10. “Immigrant Song” (Led Zeppelin III, 1970)
With an opening and riff as classic as either “Love” or “Dog” (and twice as violent), “Immigrant Song” also has the advantage of being under 150 seconds long, an improbably compact shore-invading assault that barely gives you time to process its ass-kicking awesomeness before it gives way to “Friends” on LZIII. Any hockey game where this song isn’t played at least once — and preferably once per goal, home or away — is not giving its attending fans the experience they deserve. (And in terms of geeky metal imagery cliches, norse mytholygy >>>> Frodo.)
9. “The Rain Song” (Houses of the Holy, 1973)
That’s the Way” is the band’s best acoustic number, but “The Rain Song” is their best ballad, a gorgeous, chiming epic that builds and unwinds itself perfectly, with strings, piano, and even mellotron all adding to the song’s stately mystique. Even without the title and “Just a little rain…” section of the song’s climax, it evokes the feeling of rain falling outside your window as well as any other song ever has, and shows that the world’s biggest band didn’t always have to go huge to achieve maximum impact.
8. “Misty Mountain Hop” (Led Zeppelin IV, 1971)
The secret weapon of the group’s best album, cleansing the palette post-“Stairway” with one of the group’s simplest, most accessible and most addictive rockers. The overstuffed verses create a tension with their mantra-like intonation, one gleefully alleviated by the sheer release of the main riff, a streamlined guitar, and electric piano wallop that keeps Plant’s raving about a late-’60s hippie bust from ever getting bogged down in flower-power dippiness or self-righteousness. It’s an absolute blast, and one of the more underrated numbers from Zep’s classic period, if such a thing is even possible.
7. “Ten Years Gone” (Physical Graffiti, 1975)
Perhaps the best Zeppelin song that radio never seemed to really get a handle on, a dark and devastating epic that lives up to the contextless drama of its title. It’s also the secret masterpiece of Jimmy Page’s ouevre, a stitching together of about a half-dozen riffs, each of which has its own unmistakable identity, somehow woven together to create the base for a surprisingly coherent masterwork of regret and unease. “It sounds like nature coming through the speakers,” Rick Rubin once said of the song, and he wasn’t wrong.
6. “When the Levee Breaks” (Led Zeppelin IV, 1971)
If John Bonham never did anything for Led Zeppelin but the first two measures of “Levee,” his place in rock history would still likely be secure. The song’s thundering intro — the famous sound of which was achieved with two mics at the other end of a staircase from the kit — has been sampled and rebuilt so many times in rock and rap history that you’d think it’d lose its impact, but when it hits as the last track on LZIV, right before Plant zooms in with that swampy harmonica blaring, it doesn’t matter how many thousands of times you’ve heard it before. The rest of the song is nearly as great, but when you have the best intro on a Led Zeppelin song — the group with more classic intros than any other rock band in history — it’s worth keeping the focus on that.
5. “Fool in the Rain” (In Through the Out Door, 1979)
A large portion of the Zep-listening population would likely bristle at the inclusion of the band’s final Top 40 hit in their all-time top five, and it’s not hard to see why. Conceptually, the song sounds disastrous: a pop song closer that’s just as much “Bennie and the Jets” as “Whole Lotta Love,” which drops out with a hissing disco whistle for an extended samba breakdown? Luckily, Led Zeppelin were really good goddamn songwriters, and “Fool” is as tight and catchy and clever as any other late-’70s crossover, with one of Plant’s finest story lyrics — a mopey tale of getting stuck in the rain waiting for a date, with the perfect last-line resolution — and an out-of-nowhere Page solo that shreds about as much as anything he did on the band’s first few albums. Ignore the haters: “Fool” is classic Zep, and shows that the band was still capable of excelling in new and interesting modes, right up until their untimely breakup the following year.
4. “Stairway to Heaven” (Led Zeppelin IV, 1973)
The most monolithic song in rock history, a song that’s no fun to write about and is occasionally no fun to even listen to. But what can you say? “Stairway” is “Stairway,” and there’ll never be another song like it. If it’s not the band’s best song, it is the one you need to have heard, the one that tells you everything about the band’s lyrical and musical infatuations, their strengths and their weaknesses, their power and their legacy. And by the end, yeah, it rocks pretty damn well too, with a Page solo consistenly ranked as the greatest in music history, and deservedly so. It might not be our favorite Zeppelin song — the Song Remains the Same doc might have permanently ruined any chances of that — but if you were to put it No. 1 on your list, we couldn’t really disagree with you.
3. “Heartbreaker” (Led Zeppelin II, 1969)
A typically searing main riff and Plant vocal for the first few verses, but “Heartbreaker” doesn’t reach its highest gear until the key shifts unexpectedly for the song’s makeshift third verse, which goes all crazy at the end (“Why’d you call me some other guy’s name / When I’m tryina make LOOOOOVEEEE TO YOUUUUU!!!”) before cutting out completely for a solo Page showcase. His playing in that section, sans accompaniment — rivaled only by “Eruption” as the most famous true guitar solo in rock history — is peerlessly electrifying, and the moment when the band kicks back in is nearly as good.
Taken in full, “Heartbreaker” is an insane mishmash of questionable ideas — hell, how many other songs can you think of that end mid-word? — but the band’s brilliance and sheer bravado carries it, making it one of their best and best-remembered songs, and proof that they could simply do things other bands could not.
2. “Kashmir” (Physical Graffiti, 1975)
The song Led Zeppelin themselves would most like you to remember them by, and for good reason. The biggest song on their biggest album in the biggest stretch of their career, “Kashmir” was, obviously, Led Zeppelin’s ultimate too-big-to-fail moment: a plodding eight-and-a-half minute journey through a faraway land that Zeppelin themselves had never even been to, a song which was either going to define them as pretentious fops whose reach far exceeded their grasp, or simply, the greatest hard-rock band in the history of recorded music.
Naturally, it did the latter, as the song stands as their most singular, hypnotic and awesome-in-the-truest-sense epic of the band’s career — though they’d have their moments in the former category soon enough. Puff Daddy caught some heat when he sampled the song for the silly “Come With Me” off of the 1998 Godzilla sountrack, but his instincts were right: The “Kashmir” riff is the sound of a gigantic green lizard wrecking a downtown metropolis, and like the rest of the song, it never ceases to amaze.
1. “Over the Hills and Far Away” (Houses of the Holy, 1973)
Why “Over the Hills”? It’s not the band’s best-known song or biggest hit. It’s not the band’s most rocking or prettiest song. It’s probably not the first song that anyone thinks of when they think of Led Zeppelin. But it is the song that best demonstrates just about everything the band does well: the unforgettable and impossible-to-pin-down opening riff, the life-affirming transition from acoustic to electric, the constant switches in tone and dynamic, the piercing solo with double-tracked climax, the impeccable interplay of guitar, bass, and drum, the inimitable Plant shrieking, the gorgeous coda, even the super-oblique title… it’s Zep through and through, checking all of the boxes and kicking your ass while doing so.
But the thing that really seals it for “Over the Hills” is the sense of wonder it inspires. Zeppelin’s greatest quality, apart from the weird time signatures and otherworldly instrumentation and teenage-male-pandering lyrics, was their ability to elevate, to make you believe that there was a secret world of higher musical understanding that only they as the Ultimate Rock Gods had access to, and which they could transport you to for three to ten minutes at a time, depending on which side of which album you were listening to.
The climax of “Over the Hills,” as the song’s main hook starts to fold in on itself, and Plant does his “You really ought to know…” wailing, as the song echoes on and on into infinity, is as wondrous as the band ever got, achieving a classic-rock nirvana that only a handful of songs in history have ever been lucky enough to be able to touch. The harpsichord outro and brief fade-in of the rest of the band that closes the song brings it back down to earth a little, but the sensation lingers on far after you’re done listening. Zeppelin rules.