XVII. Led Zeppelin.

What can be said? The greatest Rock and Roll band ever was a super group in every way except for the fact they actually came together before any of them had great fame and other than Jimmy Page, residence in bands of any notoriety. Armed with the best singer and greatest rhythm section in all of Rock history and a guitarist who along with coming up with the best riffs ever was actually more a genius composer and producer, Zeppelin did it all and then some in their all-too-brief eleven year career. Every cliché in Rock originates from some daring gesture on their part. Ann Wilson recently described seeing Zeppelin live in the early ‘70’s by saying all four of them were “just floating up there in the universe.” I can’t say anything more concisely correct than that.


The dam breaks open years ahead of its time. Springing full-formed from the head of Zeus himself, this is the sound of humans discovering electricity. They swing, they groove, they funk, and all of it better than everyone else. It’s amazing to contemplate that Robert Plant and John Bonham were all of nineteen while recording “Good Times Bad Times,” “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” “Dazed And Confused,” “Your Time Is Gonna Come,” and “How Many More Times.” Staggering, shocking music.


The road does something to great young bands: they either fall apart and destroy themselves or they get stronger, like broken bones healing. This follow up to the debut is the sound of the latter. They’re mad in love with each other here, in awe of what they were actually capable of doing as a group, and this masterpiece captures the atom bomb power they had found onstage right on tape. This sense of a collective dynamic is essential to understanding Zeppelin. Unlike most other bands, all four members were fully cognizant of the reality and good fortune of their situation: They were infinitely better together than they could ever be apart. If John Bonham had not choked to death in the summer of ‘80, they’d still be together. Playing like a Greatest Hits collection, Led Zep II is the invention of Classic Rock. Contained is perhaps the heaviest riff/funkiest groove of all time in the seismic shift that is “Whole Lotta Love” and maybe the most romantic vocalizing ever in the gorgeous, shimmering “Thank You.” Oh, and it’s got “What Is And What Should Never Be,” “Ramble On” and “Heartbreaker” too.


They were as heavy as it gets and had proven it with the first two, so what do you for an encore? Show your “artistic” side and let your love of Joni Mitchell shine through, of course. There’s plenty of pizzazz on side one with “Immigrant Song,” “Celebration Day,” and “Out On The Tiles,” but something deeper is glowing on side two. Jimmy Page’s mastery of all things Acoustic flowers full on “Gallows Pole,” “Bron Y-Aur Stomp,” “Tangerine” and the transcendent rainfall impression that is “That’s The Way.” More beautiful acoustic music has never been made, except maybe Joni’s own BLUE album. And we cannot overlook Robert Plant’s perhaps greatest-ever vocal performance on the shattering “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” Imagine the best of Nirvana’s IN UTERO and UNPLUGGED IN NEW YORK combined in one album and you’ve got a good picture of what was achieved here.


This is the one for the time capsule, obviously, the one where it all came together - the electric heaviness of the first two albums seasoned with the acoustic gentleness of III to make their ultimate masterpiece. This one’s got it all: The Ribald romp of “Black Dog,” the surging absurdity of “Rock and Roll,” the mandolin magic of “The Battle Of Evermore,” the greatest Rock song ever in “Stairway To Heaven,” the hippie anthem of “Misty Mountain Hop” (proving they were really a psychedelic boogie band dressed up as hard rockers more than anything, the heirs to the broken dream of Haight-Ashbury without the slovenly directionlessness), the near-perfect Joni-esque beauty of “Going To California,” the synthesizer invention and rhythmic sophistication of “Four Sticks,” and the ultimate Blooze portent and Drum Sound From Hell of “When The Levee Breaks.” When discussing Rock and Roll albums, this one should always be near the very top of the list.


An explosion of color and creativity, this is the one made after the levee broke. They were superstars now, the biggest band in the world and HOUSES is proof. Having invented their own genre of music and with “Stairway To Heaven” beginning its 30 year run at the top of Classic Rock Radio, Zep decided to have some fun with the grooves and the arrangements. Mellotron and piano, brilliant James Brown and reggae send-ups in “The Crunge” and “D’yer Mak’er” respectively, all kinds of “guitarchitecture” from maestro Jimmy Page, and the hyped-up frenzy of Robert Plant letting his voice go all helium psychedelic in classics like “Over The Hills And Far Away” and “Dancing Days.” Maybe his best lyrics and vocals ever appear in “The Rain Song.” This album, their fifth in five years, which also proves John Bonham was as much an “artist” as any of them, is easily as good as the fourth and any other album you care to mention.


It’s mind blowing to think that after five classics in a row, Zeppelin could actually top themselves again with this ultimate statement of purpose. Maybe the heaviest record of all, and one of the best double albums ever, PHYSICAL delivers in every way, a summation and celebration of everything Zeppelin was great at and loved for. The sustained tension and groove of “Kashmir” alone makes this a major event every time out, but there’s also the skewed pop shenanigans of “Houses Of The Holy” and “Trampled Underfoot.” And let us not forget the greatest twist on the blues they ever did in the monumental “In My Time Of Dying.” Oh, and then there’s “Ten Years Gone,” maybe the most beautiful song in the whole catalog. Every color, every shade, every nuance of their greatness is here in all its massive, perverse glory.


Their funkiest album, recorded in difficult days with Robert Plant recovering from a car crash that left him singing in a wheelchair, PRESENCE is under the radar, the one true Zeppelin fans usually pick when asked. The band is raging against the odds here, showing their humanness in the face of great upheaval and chaos, coming up with yet another classic. Plant’s voice had thinned out a great deal from all the touring and partying, but remained a fluid, unique tool of power and expression. The songs are all radical exercises in funk and swing rhythms, with John Bonham hammering the way forward, presenting some of his most original and inspired playing on chestnuts like “For Your Life” and “Hots On For Nowhere.” The same can be said of Page, who while reportedly deep in the shadows of heroin use, came through with the edgiest, angriest performances of his career on “Achilles Last Stand” and “Nobody‘s Fault But Mine.” The subversive tone of this album proves a blueprint for all great bands that came after: you make your masterpieces, then you dash laterally, throwing out a left-field version of what got you there in the first place. Harder to digest at first, albums like this usually thrill fans when they least expect it for years to come. Think Pink Floyd’s ANIMALS, U2’s ZOOROPA, R.E.M.’s MONSTER or Pearl Jam’s YIELD.


A defiant response to punk rock after being away for a couple of years, IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR is the sound of titans redefining their attack. There are three bona fide classics here in “In The Evening,” “Fool In The Rain,” and “All My Love,” and the rest of it ain’t bad either, especially the exotic mania of “Carouselambra.” But the incredible voice has thinned considerably and the lead guitarist/producer sounds a bit absent throughout. His playing is still great, but he’s drained. Only the drummer continues the full, unhindered assault. But this is John Paul Jones’ album musically, as there are more keyboard textures than on any other Zeppelin record; perhaps he could sense Jimmy’s fatigue and took up the slack. The use of all the synthesizer benefits the album in giving it a “modern” sound, something that translated well in 1979 with disco all over the radio, and had John Bonham not died soon after its 7 week run at number one, Zeppelin might have helped define the following decade the way they had the ‘70’s. But it was not to be, and like The Beatles before them, the greatest band of their decade came to an end with the dawn of the next one, leaving a recorded legacy of unparalleled creativity and consistency, serving as a model for any rock band who ever remotely dreamed of greatness.

If you listen very hard the tune will come to you at last.