The 20 best Led Zeppelin songs ever as voted for by Planet Rock listeners.
As part of Planet Rock's ‘Zeptember’ celebrations marking Led Zeppelin’s 50th anniversary last September, we asked you to have your say and cast your vote on your favourite Led Zeppelin track from their distinguished back catalogue.
Thousands had their say and after previously revealing the Top 10 on air in September, now we revisit the poll and present an in-depth look at the full 20 greatest Led Zeppelin songs of all time:
20. Going To California (1971)
Preceding and starkly juxtaposing colossal ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ closer ‘When The Levee Breaks’, gorgeous folk ballad ‘Going To California’ is very possibly the prettiest song Led Zeppelin ever committed to plastic. Palpably influenced by Joni Mitchell, who Jimmy Page and Robert Plant both greatly admired, Page’s delicate acoustic guitars and John Paul Jones’ mandolin nicely compliment Plant’s Americanised drawl and soothe the listeners’ senses.
Originally entitled ‘Guide To California’ and thematically about earthquakes (hence lines like “The mountains and the canyons started to tremble and shake / As the children of the sun began to awake / Seems that the wrath of the Gods / Got a punch on the nose and it started to flow / I think I might be sinking”), the song soon evolved to incorporate wide-eyed and almost hippie-ish lyrics about seeking a woman “with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair.” Speaking about the song to Spin Magazine in 2002, Plant said the song "might be a bit embarrassing at times lyrically, but it did sum up a period of my life when I was 22."
19. The Battle of Evermore (1971)
Featuring the ethereal vocals of late Fairport Convention singer Sandy Denny, beguiling and mythical Celtic folk tune ‘The Battle of Evermore’ is the only Led Zeppelin track to feature a guest singer. Just like fellow ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ offshoot ‘Going to California’, the song centres an acoustic guitar and a mandolin alongside Denny and Plant’s sublime vocals. Incredibly, Page and Plant wrote ‘The Battle of Evermore’ music on the fly, with the guitarist telling Trouser Press in 1977: “(It) was made up on the spot by Robert and myself. I just picked up John Paul Jones's mandolin, never having played a mandolin before, and just wrote up the chords and the whole thing in one sitting.”
Just like ‘Ramble On’ and ‘Misty Mountain Hop’, ‘The Battle of Evermore’ is highly influenced by J. R. R. Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ with some fans surmising it’s essentially about the Battle of Pelennor from Return Of The King. Characters Aragorn (“The Prince of Peace embraced the gloom”), Eowyn (“Queen of Light took her bow”), the evil Sauron (“The dark Lord rides in force tonight”) and his bloodcurdling Ringwraiths (“The ring wraiths ride in black, ride on”) are all referenced, however, in something of a curveball, Plant also sings about the angels of Avalon, from Arthurian legend.
18. Trampled Under Foot (1975)
Funky, flamboyant and positively oozing sex throughout its five-and-a-half minutes, ‘Trampled Under Foot’ is one of the many towering zeniths of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 opus ‘Physical Graffiti’. Lyrically a nod to influential bluesman Robert Johnson’s 1936 track ‘Terraplane Blues’, which uses the motor car as an extremely thinly veiled metaphor for sex, ‘Trampled Under Foot’ is packed with overt innuendo thanks to lines like “Mama, let me pump your gas” and “Baby, let me check your points.”
Testament to Led Zeppelin’s effortless ability to flit between genres, ‘Trampled Under Foot’ is more synonymous with Stevie Wonder and Motown than traditional rock music. Somewhat refreshingly it’s John Paul Jones who truly takes centre stage thanks to his funky-as-hell disco grooves on the clavinet that bounce off Jimmy Page’s wah-wah and John Bonham’s burly beats.
17. Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (1969)
Led Zeppelin’s take on the Anne Bredon penned folk song, first popularised by Joan Baez on her 1962 live album ‘Joan Baez in Concert Part 1’, truly showcases Robert Plant’s imperious vocal prowess. Embracing the quiet/loud dynamic, Jimmy Page dextrously plucks his guitar as Plant howls lines about absconding a loved one before it ups the tempo and transcends into flamenco-esque bursts with Plant’s vocals getting more and more emotionally wrought by the second. In fact, it would be fair to say that no one sings “baby” quite like Percy.
Complimenting Plant in a 2012 interview with Rolling Stone, Page said: "I knew exactly how (‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’) was going to shape up. I set the mood with the acoustic guitar and that flamenco-like section. But Robert embraced it. He came up with an incredible, plaintive vocal." A song with a classical nature that also packs an almighty punch, half-a-century from the ‘Led Zeppelin I’ recording sessions, the song still sounds as vital as ever.
16. No Quarter (1973)
As if to purposely bamboozle and challenge the listener, ‘Houses of the Holy’ brilliantly jumps from the upbeat reggae rock of ‘D'yer Maker’ into the plaintive opening synthesiser melody of ‘No Quarter’. A compositional triumph, ‘No Quarter’ is imbued with a foreboding tension as Plant delivers ominous lines about an impending battle (“Walking side-by-side with death / The devil mocks their every step, ooh”) that are steeped in heavy metal mythology. The song’s title itself is derived from the military practise of the victor showing no mercy to their defeated opponent and the macabre subject matter is reflected in the intense yet equally restrained music. As Rick Rubin pointed out to Rolling Stone: "It takes such confidence to be able to get really quiet and loose for such a long time. Zeppelin completely changed how we look at what popular music can be.”
15. Dazed and Confused (1969)
Originally recorded by folk-rock singer Jake Holmes – who famously slapped Led Zeppelin with a plagiarism lawsuit in 2010 - Jimmy Page had previously performed the ‘Dazed and Confused’ live with The Yardbirds, however, it was with Led Zeppelin that the song truly became a psychedelia-tinged blues rock n’ roll beast.
Everything about the song is monumental, including Plant’s impossibly raw and powerful vocals, the howling guitars and the rumbling bass line that both opens and permeates the track. Colossal enough on record, ‘Dazed and Confused’ would often expand into an even bigger monster in the live arena with the experimental jam, including Page’s violin bowed guitar solos, often stretching out more than 30 minutes.
14. Ten Years Gone (1975)
A track that flaunts Jimmy Page’s musical genius, ‘Ten Years Gone’ boasts layers of hypnotic, interweaving guitars and a simply sublime solo – in fact, Page reportedly used 14 guitar acks to overdub the harmony section. Originally intended to be an instrumental track, Robert Plant added the somewhat nostalgic lyrics later, which are dedicated to an old girlfriend who gave him the conundrum of ‘it’s me or the music’ ten years earlier. Thankfully Percy opted for the music.
Plant said in a 1975 interview: "I was working my ass off before joining Zeppelin. A lady I really, dearly loved said, 'Right. It's me or your fans.' Not that I had fans, but I said, 'I can't stop, I've got to keep going.' She's quite content these days, I imagine. She's got a washing machine that works by itself and a little sports-car. We wouldn't have anything to say anymore. I could probably relate to her, but she couldn't relate to me. I'd be smiling too much. Ten years gone, I'm afraid. Anyway, there's a gamble for you."
13. The Rain Song (1973)
The gorgeous ballad is nothing short of transcendental. Throughout its all too short seven minutes and 40 seconds, ‘The Rain Song’ floats along with swathes of exquisite guitars, delicate piano plonks and serene vocals from Percy. In our book ‘The Rain Song’ ranks as among the most beautiful rock ballads of all time. In fact, Plant himself ranks the track as his greatest vocal performance with Led Zeppelin, telling Rolling Stone in 2005: “I’d say that on ‘The Rain Song’ I sounded best. I’d reached a point where I knew that to get good I couldn’t repeat myself. The high falsetto screams had become quite a kind of calling card.”
The Beatles’ George Harrison - who was a massive Led Zeppelin aficionado and even appeared at John Bonham’s 25th birthday party in 1973 - inadvertently inspired ‘The Rain Song’ when he bemoaned their lack of ballads. Jimmy Page told biographer Brad Tolinski: “George was talking to Bonzo one evening and said, ‘The problem with you guys is that you never do ballads.’ I said, ‘I’ll give him a ballad,’ and I wrote ‘Rain Song,’ which appears Houses of the Holy. In fact, you’ll notice I even quote ‘Something’ in the song’s first two chords.”
12. Black Dog (1971)
Arguably one of Led Zeppelin’s most instantly recognisable songs and positively brimming with swagger, ‘Black Dog’ is the sound of Led Zeppelin at their most primal, poised and powerful. Opening with Plant’s inspired acapella cry of “Hey, hey mama said the way you move / Gon' make you sweat, gon' make you groove”, these echoey and raw vocals bounce off a delicious iconic riff. In 2007, Q Magazine writers voted ‘Black Dog’ as the Greatest Guitar Track of all time.
John Paul Jones is credited with creating the iconic riff having allegedly been influenced by Muddy Waters’ polarising psychedelic rock album ‘Electric Mud’. Additionally, esteemed Led Zeppelin author Dave Lewis also claims that the band took inspiration from Fleetwood Mac’s 1969 song ‘Oh Well’ for the acapella structure of the track. For fact lovers out there, the song title is derived from a black Labrador Retriever that wandered the grounds Headley Grange studios where the song was recorded.
11. Thank You (1969)
Written as a touching tribute to his then wife Maureen, ‘Thank You’ was the first Led Zeppelin song that Robert Plant solely penned the lyrics. Sonically mellow and featuring delicate vocals from Plant as he delivers his love ode (opening lines “If the sun refused to shine/ I would still be loving you / When mountains crumble to the sea /There will still be you and me” are especially heartfelt), Jimmy Page’s acoustic guitar and the John Paul Jones’ Hammond organ all work together in perfect harmony. Extra kudos should be given to Led Zep for fading to a false ending before eventually concluding with a crescendo ten seconds later. This gave radio stations at the time a conundrum – either cut the song off early or accept the awkward seconds of ‘dead air’.
10. Ramble On (1969)
Despite being one of Led Zeppelin’s greatest and most enduring songs, incredibly they never performed ‘Ramble On’ in its entirety live until their Ahmet Ertegun tribute concert at London’s O2 Arena in December 2007 where the track segued into a brief snippet of ‘What Is and What Should Never Be’. An effortlessly cool anthem, everything about the track is flawless; from Page’s breezy guitars to Jones' instantly infectious bassline to Percy’s incredible pipes and Bonzo’s pitter-patter drums. Explaining how he achieved his violin-esque tone on the solo, Page told Guitar World: “I used the neck pickup on my Les Paul and backed off on the treble knob on the guitar and ran it through the sustainer Roger Mayer (legendary Jimi Hendrix engineer) made for me years before. When I was recording it, I was thinking in terms of making a sound sort of like a string arrangement.”
In contrast to the upbeat and impossibly feel-good music, ‘Ramble On’ is packed with references to The Lord of the Rings, especially in the lines “Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor / I met a girl so fair / But Gollum, and the evil one / Crept up and slipped away with her.” Although the song is thematically about Percy searching for his woman, the title is undoubtedly a nod to Frodo Baggins ploughing on with his seemingly endless journey to the darkest depths of Mordor.
9. In My Time of Dying
An absolute mountain of a track clocking in at 11 minutes and six seconds, ‘In My Time of Dying’ is the longest song recorded by Led Zeppelin. Endlessly shifting up and down gears and taking listeners into intriguing new aural realms, ‘In My Time of Dying’ is a blues rock tour-de-force fusing electric heaviness with acoustic delta blues slide guitar.
Although all four members of Led Zeppelin were given songwriting credits on the sleeve notes of ‘Physical Graffitti’, ‘In My Time of Dying’ (also known as ‘Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed’) is a traditional gospel song that takes its title from a passage in the bible from Psalms 41:3 that reads "The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing, thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness". Recorded by numerous artists including The Lovin' Spoonful’s John Sebastian and Bob Dylan, no one quite reimagined it like Led Zeppelin. Somewhat bizarrely the song ends with a coughing fit (purported to be Bonham) and Plant singing the word “cough.”
8. Rock and Roll (1971)
In keeping with the highly apt title, Rock and Roll is structurally based on one of the most popular structures in early rock music - the 12-bar blues progression. Brilliantly, ‘Rock and Roll’ was also a slang term used by blues musicians for sex, giving lines like “It's been a long time since I rock and rolled” extra meaning.
The song was born out of a ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ recording session at Headley Grange when Bonham, apparently frustrated with a ‘Four Sticks’ drum pattern, spontaneously broke into drum beats inspired by the Little Richard song ‘Keep A-Knockin', which Page then added Chuck Berry-esque riffs to. Incredibly the bones of the track – which they initially dubbed ‘It's Been a Long Time’ - were fleshed out in less than 30 minutes.
Retrogressive musically yet also stamped with Led Zeppelin’s indelible imprint, ‘Rock and Roll’ contains nostalgic lyrics yearning for exuberant youth and fifties rock. In keeping with this, Plant name checks the slow rock 'n' roll dance The Stroll plus The Monotones’ 1958 rock and roll / doo-wop song ‘The Book of Love’ in his idiosyncratic howl.
7. Whole Lotta Love (1969)
Colossal sounding, dirty-as-hell, gloriously lewd and sonically experimental, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ needs very little introduction. Jimmy Page’s iconic riff is one of the purest and most timeless riffs he ever created with Led Zeppelin (even the casual pop music fan knows it due to it soundtracking Top of the Pops for decades), while John Paul Jones and John Bonham give the track poise, rhythm and muscle.
For all the brilliance of Page’s trademark guitars, Plant manages to grab the headlines with his sexually charged and highly lascivious lines like "Way down inside”, "I'm gonna give you every inch of my love" and, of course, "I wanna be your backdoor man!" Breaking down into a free jazz-like interlude just over one minute in, Plant’s orgasmic utterances reverberate while Bonham pounds a drum solo and Page twiddles with his Theremin antennae. Reaching a climax in more ways than one at the four-minute mark, Plant sounds like a man in sexual rapture as he shrieks “Hey!”, “Oh!”, “Love!” True, parts of the lyrics were borrowed from the 1962 Muddy Waters song written by Willie Dixon called ‘You Need Love’, but this does little to dilute the magnificence and sexual energy of ‘Whole Lotta Love’.
6. Immigrant Song (1970)
Clocking in at just two minutes and 26 seconds – highly succinct by Led Zeppelin’s standards – ‘Immigrant Song’ is a barbaric beast of a track that’s built upon an incessant, instantly infectious riff and Plant’s yowling vocals. Crammed with lyrical references to Norse mythology (“Valhalla, I am coming”) and Viking hordes (“On we sweep with threshing oar / Our only goal will be the western shore”), Led Zeppelin wrote ‘Immigrant Song’ after performing in Reykjavik on 22nd June 1970. The opening lines “We come from the land of the ice and snow / From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow” directly reference Iceland.
Incredibly, just six days after playing the Icelandic capital, Led Zeppelin gave ‘Immigrant Song’ its debut live outing when they opened their Bath Festival set with it. Rapturously received by fans, the line “The hammer of the Gods” was used by some to describe Led Zeppelin’s thunderous music and was used as the title of music journalist Stephen Davis’ unauthorised Led Zeppelin biography in 1985 - a book the band famously loathed.
5. Achilles Last Stand (1976)
The sonically complex ‘Presence’ opener is one of Led Zeppelin’s most visceral songs powered by furious, relentless rhythms cooked up by Bonham and Jones, a mind-boggling myriad of six layered guitar tracks orchestrated by Page and emphatic vocals from the ever-masterful Plant. Lyrically the song touches upon mythological imagery including Atlas, William Blake’s Albion and Achilles (Plant broke his ankle in a car crash in Greece and hurt it again in a subsequent fall just like the song’s namesake), but it was also inspired by Plant’s travels throughout Morocco, Greece, and Spain in the summer of 1975.
The sound of a band at the top of their game and epic in every sense of the word, despite Jimmy Page listing it as one of his finest achievements with Led Zeppelin, ‘Achilles Last Stand’ hasn’t quite had the plaudits it deserves. When critics at Rolling Stone Magazine compiled their favourite Led Zeppelin songs in 2012, bewilderingly ‘Achilles Last Stand’ failed to dent the Top 40. Fortunately, Planet Rock listeners have a much more discerning musical palate!
4. When The Levee Breaks (1971)
Quite possibly one of the finest cover songs of all time, Led Zeppelin lifted the lyrics and title for ‘When The Levee Breaks’ from the 1929 country blues song penned by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie that details the upheaval caused by the devastating Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 – hence lines like “If it keeps on rainin' levee's goin' to break / When the levee breaks I'll have no place to stay.”
While the lyrics stay true to the original, musically Led Zeppelin reimagined ‘When The Levee Breaks’ as an aptly apocalyptic sounding, blues-tinged hard rock powerhouse. From the fabled opening beats, it’s undoubtedly John Bonham grabs the limelight and defines the song with his vigorous and instantly recognisable drumming. Putting it much better than we ever could, his son Jason Bonham poignantly told Q Magazine: "It's the drum intro of the Gods. You could play it anywhere and people would know it's John Bonham. I never had the chance to tell dad how amazing he was - he was just dad."
3. Since I’ve Been Loving You (1970)
The masterful, slow-building seven-and-a-half-minute blues jam is undoubtedly one of Led Zeppelin’s finest and most soulful moments and rightfully voted in the Top 3 by our listeners. Slick musically with generous flourishes of electric piano from John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page apparently spent months trying to perfect his timeless solo that kicks in just before the four-minute mark, only to settle for the first version he laid down in the original demo.
Perfectly complimenting the sublime music, ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ also showcases Robert Plant’s vocal range – effortlessly flitting between tender and soulful, and shrieking and emotionally charged. Commenting on it in an interview with MOJO in 2003, Robert Plant said: "The musical progression at the end of each verse - the chord choice - is not a natural place to go. And it's that lift up there that's so regal and so emotional. I don't know whether that was born from the loins of JP or JPJ, but I know that when we reached that point in the song you could get a lump in the throat from being in the middle of it."
2. Stairway To Heaven (1971)
What is there left to say about this timeless classic that hasn’t already been said? Not only widely considered one of Led Zeppelin’s finest songs in their short career but also one of the greatest rock songs of all time, ‘Stairway To Heaven’ is so entrenched in rock n’ roll folklore it’s certain to retain its enduring appeal for many, many decades to come.
Clocking in at just over eight minutes, every second of the song is iconic; from the opening, Renaissance-tinged finger-picked guitars and recorders to Jimmy Page’s legendary solo and right through to Robert Plant’s ultimate, plaintive “and she's buying the stairway to heaven” refrain.
Commenting on its legacy, Jimmy Page told Rolling Stone in 2008: “To me, I thought 'Stairway' crystallized the essence of the band. It had everything there and showed the band at its best... as a band, as a unit. Not talking about solos or anything, it had everything there. We were careful never to release it as a single. It was a milestone for us. Every musician wants to do something of lasting quality, something which will hold up for a long time and I guess we did it with 'Stairway.'”
1. Kashmir (1975)
Receiving a whopping 18% of the total vote in our Zeptember poll – almost double the vote of ‘Stairway To Heaven’ in second spot – the towering musical behemoth that is ‘Kashmir’ took its rightful place at the summit. A track so good that it has you thumbing at the thesaurus looking for suitable superlatives, it’s no surprise that the surviving members of Led Zeppelin regard ‘Kashmir’ as one of their crowning glories.
Jimmy Page said: "The intensity of 'Kashmir' was such that when we had it completed, we knew there was something really hypnotic to it, we couldn't even describe such a quality. At the beginning, there was only Bonzo and me in Headley Grange. He played the rhythm on drums, and I found the riff as well as the overdubs which were thereafter duplicated by an orchestra, to bring more life to the track. It sounded so frightening at first..."
Speaking with Dan Rather in 2018, Robert Plant said: "It was a great achievement to take such a monstrously dramatic musical piece and find a lyric that was ambiguous enough, and a delivery that was not over-pumped. It was almost the antithesis of the music, this lyric and this vocal delivery that was just about enough to get in there."
Commenting on its musical magnificence, Blues Power host Bernard Doherty said: “Timeless, formidable, startling and brimming with majesty, ‘Kashmir’ is one of the few Led Zeppelin tracks to use outside musicians (session players were brought in for the string and horn sections) and they all gel magnificently together. I cannot do without listening to it every single day – John Bonham’s outstanding drumming is the key.” Lavishing ‘Kashmir’ with the kind of praise he usually reserves for Rush, Darren Redick said: “The lyrics in this song are totally otherworldly! I mean, who talks like “Oh, father of the four winds, fill my sails Across the sea of years”!? And the pomp of the music. Hell yes!”