Led Zeppelin have just released the film and DVD of their one-off reunion concerts at the O2 Arena, London in 2007. 2007? Blimey! I cannot believe that was five years ago. I was fortunate enough to get a ticket – it was one of the great concerts. But five years? That means it’s more than five years since I started my book on my musical journey… and I’m still only half way through!
Still, I thought this would be a good time to bite the bullet and select my top ten Zep tunes. As ever, a difficult call, with so many candidates. What do I favour? The epics? The blues? The out and out rockers? The folkies? The psychedelia? Well, I guess my selection below errs towards the rockers, because they are the essence of Led Zeppelin and because that is what attracted me in my teenage days when I first started listening to Zep. But really, I could have a top ten for each of those categories…
Because Led Zeppelin are the biggest ROCK band of all time. Everything about them is BIG. The guitars, the rhythms, the pounding drums, the voice, the hair, the hotel room outrages, the concerts….. the presence.
Robert Plant, vocals. Jimmy Page, guitar. John Paul-Jones, bass and keyboards. John Bonham, the monster, drums. Page the musical overlord, though John Paul Jones had his moments too.
In the mid seventies I was into metal until punk blasted it away for a while. With one exception – I never gave up on Led Zeppelin. They were just too good, too powerful, always the essence of rock’n’roll. And I’ve never given up on Led Zeppelin since. They remain, in my mind, the benchmark for rock music.
So here, with trepidation, is my selection. A warning: STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN IS NOT IN MY TOP TEN. That doesn’t mean I don’t like it. I love it. It is an integral part of the rock story. But it’s just not in my top ten. Sorry!
10. Immigrant Song, from Led Zeppelin III
A raw, pounding guitar and drum and Robert Plant wailing from the start. Forever associated now with the film, “School Of Rock”. But that’s OK. It’s a great film. Click below to hear the song.
9. Custard Pie, from Physical Graffiti
I liked this one from the moment the album was released in 1975. Sharp metal riffs and an underlying funkiness make it an irresistible air guitar moment.
8. Black Dog, from Led Zeppelin IV
It’s the album with no name, but it’s the fourth, so we usually call it Led Zep 4. “Black Dog” is the clarion call, the opening track. Robert Plant in a call and answer intro with Jimmy Page’s guitar, before we launch into the Black Dog chorus. Powered along by John Bonham’s juddering drums. Strutting, peacock music.
7. Over The Hills and Far Away, from Houses of the Holy
What gets this one into the ten is the acoustic intro and Robert Plant’s yearning vocals, before it launches into classic Zep rock territory, quite breezy in parts. Wouldn’t go so far as to say poppy, but closer than most.
6. Going to California, from Led Zeppelin IV
The gentle side of Led Zep. I needed something like this. Beautifully played, mystical, tender. A counterpoint to the big rockers on what is probably Zep’s most cohesive album. And it’s the source of the melody on Pearl Jam’s “Given to Fly”, I think.
5. Nobody’s Fault But Mine, from Presence
“Presence” was the first Zep album I actually bought, in 1976. In Norwich. That’s partly why I have a soft spot for it; but I also love the primal, stripped down beats that dominate the album. This is the pure essence of rock’n’roll. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is a good message, and encapsulates the musical spirit of the album perfectly.
4. Dazed and Confused, from Led Zeppelin I
In which we go back to the beginning, when Zep were very much in the same league as other blues rockers, evolving into metal, like Cream. And the Yardbirds influence, via Jimmy Page, was still there. “Dazed and Confused” is an immense, heavy blues that becomes out- of-the-ordinary in the middle part, when the guitar tricks begin. Live, this became Jimmy Page’s set piece, with violin bows and all. I’ve stuck to the studio version here, but there are some extraordinary live versions lasting over twenty minutes.
3. No Quarter, from Houses of the Holy
This is one of the songs that I’ve got into more and more over the years. Again, there have been some wonderful live versions. There’s a mystical, mysterious air about it. A mood piece. Completely engrossing. When Plant and Page got together for an “Unledded” reunion show in 1994, with a middle eastern feel to it, “No Quarter” was the centrepiece.
This is the original.
And here’s the “Unledded” version, which really brings out the intensity in the song.
2. When the Levee Breaks, from Led Zeppelin IV
An awesome, piledriving, juddering blues, that conjures up the image of a doomed New Orleans, but in a hugely uplifting way, as the harmonica rings out, and Robert Plant gives out his best warble.
All last night, sat on the levee, and moaned!
There is a huge power behind this song, and John Bonham’s drums are the source. Goin’ down, goin’ down now…
1. In My Time Of Dying, from Physical Graffiti
A few years ago this one may not have been my number one. But increasingly I’ve just come to recognise that it captures everything I love about Led Zeppelin. It has the essence of the blues, along with coruscating slide guitar, brutal drums, a groaning and wailing vocal. It’s grappling with the human spirit. There’s something monstrously large about it. No-one else has ever made music this powerful. The true meaning of awesome.
“Communications Breakdown” off Led Zep I. Just about everything off Led Zep II, which is an immense heavy blues album. I tried to get “Whole Lotta Love” into the ten, but what could I have dropped/ “What Is And What Should Never Be”, “The Lemon Song” and “Heartbreaker” were also serious contenders. “Celebration Day” and “Out On The Tiles” from Led Zep III are brilliant rockers. “Since I’ve been Loving You” is probably the best of Zep’s extended blues tracks and the acoustic side is full of weird and wonderful treats. Led Zep IV also has “Rock’n’Roll”, which was in my Air Guitar Top Ten, and the epic “Battle of Evermore”, which must have inspired Queen. And of course there’s THAT song. I usually say Physical Graffiti is my favourite Zep album, and everything on it is good, really. Standouts include the mighty “Kashmir”, the driving “The Rover”, the wildly funky “Trampled Underfoot” and psychedelic masterpiece, “In The Light”. Presence is the most primal of Zep’s albums, with Bonham’s drums, the guitar and bass in total unison. I love “Candy Store Rock”, which sounds like Elvis discovering metal (this was really close to the ten), “For Your Love”, and the epic of epics, “Achilles’ Last Stand”.
Then there are all the live albums. I’m not going to go through them all, except to say again, that’s where you discover the true magnificence of “Dazed and Confused”. There is a wonderful double CD of BBC live recordings, called “BBC Sessions”,which include songs that take you right back to the band’s roots. I’m thinking especially of Robert Plant’s crazed take on Eddie Cochran’s “Something Else” and the pure slide guitar blues of “Travellin’ Riverside Blues”.
And, and, because I know it transcends everything, here is THAT song, the one that is most identified with Led Zeppelin, like it or not. Just in case you were missing it.
(And thanks to WordPress blogger Dying Note for pointing out to me that you can embed songs from iTunes in this way. Hope it’s better for the reader/listener).