I do not own a single Led Zeppelin album, nor have I ever listened to one. All my “get the lead out” knowledge comes from radio. So I decided today to review all nine Led Zeppelin albums. How? Because I taped every song off the radio.
Led Zeppelin defined my 40 minute bus rides during my junior year in high school. This was thanks to a local station’s decision to play their entire catalog, A to Z, one Labor Day. Instead of spending the day at a barbecue or taking a last swim in the lake, I sat in my room with a stereo and five 90-minute cassette tapes. From “Achilles Last Stand” at noon to “Your Time is Gonna Come” at 7pm, I hit record, pause, and sometimes, a quick rewind. By the end of the day I owned hours of hard-rock Tolkien-inspired music.
So to figure out my favorite Zeppelin album, I first rated my A to Z mix. Each song I gave 1 to 5 stars (aka Lemon to Immigrant). You wouldn’t think good songs or terrible songs would clump together, but in a few cases they do. The first 90 minute tape I played the least, and the evidence shows good reason: B and C songs are, on average, much worse than any other songs by Led Zeppelin. “D”, on the other hand, is full of gems. Here’s a graph of the results:
Here’s the best section as a 10 song album:
1. D’yer Mak’er – love the guitar/piano play
2. Dancing Days – love the slide guitar
3. Dazed And Confused – overrated but still like it
4. Down By The Seaside – love the blubbly sounds
5. Fool In The Rain – love the whistle
6. For Your Life – love… none of it, not a fan.
7. Four Sticks – love the dreamy chorus
8. Friends – love the strings
9. Gallows Pole – love the folk standard
10. Going To California – great song
11. Good Times Bad Times – also great
Next I took the songs, listed them out chronologically, and graphed the results:
Part of my hope was to be surprised, but my tastes seem typical to most reviewers. I guess the main difference is my distaste for Physical Graffiti, which starts off well but decreases in quality at a rapid pace. Actually, Led Zeppelin’s career takes a huge nose dive with that album, never regaining the quality of the first five albums. Four, to no one’s surprise, has the best songs. Two, minus a lemon of a song, is just as good.
Led Zeppelin produced two albums, although I’ve never heard, through song quality alone ranks among my favorite albums of all-time. But, as I’ve argued previously, album quality resides not in songs alone.
Update: I figure the only way to appropriately end this article is to listen to Led Zeppelin II and IV. This was easy to do since youtube is still a pirates paradise when it comes to music. Here’s my review of the song flow.
II: Side one has great songs but unimpressive song flow. “The Lemon Song” certainly doesn’t help. Surprised they didn’t put “Thank You” last on the album. The second-side has brilliant flow, especially “Heartbreaker” to “Living Loving Maid”. A seven for flow and a three for intagables give Led Zeppelin II a final score of 85, a great album, cursed by one bad song and an uneven flow.
IV: Side one features three of their most popular songs, and “The Battle of Evermore”, which I’ve always loved for its mood and mandolin. I also really like the transition between “Evermore” and “Stairway to Heaven”. “Misty Mountain Hop” is a great start to side two. “When the Levee Breaks” is a great song, but not a great last song. Switched it with “Going to California” and you got a great somber finale. Also, eight songs? That’s it? I wanted more. (Then again, Physical Graffiti had 15 songs, beggars can’t be choosers.) So with eight for flow and four for intagables give Led Zeppelin IV a final score of 92, making it one of my top 25 favorite albums ever.
What are your thoughts on the Zep, the great terrible prideful plagiarizing critically hated critical darlings? Let me know in the comments. I’ll leave you (thanks again to youtube) with the alphabetical album “Dy’er Mak’er” to “Good Times Bad Times”: