It’s a truth universally acknowledged* that Led Zeppelin’s second album is their greatest work ever. It may have been disputed in pubs across the country, and occasionally slipped to second place in favour of their debut (and in some people’s minds their fourth) but overall, when all things are considered, said, and done ‘Led Zeppelin II’ is the pinnacle of their career, the best thing Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham created in their original decade and a bit together.
[*NB, truth universally acknowledged may be in my head only.]
1. ‘Led Zeppelin II’
None of their other eight albums offer 100% satisfaction guaranteed, all killer zero filler, perfection from start to finish. None of their other albums open with their most famous track, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ before usurping it with the Zeus-heavy blues monster ‘What Is And What Should Never Be’, introducing the six minute funk shuffle ‘The Lemon Song’ (a somewhat depraved track that drips in sleazy innuendo and drops to almost nothing but cymbal bell chimes and theremin before exploding in lust) and following that up with ‘Thank You’, a song so beautiful it’s even charmed YouTube’s trolls into saying sweet things to each other.
And that’s only Side One. Flip it on its back and ‘Heartbreaker’ offers one of their top five riffs before self destructing in time for ‘Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman)’. ‘Ramble On’, meanwhile, speaks for itself in glorious L-R stereo. So ‘Moby Dick’s got a drum solo, but at least they have the grace to keep it down to a few minutes (it’s not exactly ‘Toad’) and swaddle it in another riff Planet Rock would know doubt term ‘juggernaut’, before wrapping everything up with ‘Bring It On Home’. Their. Best. Album. But how do the others fare?
2. ‘Led Zeppelin’
While ‘Led Zeppelin II’ revealed a band hitting their stride, finding their groove, and beginning to fully conquer the world, the self-titled debut introduced a group overflowing with potential but not quite sure of how to channel it. Opener ‘Good Times Bad Times’ must have hit like a taser to the solar plexus in 1969 (what the fuck was going on with that drum beat? Isn’t everything supposed to be in 4/4?) but it faded out all too soon, Bonham’s sixteenth-note triplets on one bass drum tossed aside casually by a band not quite aware of their power.
The long bluesy outings (‘Dazed And Confused’, ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ and the frankly astonishing ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’) were epic and like nothing the country had heard before while ‘Communication Breakdown’ was their concession to convention, albeit distinctly Zeppified. Could have done without ‘How Many More Times’ though.
3. ‘Led Zeppelin IV’
So with album number two at Number One and their first LP in second place (still following?), their fourth LP, recorded at Island Records’ new London studio at the same time as Jethro Tull’s ‘Aqualung’, earns a comfortable bronze. Their fourth was also the third best-selling album ever in the US. Of course it had that track, the sprawling bustle-in-the-hedgerow guitar wankfest (in the best possible way) ‘Stairway To Heaven’, a track that epitomises the band like no other. But let’s not forget, and reserve a quiet awe for, ‘Black Dog’, the 12 bar blues stomp (recorded in quarter of an hour and featuring The Stones’ pianist Ian Stewart) ‘Rock and Roll’ and of course ‘When The Levee Breaks’. I knew a music student at uni who did a whole dissertation on the snare sound from that track. Enough said.
4. ‘Physical Graffiti’
Stretched over two discs (a bit of a cheat that loses it a few points) and scooping up several unreleased tracks that dated back to 1970 (also a bit of a cheat), Led Zep’s sixth is a pretty comprehensive record of their multifarious MOs, taking in the blues, acoustic efforts, hard rock classics and some excursions to the east, influence-wise. The sprawling ‘In My Time Of Dying’ and end-of-world-esque titan ‘Kashmir’ top the bill.
5. ‘Led Zeppelin III’
Number Five with a bullet, mostly down to ‘Immigrant Song’’s relentless advance (and irony-free call of “Valhalla I am coming”) and ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’’s irresistable blues shuffle (and lazy admission of “I’m about to lose my worried mind”). Imagine if a band from 2011 came out with this track now:
6. ‘Houses Of The Holy’
‘Houses Of The Holy’ gave with one hand (‘No Quarter’) but took with the other (‘D’yer Maker’) and offered some rough gems (‘Over The Hills And Far Away’) among a pile of steaming proverbial (‘The Crunge’). ‘The Song Remains The Same’ is still a tune though, and bear in mind this was their fifth album in four years.
Dismiss this album and you’re missing out on ‘Achilles Last Stand’. That’s about it, though, although Bonham’s drumming on ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ still knocks most sticksmen out the park. Stephen Davies (author of Hammer Of The Gods) says its his favourite, such is the divisive beauty of Led Zeppelin.
An 80s collection of outtakes that were outtakes for a reason. Name your favourite track from ‘Coda’. Name any track from ‘Coda’. Exactly. Zeppelin owed Atlantic one more release for the Swan Song label (home to their previous four LPs), so this was a bit of a contractual obligation.
9. ‘In Through The Out Door’
As previously mentioned, when the creator of an album themselves is referring back to something as “not the greatest thing in the world”, it doesn’t bode well. In last place, then, ‘In Through The Out Door’. Close it behind you please.