Noticed that, of the 18 folks inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame more than once, the list includes Crosby, Stills, Nash AND Young; three Beatles; and three guitarists for the Yardbirds: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page.
Since I never bought a Yardbirds album until after the group broke up, I wasn’t really familiar with Page until the group that evolved from the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, came out with its first album in 1969.
Here’s an interesting, and applicable, quote of Jimmy Page about what “he wanted Led Zeppelin to be, from the very beginning:
“‘I had a lot of ideas from my days with The Yardbirds. The Yardbirds allowed me to improvise a lot in live performance and I started building a textbook of ideas that I eventually used in Zeppelin. In addition to those ideas, I wanted to add acoustic textures. Ultimately, I wanted Zeppelin to be a marriage of blues, hard rock, and acoustic music topped with heavy choruses – a combination that had never been done before. Lots of light and shade in the music.”
And so it was.
I’ve already discussed my affection for, and irritation with, Zeppelin, especially Page and vocalist Robert Plant, so I guessed I’d list my 20 favorite songs by the group, not the best ones necessarily. Except…
Strange that my affection for songs by Led Zeppelin usually depends on what I’ve listened to most recently. Except for the #20 song, the ranking here is fairly arbitrary.
Links are to all songs, which WERE working at the time of compilation. Citations are to the albums I, II, III, IV, Physical Graffiti (PG), and Houses of the Holy (HotH)
20. Stairway to Heaven (IV) – yeah, I know that it has that building energy, a great Page guitar intro, it’s technically impressive. But I just ODed on it, I’m afraid. Still leaving it off the list would be an injustice. You would think it was released as a single, but oddly, only as a promo.
19. Houses of the Holy (PG). Strangely left off the Houses of the Holy album, it shows up on the next album. I find the beat seems to change on me. Something about the groove is infectious.
18. Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You (I) – starts off as a sweet song, actually, that reportedly is a paean to Joan Baez, who had recorded a version. Then moves to the more plaintive, driving sections. Back and forth – think I like the schizoid nature of the performance.
17. Celebration Day (III) – bluesy in an off-balanced manner.
16. Trampled Under Foot (PG) – lives on the funky bottom. This was released as a single and actually got to #38 in 1975.
15. Immigrant Song (III) – a slab of unrelenting metal that starts a generally more quiet and reflective album. Notably, it has no guitar solo, which allowed it to be released as a single and get up to #16 in early 1971.
14. Gallows Pole (III) – I knew this song first as performed by Leadbelly. Love the guitar, and the musical interlude.
13. Rock and Roll (IV) – actually a loud blues number, and often used as the band’s concert opener. Only got to #47 as a single in 1972.
12. The Ocean (HotH)- a great outlet for the bass/drum combo of John Paul Jones and John Bonham.
11. Black Dog (IV) – “Hey hey, mama, said the way you move, gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove.” Went to #15 in early 1972.
10. In My Time of Dying (PG) – rather like putting church through the heavy metal grinder. At 11 minutes, their longest song
9. Whole Lotta Love (II) – a great hook, great vocals. Nicked a Willie Dixon song, which wasn’t uncommon for them. Tom Skulan of FantaCo used to describe the pronunciation of his last name from the second line of this song, “I’m gonna send ya back to schoolin'”. Their biggest single, it went to #4 in the beginning of 1970.
8. Communications Breakdown (I) – there is a guy named Lefty Brown who used to organize a mixed CD exchange. I started one of the discs with this song – this feels so urgent – followed by Barabajagal by Donovan, featuring Jeff Beck. I think they go well together.
7. The Battle of Evermore (IV) – a softer side of the group, with a mandolin (I think), which would have fit on the third album.
6. How Many More Times (I) – it’s a fascinating pastiche of rocking blues, which segues into some psychedelic thing. I remember my copy of the original LP listed the running time as 3:30, reportedly so that radio DJs would play it before realizing it was five minutes longer.
5. Kashmir (PG) – it has this exotic sound, peculiar meter, awash with strings and horns. I’ve seen this song on lists of the best LZ song, and it may well be.
4. What Is, and What Should Never Be (II) – like many of my favorite LZ songs, it changes moods, from contemplative to rocking.
3. Good Times, Bad Times (I) – the first song from the first album hooked me instantly. As a single in 1969, before the album was released, it got only to #80 on the charts.
2. Friends (III) – this is the second song on the album after Immigrant Song suggested that the group was going to have another album rather like the first two. Instead, they went into a more melodic direction which led to the album being their worst seller. But I always liked it a lot.
1. Four Sticks (IV) – the song drives about in hypnotic fashion, changing time signatures frequently, from 5/4 to 6/8 to who knows what. The lyrics are banal, but it’s the beat that hooked me.