Rock and Roll "Heaven"
In 10 years, starting with their self-titled debut album in 1969, Led Zeppelin released a whole lotta classics. Here, in honor of Jimmy Page's birthday, are the Top 20.
1. "Stairway to Heaven"
If they'd never done anything else, Led Zeppelin would be enshrined in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for this 1971 song alone. Instantly recognizable from its opening acoustic note, "Stairway to Heaven" is, as Page once said, "The crystallized essence of the band ... Not talking about solos or anything, it had everything there."
2. "Whole Lotta Love"
The band's only Top 10 single In the U.S., "Whole Lotta Love" roared into being as a bruising riff Page came up with on his Les Paul guitar while living on a houseboat along the Thames. "I suppose my early love for big intros by rockabilly guitarists was an inspiration," Page said. "But as soon as I developed the riff, I knew it was strong enough to drive the entire song." Plant's vocals equal the guitar work in what remains the definitive Zeppelin song.
Though no one in the band had ever been to Kashmir—the northernmost region of the Indian subcontinent—this 1975 song secretes an Arabic-Indian vibe. Plant wrote the lyrics during a car ride through southern Morocco and was shocked to realize when the song was completed that he was unable to sing it. "It was like the song was bigger than me," he said. "I was petrified, it's true. It was painful. I was virtually in tears."
4. "Black Dog"
Robert Plant's "Hey, hey, mama, said the way you move/Gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove," makes this 1971 classic one of Zeppelin's most instantly recognizable songs. Inspired by an old but still randy hound that used to sniff around the band's recording studio, "Black Dog" is four minutes and 55 seconds of howling desire.
5. "Living Loving Maid (She Just a Woman)"
The B-side to the single "Whole Lotta Love." Page didn't much like the song, leaving it off the band's 1990 box set, but this tune about an aging groupie adds a bit of rocking fun to the Zeppelin oeuvre.
6. "Immigrant Song"
Eric Clapton tells the story of the time he shared the stage with Muddy Waters. Clapton had just finished earnestly ripping through Waters' "Mannish Boy"—all swagger and sweat—when the Blues legend turned to him and said, "Son…that song's supposed to be funny." It's a lesson that Zeppelin seems to have learned as well. Because, with its ominous references to Nordic conquests and sea invasions and dead religions, "Immigrant Song" is actually really funny. Said Plant: "We went to Iceland and it made you think of Vikings and big ships ... and John Bonham's stomach ... and bang, there it was—'Immigrant Song'!"
7. "When the Levee Breaks"
John Bonham ferociously kick-starts this take on an old Memphis Minnie blues song about the great Mississippi flood of 1927. His drums were recorded in a studio stairwell after "Bonzo" discovered they had perfectly balanced acoustics. The Beastie Boys' later famously sampled the opening on "Rhymin & Stealin" from their 1986 album "License to Ill."
8. "The Ocean"
It's not Ringo warbling "Yellow Submarine," but Zeppelin's 1973 ode to their ocean of fans, with drummer Bonham immortally counting off the song, sails the rock and roll high seas with all the authority of a John Paul Jones.
9. "Going to California"
Just a beautiful song, with gentle Plant vocals and lilting Page/Jones acoustic work on guitar and mandolin. Page has hinted that the song is about California girl Joni Mitchell, on whom he had a rock star–sized crush, specifically dedicating these words to her in live performances: "To find a queen without a king/They say she plays guitar and cries and sings."
10. "D'yer Mak'er"
Zeppelin's music was rarely thought of as "catchy" or "pop," but "D'yer Mak'er" (a play on the word "Jamaica"), with drummer John Bonham's Reggae-influenced beat and Plant's doo-wop-inspired vocals, comes close. The 1973 single reached 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. Tellingly, the band never performed the song live in its entirety.
This 1969 song's famed guitar solo, voted 16th greatest of all time by Guitar World magazine, was an afterthought—recorded later in a different studio and added in post hoc. Eddie Van Halen has cited "Heartbreaker" as a prime inspiration for his own music, saying, "I just kind of took it and ran with it."
12. "In the Light"
Though Page and Plant share the songwriting credit, "In the Light" was John Paul Jones' baby. Largely composed on Jones' synthesizer, the 1975 song is at once epic and intimate—with a dash of the Beatles' "Revolver" thrown in. It's perfect for driving down the highway in the early morning with only the sunrise and regret in the rearview mirror.
13. "Misty Mountain Hop"
Kicking off with John Paul Jones' electric piano, Zeppelin gets funky with this ode to J.R. R. Tolkien and London hippie love-ins. In essence, said Plant, the song is about "being caught in the park with wrong stuff in your cigarette papers."
14. "Communication Breakdown"
Page was inspired by '50s rocker Eddie Cochran to create the pounding down-stroke riff for "Communication Breakdown" in 1968, when Led Zeppelin was still known as the New Yardbirds. At 2:30, it's one of the shorter songs in the band's catalogue and served in turn as inspiration for the smash-and-grab guitar style of the Ramones' Johnny Ramone.
You have to listen for it, but the country-tinged "Tangerine" harkens back to Skiffle—a musical genre that combined American jazz blues and folk influences played on whatever instruments were on hand for its youthful practitioners. Lennon and McCartney were huge Skiffle fans, as was Page. Just check out "James Page" in this video from 1957.
16. "Houses of the Holy"
Page credits '50s rebel rock innovator Link Wray as one of his great influences, and on "Houses of the Holy" the Zeppelin guitarist dishes out some of his meanest Wray licks. Catch Page in the 2008 documentary "It Might Get Loud" as he air-guitars along with Wray, grinning from ear to ear.
17. "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You"
Page played his bluesy version of this song—previously recorded by Joan Baez (!)— for Plant at their first meeting in 1968. The guitarist had learned it as a session musician. "I used to do the song in the days of sitting in the darkness playing my six-string behind Marianne Faithfull," he recalled.
18. "That's the Way"
A mellow and moving song from Zeppelin's third album, "That's the Way" was composed by Page and Plant after a long walk in the Welsh countryside. "We had a guitar with us," Page said. "It was a tiring walk, coming down a ravine, and we stopped and sat down. I played the tune and Robert sang the first verse straight off. We had a tape recorder with us and we got the tune down." Memo to aspiring songwriters: Always carry your guitar and a tape recorder with you when hiking.
19. "All My Love"
As the band was breaking apart, Plant and Jones composed this poignant rock ballad, written in honor of Plant's son Karac, who died from a stomach infection in 1977 when he was five years old.
20. "Dazed and Confused"
Singer-songwriter Jake Holmes opened for the pre-Zeppelin Yardbirds in 1967, playing a song he'd written titled "Dazed and Confused." Shortly thereafter, the Yardbirds were playing their own version of a song called "Dazed and Confused," which Page later adapted for Led Zeppelin's debut album, with sole songwriting credit going to the guitarist. In 2010, Holmes sued Page for copyright infringement, and that led to an out-of-court settlement. Sometimes it takes a village.
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