Over the course of just 10 years and 9 albums, Led Zeppelin changed the face of rock forever. Initially written off as second-rate purveyors of throwback blues, they soon proved their doubters wrong with a string of albums that firmly established them as one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Here, we take a look back at their career as we rank all nine Led Zeppelin albums from worst to best.
A lot of people don’t even consider Coda a proper Led Zeppelin album. Cobbled together from unused tracks after John Bonham’s death, it’s been roundly criticized as unfocused, incoherent, and uneven. They’ve got a point. But it’s far from an abject failure. Collectively, it doesn’t quite come together, but individually the songs are good, Some, such as Ozone Baby, Darlene, and Wearing and Tearing, even have a whiff of greatness. It might be Led Zeppelin’s weakest release, but even the worst Led Zeppelin album still stands head and shoulders above most of the competition.
8. In Through the Out Door
Considered by many to be the last ‘proper’ Led Zeppelin album (i.e. the last one to be released while John Bonham was still alive), In Through the Out Door came at a particularly troubling period for the band. Jimmy Page and Bonham were too far gone to their addictions to know left from right, leaving the rest of the band to hold things together. Unfortunately, they didn’t quite succeed. It’s not without merit (both All My Love, Robert Plant’s tribute to his son Karac who’d passed away the previous year, and the radio-friendly Fool in the Rain are lovely), but the overall impression is of a band that had lost their way.
As Rolling Stone notes, the second half of Led Zeppelin’s career was a series of never-ending disasters. It started when Robert Plant got injured in a car crash in Rhodes, Greece. Confined to hospital and with nothing else to do, he began writing for Led Zeppelin’s planned seventh album. After his recovery, the band headed to Munich, Germany, and banged out the album in 18 days flat. The result isn’t an outright triumph, but it’s still good, with the ten-minute Achilles Last Stand ranking as possibly the best album opener of all time. Lesser-known gems like Hot on for Nowhere and Nobody’s Fault But Mine are equally worth a listen.
6. Led Zeppelin III
Of the band’s earliest albums, Led Zeppelin III is the least loved. At the time, people thought the band were moving too far away from their roots and experimenting more than was either comfortable or necessary. Consisting of mostly acoustical numbers, it certainly doesn’t have the same raw energy as its predecessors. There are some fine songs – Immigrant Song being the highlight – but overall, it felt more like a whimper than a roar. In retrospect, it was a very crucial stepping stone to IV, and for that reason if nothing else, it deserves respect.
5. Physical Graffiti
Considered by some to be the last great Led Zeppelin album, Physical Graffiti finds the band at their most experimental. When the experiments work – as they do on the towering Kashmir and stupendously funky Trampled Underfoot – they work beautifully. When they fail – as they do on regrettable throwaways like Boogie With Stu and Black Country Woman – you have to question the wisdom of the editing. Trimmed of the fat, it would have been glorious. As it is, it falls just short of the mark.
4. Led Zeppelin I
If you were revisiting any other band’s legacy and found a debut like Led Zeppelin I, your jaw would hit the floor. The problem is, this is Led Zeppelin, and expectations run high. In a scathing critique of the album on its release, Rolling Stone described Jimmy Page as “a writer of weak, unimaginative songs.” Obviously, Page had the last laugh, but Rolling Stone were right in the sense that most of the songs feel like weak imitations of classic blues songs. Does that make it a bad album? In a word, no. It may only hint at their future greatness, but this is where the seeds were sown.
3. Houses of the Holy
How do you follow a triumph like IV? Ultimately, you can’t, but Led Zeppelin gave it a pretty good shot on the respectable Houses of the Holy. Obviously, comparisons to its predecessor were going to be made, and just as obviously, not all of those comparisons were going to be kind. But haters are gonna hate – judged purely on its own merits, Houses of the Holy is a fun, approachable album that may be lacking in cohesion, but has more than enough gems (the expansive, beautifully crafted The Rain Song and the lovely Over the Hills and Far Away in particular) to carry it.
2. Led Zeppelin II
Described as the point that Led Zeppelin began to emerge from its own influences by Ultimate Classic Rock, Led Zeppelin II is the work of a band stretching its legs and discovering its inner greatness. There’s still a ton of blues, but if Led Zeppelin I suffered because of it, its follow-up doesn’t. Here, they’re not paying tribute to their heroes, they’re showing themselves to be in the same league as them. On tracks like Whole Lotta Love, Thank You, Ramble On and What Is and What Should Never Be, they flex their artistic muscle and, in the process, set the template for every rock album that followed. It’s a masterpiece, and had it not been for the next album on our list, it would be a very worthy candidate for the title of Led Zeppelin’s best album.
1. Led Zeppelin IV
Led Zeppelin II wasn’t good. It wasn’t even great. It was a masterpiece. So, what kind of album trumps a masterpiece? Led Zeppelin IV, an album of such brilliance, it almost defies description. Any previous criticism levied at the band for being too in thrall to the blues ended here. In just eight tracks, Led Zeppelin manage to jump from the blues to folk to hard rock. They even throw in some orchestral arrangements for good measure. This was the album that secured their legacy, turned them into the biggest rock band in the world, and changed the face of rock forever. It’s transcendent.