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Led Zeppelin Albums: Ranked from Worst to Best

Led Zeppelin III

Led Zeppelin are the archetypal hard rock band. They streamlined the sound of 1960s rock bands like Cream and The Who; an important innovation was John Bonham’s crisp, groove based drumming, which contrasted with the busy style of The Who’s Keith Moon and Cream’s Ginger Baker. Led Zeppelin continuously delved into new styles – they emerged from The Yardbirds, a 1960s blues band, but they also explored English folk and progressive rock, and delved into reggae and disco.

All four members were supremely talented – Jimmy Page was a brilliant guitarist, with many memorable riffs, but he was also an amazing producer, and Led Zeppelin’s albums still sound amazing. Robert Plant was a commanding front man, and Bonham’s powerful drumming propelled the band. John Paul Jones is often the overlooked member, but his bass playing was always excellent, and his skills on keyboards and other instruments coloured the band’s material.

The most important distinction in Led Zeppelin’s discography is that their work can be divided into two tiers – their first six studio albums are all essential, while their final two are good, but less focused and weaker. The group became distracted by external issues – Plant was involved in a serious car accident and lost a young son to a stomach virus, while Page and Bonham both struggled with addictions as the 1970s wore on. The group disbanded in 1980 after Bonham’s death.

Here are Led Zeppelin’s eight studio albums, ranked from worst to best.

In Through The Out Door

Led Zeppelin In Through the Out Door

#8, 1979
With Page and Bonham struggling with addictions, Plant and Jones were the main creative forces behind Led Zeppelin’s final studio album. In Through The Out Door opens with a reassuringly muscular Led Zeppelin rocker, ‘In The Evening’, but thereafter it largely stakes out new territory – the pop oriented ‘All Of My Love’, the Latin fusion on ‘Fool in the Rain’, and ten minutes of unwieldy disco-prog on ‘Carouselambra’.


Presence

Led Zeppelin Presence

#7, 1976
After a series of triumphs, Led Zeppelin’s seventh album was disappointing. It features impressively tight playing from a well oiled group, but compared to previous albums, it’s light on great material. That’s certainly not true of the opener – the ten minute of ‘Achilles Last Stand’ are intense, and it ranks among the group’s very finest songs.


Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin 1969 Debut

#6, 1969
We’re into the heavy hitters now. Led Zeppelin’s blues based debut has gained stature over the years, and it’s often cited as their second best album, behind 1971’s IV. I gravitate towards the band’s more expansive, creative later works, but there’s no denying the power of songs like ‘Dazed And Confused’ and ‘Good Times, Bad Times’. The gentle psychedelia of ‘Your Time Is Gonna Come’ has a 1960s flavour like nothing else in their catalogue.


Led Zeppelin IV

Led Zeppelin IV Zoso

#5, 1971
Led Zeppelin IV is the most highly regarded Led Zeppelin record – it’s home to their best known song, ‘Stairway to Heaven’. But ‘Stairway’, and the album’s other epic piece, the thumping blues closer ‘When The Levee Breaks’, tower over the other songs. There are other excellent tracks, like the stop-start opener ‘Black Dog’ and the pretty, acoustic ‘Going To California’, but IV is one of Led Zeppelin’s less consistent efforts from their prime.


Led Zeppelin II

Led Zeppelin II

#4, 1969
There’s a confident swagger on Led Zeppelin’s second album, with monstrous riff rockers like ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and ‘Heartbreaker’. The band are becoming more ambitious – ‘What Is and What Should Never Be’ is an excellent mini-epic – and embracing rock star moves like the long drum solo on ‘Moby Dick’.


Led Zeppelin III

Led Zeppelin III

#3, 1970
Robert Plant cut his teeth in the band Hobbstweedle, and Led Zeppelin’s third album explores English folk. But while acoustic folk like ‘Tangerine’ and ‘Gallows Pole’ are the dominant mode, there’s also the savage opener ‘Immigrant Song’ and the stunning blues ballad ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’.


Physical Graffiti

Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti

#2, 1975
The double album Physical Graffiti combines new songs with outtakes from previous records. It’s not flawless, but it’s packed with great songs. There are epics; the huge blues of ‘In My Time of Dying’, the eastern ‘In The Light’, and the pounding beat and strings of ‘Kashmir’. ‘Trampled Underfoot’ explores a Stevie Wonder funk groove, while the brief ‘Bron-Yr-Aur’ is a gorgeous guitar instrumental.


Houses of the Holy

Led Zeppelin Houses of the Holy

#1, 1973
Houses of the Holy is Led Zeppelin’s most relaxed and playful album. The James Brown parody ‘The Crunge’ and the reggae of ‘D’yer Maker’ are among the group’s distracting detours, but they’re surrounded by stunning tracks. Opener ‘The Song Remains The Same’ layers squadrons of Jimmy Page guitar tracks, while ‘Over The Hills and Far Away’ blends acoustic folk and charging rock just as effectively as ‘Stairway to Heaven’. Houses of the Holy features two outstanding, moody progressive rock epics, ‘The Rain Song’ and ‘No Quarter’, while closing ‘The Ocean’ is a terrific riff rocker.

Led Zeppelin’s catalogue is so strong that ranking their top six records isn’t easy. Do you have a favourite? How would you rank them?

38 thoughts on “Led Zeppelin Albums: Ranked from Worst to Best Leave a comment

  1. I would have IV at #1 followed by Physical Graffiti.. after that I would have to give it serious thought then #7 In Through The Outdoor and #8 Presence

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  2. Your software appears to have a glitch in that it has incorrectly stated the order of these albums. {snort} Let me now gently make some corrections:

    8. Presence
    7. In Through The Out Door
    6. Houses of the Holy
    5. Led Zep III
    4. Led Zep II
    3. Physical Graffiti
    2. Led Zep IV
    1. Led Zeppelin

    I think the differences between us – and maybe I’m out on a limb here – is that perhaps I’m a bigger fan of their bluesy side and blues in general. And also that I’ve re-evaluated III upwards over time. But I think the big drop-off in quality really doesn’t happen till after ‘Houses.’

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    • Your order is much closer to consensus, and you’re right – I’m not a big blues fan. Although with IV, I really like the bluesy stuff on that one (Levee and Black Dog are the bluesiest tracks, right?), but it’s some of the other stuff that doesn’t work for me. I think we discussed recently how III would be much more accessible with Hey Hey What Can I Do, instead of Hats Off To Harper.

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      • Yeah, on that album those are the bluesiest without really being blues. Zep I and II are dripping with blues. III’s got one, “Holy” exactly zero. After that they manage to have maybe one blues per album if that. Page is a hell of a blues player. But if you’re a good musician, unless you’re a blues purist it can be a limiting genre. That’s why Tull got away from it. It’s been quite some time since rock bands were blues-heavy and the current generation (indie and whatnot) sound like they never heard of blues. It’s largely – but not entirely – disappearing with my generation as a force. Plus or minus your random Gary Clark, Joe Bonamassa or Black Keys. And we haven’t had a mainstream bluesman with broad popularity since SRV died in 1990. That’s a generation ago.

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        • Often it feels like rock music need to be grounded in traditional music forms to work well – I feel like a lot of modern rock music has got too far from the blues etc, so it’s sterile.

          Pop being sterile works fine, and heavy metal is intrinsically sterile as well, but rock and roll needs a bit of rawness in it to work, I think. Indie tends to draw more on folk music.

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  3. I would go 1, 2, Physical Graffiti and the rest I’m really not fond of.
    What I love about the first album is the sense of joy; you can really hear them loving playing together, particularly on You Shook Me. And that’s without the technical advantage Jimmy Page revealed: the vinyl album was pressed with extra wide grooves which provided more volume. Notice how close to the centre the grooves go. Just the thing to make your Dad jump out of his skin when you put on Good Times Bad Times.
    The second, with the ineffable Whole Lotta Love and What is and What Should Never Be, comes a close second.
    I’m afraid the third was a profound disappointment to me as a young man eagerly awaiting it.
    And the fourth isn’t much better: Stairway is the most overrated song in all of rock music and if you really listen to the lyrics, don’t they make you want to throw up? Twee, pretentious nonsense. Robert Plant should be ashamed of himself. But in the early days, How Many More Times, Dazed and Confused etc: now you’re talking. In my humble opinion.

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  4. I’m happy you had III pretty high…I like that album better than the first two. I like the light and heavy… I would have to put IV on top because I thought they mixed the light and heavy the best on that album…although I’m more than tired of it.

    It is hard ranking them.

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  5. I’m a fan of IV. A big fan. It’s the album that turned me onto Led Zeppelin and I’ve never tired of hearing it. So many good tunes and When The Levee Breaks is my favourite Zeppelin tune.

    If I was pushed to rank them, I’d go:

    1. IV
    2. Houses of the Holy
    3. Physical Graffiti
    4. II
    5. III
    6. I

    The last two could go in any order really. I don’t care for them enough to be familiar enough to rank them.

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  6. I can never agree with any Zeppelin write-ups that talk about “worst” when just about everything they recorded was essential or close to it. No two albums sound alike, and once you get past the first couple of albums no two songs sound alike. Perhaps they’re an example of “you had to be there,” and anyone born 10 years after me will have a completely different perspective. The general consensus that Presence and In Through The Out Door are lesser efforts is flawed, in my opinion. Historical context is essential, both within the band and what was going on musically at the time of each record. Also, “Fool In The Rain” is “pop oriented”? Between Bonham’s modified Purdie Shuffle and the Stan Kenton-esque breakdown section, there’s funk & Latin-jazz in the DNA of that song. Nice to see Houses Of The Holy at the top of your list. That’s a pleasant surprise…and certainly worthy. I agree with most of your appraisals but obviously we digress when talking about the “lesser” albums (of which there are none). Cheers.

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    • Worst to best is basically a series name – I’m kind of stuck with it now. I agree that it doesn’t really apply to Led Zeppelin, as they broke up before they released anything that was especially poor.

      I do think the last two albums (asides from Achilles Last Stand) are a big step down, but I understand that there are other fans who don’t agree. My real life friend always talks about those last two albums, but I always thought it was because he burned out on the other ones when he was younger.

      I did mean “pop” in the sense that it’s lighter than their other work, but I’ve adjusted my description a little based on your feedback.

      Thanks for writing in and providing thoughtful feedback!

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  7. Nice to see you placed Led Zep III so high on your list. It’s probably my #1. I like the folk emphasis, and I believe most fans of Zep tend to be headbangers and therefore don’t appreciate the acoustic qualities.

    My thoughts: they started off with a bang on those first two albums, then peaked with III and IV, then went steadily downhill. I’ll have to one day revisit Houses and Graffiti, though.

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      • Oh, I disagree. “Hey Hey” is a nice song, but “Hats Off” is a powerful update of Delta bluesman Bukka White’s classic “Shake ’em On Down,” with great slide by Page and weird, altered vocals by Plant. Have you heard the original? If you like blues, this was one of the band’s best blues covers, in my opinion.

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        • I googled “worst led zeppelin songs”, and on the first couple of results, ‘Hats Off To (Roy) Harper” was prominent. It is pretty out there, I like Led Zeppelin because they tried things – there’s some pretty weird stuff on most of their albums apart from I, II, and IV; probably not a coincidence that those are the most popular.

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        • You’re right, Zep did “try things,” which sets them apart from so many heavy metal bands that came later. I evidently deviate from the Google results for “Hats Off”! (not unusual) It’s not as digestible as other Zep songs, at least to your average “headbanger” (not to criticize headbangers). My musical diet (like yours, from what I can gather) covers country blues, jazz, folk, psychedelia, and a lot more. Another example: I find “Gallows Pole” much more interesting than “Whole Lotta Love.”

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        • I like Gallows Pole a lot. Led Zeppelin were definitely interesting because they tried things – it’s a positive trait. People tend to like the less diverse ones – I, II, and IV are their most “normal” records.

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  8. I think we’ve had a few Led conversations. I’m always throwing them on for a spin. I rotate the albums but the first one seems to be played the most but a few others are pretty close. All goes in moods and feels Aphoristical. I think I’ve said this before but I get a urge for ‘Coda’ once in a while. The first cut just has something I dig.

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    • I’ve never actually heard Coda. I have been using Spotify recently to check out lesser albums in artists-I’ve-covered discographies, so I should add Coda to the list. Just caught up on XTC’s first two albums.

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      • It was a bunch of outtakes. Like Springsteen’s ‘Tracks’, Townsend’s ‘Scoop’ you can hear what sessions the cuts are from. Similar to your quizzes it’s is kinda cool to pick the album session or year (roughly) they were recorded.
        (How did the early XTC’s hit you?)

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        • I know – that’s why I haven’t bothered. I do kind of like the 8 studio albums as they are – it’s a nearly perfect run, really, and I haven’t felt like diluting it with live stuff or outtakes.

          I don’t like the early XTC stuff as much – I think they got a whole lot better when they picked up Dave Gregory.

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        • I guess I like them (outtakes) because they catch the vibe of the creativeness at the time. You can only put so many (back then with the vinyl) on an album. We can guess why they were left off or read the liner notes. ‘Coda’ has a couple of those hard rock early numbers they did. That was when I first heard them. I also have a BBC sessions recording I like a lot. You know I generally stay away from the rating thing but ‘Outdoor’ is the album I listen to the least.
          I think I’m with you on the XTC stuff but I always like to explore musical ideas from bands I like. Especially when they are trying to find their sound.

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