March Through Time: Led Zeppelin

When I was a kid, I didn’t “get” Led Zeppelin. In those days, they were so ubiquitous on the radio that there was no reason, I believed, to buy their records even if you did like ‘em. It wasn’t until the release of In Through the Out Door that I was won over. And it was John Paul Jones’ synthesizer work in particular that drew me in. That led to a reverse-chronological discovery of their work, deep-dive style. Here’s one in the proper order.

  • Led Zeppelin (1969) – Rising from the ashes of the Yardbirds, the new group effectively redraws the face of hard rock. An essential album.
  • Led Zeppelin II (1969) – Subtlety – a quality in short supply on the debut – rears its head here, and to good effect. Viewed with something approaching objectivity, the second album is a more balanced offering, pointing toward the future. For better and (mostly) worse, less-nuanced bands would rush to fill the void of monochromatic hard rock.
  • Led Zeppelin III (1970) – Even more subtlety, and lots of acoustic guitar. An underrated gem.
  • Untitled aka Led Zeppelin IV (1971) – The one everybody knows, and by heart. It’s popular for a reason, but one has to admit it’s been overplayed.
  • Houses of the Holy (1973) – Their finest hour (or nearly an hour). All of the band’s strengths are on brilliant display, and JPJ’s peerless keyboard work establishes itself as the heart, the core of the music. “The Rain Song” is transcendent.
  • Physical Graffiti (1975) – Ad is so often the case with double LPs, it’s a bit overstuffed, but at its best it’s the equal of its predecessor.
  • The Song Remains the Same (1976) – Tedious, overblown, pretentious, indulgent and often boring. Stick to the studio releases. If you need a live set, track down the vastly superior How the West Was Won.
  • Presence (1976) – The one most people haven’t heard, it’s a less immediate offering. But Presence isn’t histrionic, and it grows on the listener if one lets it.
  • In Through the Out Door (1979) – A triumph. Had they known it was their last, they couldn’t have done any better than this masterwork. I even like “Hot Dog.”
  • Coda (1982) – An odds and sods set that doesn’t hold up against the others, and isn’t mean to. But if you’re gonna build a collection, go ahead and get it, and appreciate it for what it’s worth.