Led Zeppelin: The music
ANDY GILL's complete guide to the band's studio albums, including the one that is, officially, still the biggest-selling rock record of all time.
Led Zeppelin (1969) *****
Despite consisting primarily of the same kind of blues-based rock workouts that had become commonplace through the work of Cream and Fleetwood Mac, this has a peculiar impact all its own, possibly thanks to Jimmy Page's studio set-up, which included recording the room's ambient sound. The result is a big, beefy presence that suits the new band's explosive style perfectly.
Download this: 'Dazed And Confused', 'Communication Breakdown', 'Good Times Bad Times'
Led Zeppelin II (1969) *****
Led Zeppelin II is the Rosetta Stone of hard rock, the seed-corn for countless air-guitar solos and almost as many actual bands, whose grasp of the form's aesthetic never touched Zep's. The album opens with the career-defining monster riff of "Whole Lotta Love", as emblematic of its era as "Satisfaction". Its references to Mordor and Gollum heralded the Tolkien obsession that Robert Plant would often revisit. Download this:
'Whole Lotta Love', 'Ramble On', 'What Is And What Should Never Be'
Led Zeppelin III (1970) ***
On its release, Led Zeppelin III was widely regarded as an ill-advised move towards a softer, more sensitive style. But its most memorable moments still come from the heavier tracks, most notably "Immigrant Song" and "Since I've Been Loving You". A palette of acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo and pedal steel guitar ensured that songs such as "That's the Way", "Tangerine" and "Gallows Pole" had sparkle.
'Immigrant Song', 'Since I've Been Loving You', 'Gallows Pole'
Led Zeppelin IV (1971) *****
The most successful rock album ever, selling a colossal 37 million copies - so far. It did this simply by being better, in every regard, than its predecessors. Inspired by the stop-start structure of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well", the serpentine riff of opener "Black Dog" became a rock standard; but it was nevertheless swept away by the ubiquitous boogie anthem "Rock and Roll", and the courtly, multi-sectioned "Stairway to Heaven".
'Rock And Roll', 'Black Dog', 'When The Levee Breaks'
Houses of the Holy (1973) ***
Clad in a sleeve both evocative and provocative, Houses of the Holy couldn't help but be a disappointment after the genre-defining Led Zeppelin IV, despite the inclusion of a couple of standout tracks. But the band's forsaking of their blues roots wounds the music, particularly since it's been replaced by a rather half-baked smorgasbord of ill-fitting styles especially the embarrassing reggae pastiche "D'Yer Maker".
'The Song Remains The Same', 'Over the Hills and Far Away', 'Ocean'
Physical Graffiti (1975) ***
The blues is back again, and the band are still injecting steroids into roots modes, with the gentrified country-blues "Custard Pie" undergoing a clavinet makeover, and "The Rover" given new - not wholly appropriate - musical muscles. The standouts are "Trampled Underfoot" and "Kashmir", one of Plant's wandering-traveller songs, borne along on rising, Middle Eastern-flavoured strings that convey a sense of eternal anticipation.
'Trampled Underfoot', 'Kashmir', 'In My Time of Dying'
Presence (1976) **
Presence was a more direct and focused album than Physical Graffiti, with the band abandoning the florid keyboards and acoustic guitars and reverting to the simplicity of their earliest recordings. But there was a serious shortfall of tracks outstanding enough to counterbalance a complement of lower-wattage material. Just one, effectively: "Achilles Last Stand", a 10-minute extravaganza on which Page virtually invents speed metal.
'Achilles Last Stand', 'Nobody's Fault But Mine'
In Through the Out Door (1979) **
... and back out again, in pretty poor shape. Like Houses of the Holy, the album veers sharply away from the band's core rock style, with unsatisfying attempts at Memphis soul ("I'm Gonna Crawl"), bar-room tack piano ("South Bound Suarez") and a Latin-tinged funk groove ("Fool in the Rain"). Rather better are "Hot Dog", a country-style number featuring a hot solo from Page, and "In the Evening", built around an engaging guitar hook.
'In the Evening', 'Hot Dog'