Trampled Under Foot hits the shops today. Another instant classic, from one of the finest writers in his field (see Hotel California and Lowside of the Road for further evidence), it will be one of the must-read books of the year for discerning rock fans. To accompany its release, Barney has compiled a list of his own Zep favourites, which will, I’m sure, create some healthy debate … I mean, no ‘When the Levee Breaks’, really, with that drum intro? ‘Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You’ – their most magnificently overwrought song, and that’s saying something – only at #25? No ‘Tangerine’ or ‘Bron-Y-Aur Stomp’ (ok, maybe i’m giving away my bias for Led Zeppelin III with those two).
See what you think, and then turn it up!
Barney Hoskyns’ Led Zeppelin Top 30
Forget ‘Stairway to Heaven’. In fact, forget ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘Rock and Roll’ and ‘When the Levee Breaks’ too. (Certainly forget the terrible ‘Trampled Under Foot’, which serves as the title of my new oral history of Led Zeppelin.) THESE – ranked according to the sheer musical pleasure they afford – are the top tracks by the mightiest rock ‘n’ roll band of all time …
1. ‘Ramble On’ (Led Zeppelin II)
Zeppelin’s greatest song – one they barely ever played live – sums up their greatness in four and a half majestic minutes. A Tolkein-infused folk-rocker as plangently lovely as it is explosively exciting.
2. ‘The Lemon Song’ (Led Zeppelin II)
A theft/mutation of Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Killing Floor’, for some ‘The Lemon Song’ is a phallocentric joke. For me it’s a grindingly funky, irresistibly dirty demonstration of Zep at their tightest and most potently primal.
3. ‘Friends’ (Led Zeppelin III)
It scared the bejeezus out of me when I was 11. Decades later it’s my favourite unplugged Zep track, Plant’s brotherly-love lyrics beguilingly undermined by Page’s sinister Moroccan chords and Jones’ serpentine string arrangement.
4. ‘The Ocean’ (Houses of the Holy)
Counted in by a loutish-sounding Bonham, ‘The Ocean’ is an impossibly funky tour de force in alternating 4/4 and 7/8 beats, its subject the seas of people Plant routinely sang to in America’s many stadia.
5. ‘Bring It On Home’ (Led Zeppelin II)
Lopes along for a minute and a half as a downbeat harmonica blues – how it was sung by Sonny Boy Williamson – Willie Dixon’s song then erupts into life via one of Page’s most thrillingly swinging riffs. Devastatingly sexy.
6. ‘Gallows Pole’ (Led Zeppelin III)
Zep’s second-greatest (semi-)acoustic classic, ‘Gallows Pole’ channels the doomy spirit of Britfolk – Leadbelly sang it as ‘Gallis Pole’ – but builds slowly to become one of their most exciting tracks. The moment when Bonham comes in with Page’s banjo overdub still takes the breath away.
7. ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ (Houses of the Holy)
Like ‘Ramble On’, ‘Over the Hills …’ commences as a pretty acoustic pastorale before Jones and Bonham kick in and the track becomes a series of exhilarating pushes and throaty Plant exhortations. Sublime.
8. ‘Communication Breakdown’ (Led Zeppelin)
Wherein Zeppelin invent punk rock in two and a half terse minutes. Superfast metal or just the Stooges with chops? Either way it’ll blow your mind – and your ears.
9. ‘Black Dog’ (Led Zeppelin IV)
As fiendishly complex as it is lasciviously filthy, ‘Black Dog’ is something only Led Zeppelin could have conceived and executed. Blues melds with metallic funk and evolves through 97 consecutive time changes.
10. ‘Kashmir’ (Physical Graffiti)
No argument here: ‘Kashmir’ is a pinnacle of 20th Century music. Built on the same powerhouse 4/4 thwack that drove the fourth album’s ‘When the Levee Breaks’, it differs radically in its modal Arabic progression – one of Page’s most stunning achievements. Bonham is enormous, while Jones drapes the track with mesmerizing strings and mellotron, and Plant sings his bleeding heart out.
11. ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ (Led Zeppelin III)
An epic blues ballad – Bobby Blue Bland meets Python Lee Jackson – ‘Since …’ unfolds over seven and a half wrenching minutes to give us Plant’s greatest-ever vocal and (arguably) Page’s greatest-ever guitar solo.
12. ‘In My Time of Dying’ (Physical Graffiti)
Zep take an ancient song by Blind Willie Johnson and turn it into a monstrous epic of Delta dread that ups the ante set by ‘When the Levee Breaks’. Swarming Danelectro slide passages make way for propulsive funk jams that astonish to this day.
13. ‘Immigrant Song’ (Led Zeppelin III)
More evidence, should it be required, that Zep could outfunk even the Ohio Players – if the Ohio Players had ever evinced an interest in Vikings (or wielded the hammer of the gods).
14. ‘The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair’ (BBC Sessions)
One of the treasures unearthed from the BBC session Zep cut in 1969, ‘The Girl …’ is a combustively funky Sleepy John Estes blues in the vein of ‘The Lemon Song’. It rocks.
15. ‘Whole Lotta Love’ (Led Zeppelin II)
Rock music never sounded truly heavy or menacing until this came out in 1969. If ‘Whole Lotta Love’ didn’t change popular music, it indisputably invented Metal. Yet once again it’s as funky as it’s powerful – the element that many miss about Zeppelin. Jack White says Page’s short solo after the Theremin-freakout section is the greatest ever, and I’m disposed to agree.
16. ‘Good Times, Bad Times’ (Led Zeppelin)
The track that presaged everything – and announced there was a new force in town. Nobody could have heard the first song on Led Zeppelin – driven by Bonham’s superhuman bass-drum rolls – and not known the future had arrived.
17. ‘In the Light’ (Physical Graffiti)
One of Zep’s most deeply sinister epics, ‘In the Light’ commences with trippy keyboard extemporizing from Jones before lurching into a slow, relentless groove that you into a dark demonic hole. Plant valiantly tries to cheer things up but to no avail: we all just want to sink back into Page’s darkness.
18. ‘What Is and What Should Never Be’ (Led Zeppelin II)
A perfect instance of Page’s ‘light-and-shade’ dynamics, Zep II‘s second track starts like a dreamy Doors song before Bonzo crashes in for the thunderous B-verse. Hard to believe this was recorded in 1969.
19. ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ (Presence)
Zep did the Delta-dread thing one last time on the underwhelming Presence, and arguably it’s their last great track – picking up where ‘In My Time of Dying’ left off and turning Blind Willie Johnson’s gospel blues into another frenetic slice of metallic funk.
20. ‘I Can’t Quit You, Baby’ (Coda)
Saved for 1982′s leftovers album, this live version of the Otis Rush number from Led Zeppelin was captured during a soundcheck for Zep’s January 1970 show at the Albert Hall. For sheer unadulterated 12-bar blues power beats the studio track hands down.
21. ‘When the Levee Breaks’ (Led Zeppelin IV)
22. ‘The Battle of Evermore’ (Led Zeppelin IV)
23. ‘Rock and Roll’ (Led Zeppelin IV)
24. ‘Sick Again’ (Physical Graffiti)
25. ‘Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You’ (Led Zeppelin)
26. ‘Ten Years Gone’ (Physical Graffiti)
27. ‘Going to California’ (Led Zeppelin IV)
28. ‘That’s the Way’ (Led Zeppelin III)
29. ‘You Shook Me’ (Led Zeppelin)
30. ‘Moby Dick’ (Led Zeppelin II)
Barney Hoskyns’ Trampled Under Foot: The Power and Excess of Led Zeppelin is available now.