Led Zeppelin (1969)
“What Is” (What Works): The songs that showcased the band’s raw power. At their core, “Good Times Bad Times” and “Communication Breakdown” are pop songs, but for 1969, they were seriously heavy slabs of hard rock — a risky choice for a debut single, in retrospect. The music-consuming public was hardly ready for Robert Plant’s wail and John Bonham’s drumming, which were the muscle behind the pragmatic skill of Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. The loud-soft buildups in “Dazed and Confused” and the brooding “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” are also notable, hinting at the band’s immense songwriting talents.
“And What Should Never Be” (Black Sheep of the Album): The call-and-response between Plant and Page on “You Shook Me” is iconic and would be a signature of live shows, but it’s repetitious on the record. And the other Willie Dixon cover here, “I Can’t Quit You Baby”, sounds almost exactly the same — a slight variation on the blues scale — though it is more concise and memorable. The only truly inessential track is the instrumental toss-off “Black Mountain Side”, which would have been a nice nugget on the recently released reissue but comes off as filler on an otherwise legendary tracklist.
Plagiarizing the blues? The token jab against Zeppelin is that they ripped off the old bluesmen like Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf, lifting riffs and arrangements. It would be more reasonable to consider them a progression of the form rather than copycats, but Plant and Page should’ve at least credited those from which they borrowed ideas (e.g., Jake Holmes not being on the LP’s original credits despite the obvious influence his original “Dazed and Confused” had on Zep’s version).
“I Can’t Quit You Baby” (Most Addicting Song): The opening chords and subsequent drum fill in “Good Times Bad Times” are the stuff of legend — a perfect way to launch the career of the greatest hard rock band ever. An instantly memorable, endlessly enjoyable gem.
“In My Time of Dying” (Best Funeral Song): “Your Time Is Gonna Come” builds to an uplifting climax of gospel harmonizing. It’s also the only song on the album that would sound appropriate at a funeral unless you want to be a cold bastard and play “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” for all your weeping relatives.
“We’re Gonna Groove” (Danciest Track): “How Many More Times” touts one helluva bass line, and its swing-inflected rhythms make it the obvious choice for a dance number.
Cover art ranking: No. 1. The immortal Hindenburg shot. The definitive Led Zeppelin sleeve and one of the greatest album covers of all time.