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Led Zeppelin I

A black-and-white photograph of a zeppelin exploding

Led Zeppelin

1969

The legend and mystique of Led Zeppelin was born here, in 1969, on their debut album.  LZI has always been a special and unique album for me personally.  It was my 1st Led Zeppelin album, so there's that, but there's something in the air on this album, a certain vibe, a certain atmosphere that is unique to all their other albums.  It might have to do with the late 60s thing, as this album seems to have a subtly more hazy and mysterious quality about it.  It sounds epic, but in a somewhat brooding and menacing way at times.  Again, it's subtle, but it really enhances the atmosphere and mystique of this album.  That said, it starts out on a very free-wheeling and loose vibe with the absolutely fantastic "Good Times, Bad Times".  A great way to start out on the journey of Led Zeppelin, and perhaps my favorite opening track on any of their albums.  But that air of mystery and depth really comes in on the next tune, the epically dramatic "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You", and continues with the incredibly awesome slow-burn blues of "You Shook Me".  That's howl at the moon blues right there, and that tune never fails to send a chill up my spine.

Oh, and what's that next song, uh, oh, that's right "Dazed and Confused".  Yeah.  Kind of a big deal.

But again, the mystical/spiritual quality of this album again resurfaces with the incredibly righteous "Your Time Is Gonna Come".  That tune has a downright holy quality to it, thanks in large part to the organ and the gospelly chorus.  That song transitions beautifully into the acoustic "Black Mountain Side" which has a somewhat tribal/carnal sound to it.  Again, kind of trippy and profound, but "Communication Breakdown" quickly snaps you out of it, providing probably one of the most intensely infectious heavy songs that had ever been heard up to that point.  Needless to say it still holds up today.  Then it's back to the slow-burn blues again with "I Can't Quit You Baby", which isn't quite as good as "You Shook Me", but it's certainly no slouch either.  

And all the awesomeness on display on LZI is really just a warm-up for the incredibly mindblowingly rad closer "How Many More Times".  Everybody knows Zeppelin's hits, but the moment I truly realized that I loved Led Zepellin is when I stumbled upon this epic jam.  To this day it's still my favorite Zeppelin song of all-time...it's everything that was great about the band (at least when it came to their undeniable swagger/rhythm) encapsulated into one brilliant tune.  LZI is great enough as it is, but to close it out with "How Many More Times" has always but it at the top of the ZL albums list for yours truly.  The mystique of this album, the air of mystery, the absolutely fantastic set of songs, the flow of the album, and then to cap it off with "How Many More Times"?  Led Zeppelin made a lot of great/classic albums, but I don't think they ever topped their debut.  Aside from maybe only Physical Graffiti, LZI is my favorite album from the band.  Epicly classic.

9.5

Led Zeppelin II

A composite sepia photograph of the band kneeling down with members of the Jasta 11 Division of the Luftstreitkräfte, in front of a combusting hydrogen cloud and the outline of LZ 129 Hindenburg.

Led Zeppelin

1969

Led Zeppelin's 2nd album shares a lot in common with their monster debut released earlier the same year.  That's most likely because much of LZII was recorded on the fly, so to speak, while the band was touring in support of LZI.  While LZII isn't as good as their epic debut, it's still a pretty awesome album in it's own right.  Overall, LZII sports a looser, more raw sound, with a bit more of a frantic pace to it.  I hesitate to call this Led Zeppelin's "heaviest" album, as that might suggest a one-dimensionality to the music, which is certainly not the case.  That said, this album probably rocks the hardest of any in their catalog (take "Whole Lotta Love", "The Lemon Song", "Heartbreaker" and "Bring It On Home" for example).  These songs basically sound like the blues on steroids, and they kick a serious amount of ass.  But the real gems here are the more dymanic, mellow songs, i.e. "What Is and What Should Never Be", "Thank You", and "Ramble On".  There is a certain magic in these songs, a certain wistful beauty that only Led Zeppelin were capable of creating.  In a nutshell, every song here is very good.  It's Led Zeppelin II, so in other words: all killer, no filler.

9.0

Led Zeppelin III

A collage of butterflies, teeth, zeppelins, and assorted imagery on a white background

Led Zeppelin

1970

To my ears, this is Led Zeppelin's most laid-back album.  Not that there aren't some raucous classics to be found here ("Immigrant Song" and "Since I've Been Loving You" come to mind), but for the most part, LZIII sports a more acoustic-centric sound compared to their prior two albums.  This is likely because they took a break from touring at the time to record this album in the quaint English countryside, so the overall vibe of the album reflects that.  And it's the acoustic songs that really shine the most here.  "Friends" and "Tangerine" are standout tracks, the latter being a personal favorite of mine.  It's a sweet song.  Speaking of sweet, LZIII has one of my all-time favorite Led Zeppelin songs, the touching "That's The Way".  It's an incredibly beautiful song, with a somber magic to it.  And that's a good description for LZIII as a whole: an a times somber, but more often than not, magically mellow listening experience.

8.8

Led Zeppelin IV

A drawing of a man in a field with a large bundle of sticks on his back

Led Zeppelin

1971

A lot of people consider this to be Led Zeppelin's finest hour, at it's certainly easy to see why.  This album is chalk full of epicness from start to finish, kicking off with the groovalicious "Black Dog", and the exhilarating "Rock and Roll", anchored in the middle with that one song "Stairway to Heaven", and closing with the thunderously brooding "When the Levee Breaks".  It's pretty hard to deny the epicness found on LZIV, and while those songs are certainly the highlights, the majority of the other tracks found here are all borderline great in their own right.  "Going to California" practically tells the story of my life when I was 21 years old, so it will always be a special one for me.  The rest of the songs all feature a somewhat mystical vibe about them, and can't help but conjure up images of lush rolling green hillsides full of hobbits and other nerdy little creatures of that ilk.  I've never really been a fan of that whole thing, but, what's important is the fact that the songs themselves are all very solid and fit as a broader piece of the highly enjoyable puzzle LZIV is.  It's not really a puzzle, since the majority of this album is quite immediate and infectious for the most part.  This album does have a somewhat unique air of mysticism about it, similar to LZIII, but generally with better songs and a more epic vibe.

In a nutshell, LZIV is an undisputed classic album, and while it's not my favorite from the band, its greatness is undeniable.

9.2

Houses of the Holy

Led Zeppelin

1973

Many Led Zep fans hold this album in high regard, but it has never been one of my favorites from the band.  Maybe that's because it has a more laid-back, eclectic feel to it compared to their prior releases, which makes it interesting, but it also gives it a somewhat disjointed vibe to these ears.  Overall it doesn't sound as unified or epic as LZIV, as enchanting as LZIII, and it doesn't rock as hard or infectiously as LZII, and doesn't have the gravitas of LZI.  That said, it does have one of my all-time favorite songs from the band ("Over the Hills and Far Away") along with a few other standouts.  So this is a pretty good LZ album, but I don't think it holds up to anything that came before it, and it is certainly overshadowed by the awesomeness of Physical Graffiti which would follow a couple of years later.   That said, this is still a very cool, eclectic album, and probably one of the most unique and experimental records in ZL's classic catalog.

8.8

Physical Graffiti

The front of a brownstone

Led Zeppelin

1975

Although I am partial to Led Zeppelin's debut album, when I think of Led Zeppelin's best album, Physical Graffiti is usually the first to come to mind.  When I think of an album that best encapsulates the swagger, rhythm, and style of Led Zeppelin I think of Physical Graffiti.  When I think of Led Zeppelin clicking on all the proverbial cylinders, I think of Physical Graffiti.  The first disc of this sprawling double-album is so awesome, it's kind of hard to wrap your head around.  The opening two tracks are absolutely fantastic, and they really set the tone.  They induce a state of road-trip/open-road Nirvana that is practically unparalleled (except for maybe Tom Petty).  They are positively infectious display the best of Led Zeppelin's swagger without going too over the top (i.e. "Whole Lotta Love").  They just kick ass and feel right, but they're only just a setup for the incredibly mind-blowingly awesome "In My Time of Dying".  Clocking in at over 11 minutes, this is one of Led Zep's most epicly infectious and satisfying jams.  It starts out slow and bluesy, and then explodes into an almost heavy-metal flavored, jagged riffs that is impossible to sit still too.  Then they just jam out in epic and exhilarating fashion for the next several minutes.

And we're only through the first 3 songs.

The next two songs feature the type of good-time vibes and tasty riffs/rhythm that made LZ legends.  They are great songs, but are essentially warm-ups to the epic closer "Kashmir".  It's got a similar density/energy to "When the Levee Breaks", but not quite as good in my book.  Nonetheless, "Kashmir" sports of the most instantly recognizable riffs of all-time, and is really nothing short of epic.

The second disc features a much different vibe than the first.  Upon first listen, it might sound a tad too underwhelming, as it is definitely a mellower listening experience, and some of the songs sound tossed-off or somewhat amateurish compared to the epicness displayed on the first disc.  But therein lies the charm of the 2nd disc.  This disc sports a distinctly different personality, but it's all incredibly easy and somewhat soothing to listen to.  You can get lost in these mellower songs, as they all drift easily into one another, evoking a kind of whimsical/spiritual feeling about them.  "In the Light" sets the tone with its mellow and warm sound, but it as an air of epicness about it in spite of that.  My favorite from the 2nd disc has always been "Down by the Seaside".  Such an incredibly relaxing, easy song that always puts a smile on my face.  "10 Years Gone" is quite affecting, with it's somewhat withdrawn and yearning sound.  "Night Flight" is very uplifting and sports a shining, golden vibe about it, and the rest of the songs, while admittedly somewhat underwhelming, have a distinct charm and playfulness about them that make their underwhelmingness easily forgiven.  They're easy to listen to, and fit into the broader personality of the 2nd disc.

So you kind of get the idea, the 1st disc is epic and arguably displays Led Zepplelin at their very best, and the 2nd disc is mellow, easy, and warm.  I really like that dynamic about this album, the yin-yang of it.  Overall, along with their epic debut, Physical Graffiti is probably my favorite Led Zeppelin album.  It feels the most personal to me, it has the most personality, the most variety, and plenty of epicness to boot.  Undisputed classic and their last great album.

9.5

Presence

A photograph of a family sitting down at a dinner table with a black obelisk roughly one foot tall at the center of the table

Led Zeppelin

1976

Presence is not a bad album, but haven said that, it was the least-good album Led Zeppelin had made in their career.  The fact that it quickly followed what I would consider to be perhaps their best album (Physical Graffiti) doesn't help matters.  The album starts off with the ambitious "Achilles Last Stand", which kind of sounds like Rush to a degree.  It seems to have epic aspirations, but it's a little too repeititive with the main riff, and probably goes on at least a couple of minutes longer than it should.  So ultimately it comes off a bit unsatisfying overall, at least to these ears.  From there, there are a couple of pretty good songs, but there's also a couple of songs that sound a little too much like filler for comfort.  The album closes with a good slow-burn blues song "Tea For One", but it's nothing particularly special and nothing that the band hadn't already done before.

So Presence is a bit of an underwhelming album in LZ's catalog.  It's not bad, but it's not particularly great either.

7.9

In Through The Out Door

Led Zeppelin

1979

Led Zep's last album is kind of an odd one.  It finds the band branching out somewhat and trying to incorporate some of the sounds of the era with mixed results.  Nonetheless there are a few classics to be found here, but In Through the Out Door is not really in the same league as any of their prior efforts...except for maybe Presence (albeit those albums sound quite different).  Not a bad swan song, but could have been a lot better.

8.0

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