I initially tried to compile a top 10, but that proved nearly impossible. Say what you will about the band. Their ideas weren't always original, but their executions always became the standard. Here was a band with talent, range, and tight trousers, who over the course of six albums put forth some of the most timeless pop music of all time.
These were the low points.
These were the low points.
5.) "The Crunge"
Houses of the Holy might be my least favorite Zeppelin album from this period (this one or the debut LP). I can't really hold it against the band for attempting something of a departure from the masterpiece of their definitive fourth album. After all, what else were the world's greatest pop musicians to do next other than immediately rebel against that perceived definition? Think of U2's 1987 masterpiece The Joshua Tree. What came next? It was 1988's divisive Rattle and Hum. With Houses of the Holy, Led Zeppelin certainly proved their versatility, as well as their willingness and ability to adapt to other genres of rock music. “The Rain Song” proved the band could craft a moving ballad (even if Jones's Mellotron anchored the song inescapably in a kind of smooth-rock 1970s time capsule). “D'yer Mak'er” used reggae for the basis of what became a fine Zeppelin staple.
I think I have less enthusiasm for “The Crunge,” which was the band's three-minute take on James Brown funk. Yes, Led Zeppelin could even do funk.
My reservations have nothing to do with the band's talent—clearly. It's more a matter of authenticity. In other words, why listen to the tribute when you can listen to the real thing? There's a similar reason why I don't really care for Rattle and Hum's take on Harlem blues, nor its gospel reinterpretation of U2's own “I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.” Houses of the Holy is a better followup album than U2's, but this closing track of its first half comes off as its most purely imitational.
4.) "Thank You"
There's nothing wrong with love. Really. There's also nothing wrong with Robert Plant singing about it—and, no, I'm not talking about “The Lemon Song.”
“Thank You” is a song that evokes the timelessness of love—love as a force that can withstand mountains crumbling to the sea. And while Otis Redding and Ben E. King may have used the same imagery to better effect years earlier, “Thank You” at least demonstrated the band had more to offer than machismo and innuendo.
The real reason this one makes the list has more to do with an unfortunate tendency for me to associate John Paul Jones' delicate organ playing with English fantasy, which I don't think is too much of a stretch given the allusion to J.R.R. Tolkein in other Zeppelin songs. The song could pretty easily have ended at the 3:00 mark. Instead it continues on for almost an extra two minutes with that delicate little organ music. And suddenly my mind drifts to a magical land beyond time, where elves and fairies flitter through the woods and fields. Worse still is my mental association with the movie This is Spinal Tap—itself a parody of the rockstar mythos pioneered by the likes of Led Zeppelin—as I picture a miniature Stone Henge lowering slowly toward the stage.
3.) "Black Country Woman"
I might be tempted to consider Physical Graffiti a sort of ripe tree for selecting the bad fruits of the Zeppelin discography. It's a good album, sure, but it's a double album, and one that got stuffed with plenty of holdover tracks that hadn't fit on the previous releases.
Like any Zeppelin album, this one has its gems, the sprawling “In My Time of Dying” that felt like a logical evolution or matured reinventing of the 60's psychedelia first explored in “Dazed and Confused.” It had “Boogie With Stu,” which sounds to me like a saloon stomp version of the fourth album's “Rock and Roll”—its whisky-drunk country cousin perhaps (listen to them both in sequence and tell me if you disagree).
“Black Country Woman” is the song that immediately follows “Boogie,” and it's the penultimate track of the album. As its namesake implies, it continues the country vibe as a simple little acoustic jam, only in this case John Bonham comes in at about a quarter of the way through to lay down a no-frills rock beat.
I think part of the problem for me is that opening “Hey, hey, mama” line, which gets repeated with some variation through the rest of the song. We already have a Zeppelin song that begins with “Hey, hey, mama,” whose song title also starts with the word “black” but is a much better song. “Black Country Woman” strikes me as what happens when a bunch of rock legends get together just looking to record something off the cuff. Hell, they even left the airplane on the track. But it's bread and butter from a band who we know can give us prime rib in heaps.
2.) "I Can't Quit You Baby"
As a debut album, Led Zeppelin did what it needed to do, which was to showcase the chops of England's newest rock supergroup. It did this almost entirely by recycling (if not ripping off) songs from other artists, primarily Jimmy Page's former supergroup, The Yardbirds. The inclusion of this song on the list was almost a tossup with the album's third track, “You Shook Me.” Both of them are pretty standard blues ballads. And, to be perfectly fair, both are pretty good. But by the time “I Can't Quit You Baby” arrives on the album, it feels like we've already heard it. And when you hear the two songs side by side, “You Shook Me” is decidedly the superior track. For one, it cements the Page-Plant dynamic as they match each other note for note. But it also showcases everyone's talents, with a sweet organ solo from Jones, followed by some excellent Plant harmonica and a Page guitar solo that climaxes to great effect at about the 4:18 mark, complimented by one of the first great Bonham drum fills. And then the track transitions perfectly into “Dazed and Confused.”
“I Can't Quit You Baby” feels more like the Page and Bonham show. The true giant that Led Zeppelin would become had yet to awaken. Their trademark brand of rock and roll was in chrysalis, with Page at the epicenter of that cocoon running laps around those blues scales, feeding his power. “I Can't Quit You Baby” makes the list because even when the band later returned to this same sort of improvisational blues with III's “Since I've Been Loving You,” everything was so much more amplified by comparison. The instrumentation was denser, grittier, with a pathos as crippling and tangible as Atlas under the weight of a planet.
1. "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You"
This singer can't make up his mind. He's gonna leave you, woman. For reals. He can't take it anymore. Dude's a dude, and he's gotta ramble. Then again … he ain't never gonna leave you.
Maybe the song is just too repetitive. I like how it begins with Page's finger-picking folk riff, his reworking of a Joan Baez tune. It's got a nice movement to it. It kind of goes up and down, back and forth—like Plant's lyrics. And then the song gets hard. The listener realizes all the tension brewing underneath the surface wasn't necessarily a bluff. Or was it?
The song falls back to the soft part. Then it goes back to heavy. It's a dynamic, but not a terribly interesting one—not for such a long song. All the while, Plant's vocal delivery begins to really grate, particularly at the 4:30 mark when Plant belts out the most maudlin lyric of the entire Zeppelin discography: “We're gonna go walkin' through the park every day!” It seems so off kilter, almost ad-lib. Maybe it was. But did he really just say that? Who is this pansy? And there you have it, the worst Led Zeppelin song.
Am I right? Am I way off? Leave a comment.
Am I right? Am I way off? Leave a comment.