Who was the first to introduce the concept of the idea of the rock opera with their concept album Tommy. It is estimated that Led Zeppelin has sold over 300 million albums worldwide, while The Who has sold over 100 million.