Ranking The Songs From ‘Led Zeppelin IV’
via Led Zeppelin/YouTube
“Led Zeppelin IV” is the band’s crowning achievement. With just eight songs, this LP became integral to the development of heavy metal. And Led Zeppelin is in fine form – showcasing their musical genius and virtuosity with every number. It’s one of those rare albums that doesn’t have a weak moment. From start to end, the entire LP is oozing with brilliance.
Now it’s time to rank the songs.
8. Four Sticks
Led Zeppelin never shied away from complex music and this one is no exception. It was difficult to record especially with its unusual time signature. Drummer John Bonham played it with two drumsticks in each hand, hence “Four Sticks”, and he only did two takes of the track because according to guitarist Jimmy Page, “it was physically impossible for him to do another.” They only played this live once – during their stop in Denmark for their European Tour in 1970.
7. Going To California
This ballad easily stands out in their catalog because of its folk-style sound and also, Bonzo sat this one out. It was originally titled “Guide to California” and was about Californian earthquakes. Page and frontman Robert Plant drew inspiration from Joni Mitchell’s “California”. Plant later revealed to SPIN magazine that it wasn’t his proudest moment as a songwriter. He said that it “might be a bit embarrassing at times lyrically, but it did sum up a period of my life when I was 22.”
6. Misty Mountain Hop
Because Plant often included references to J.R.R. Tolkien’s works in their songs, most people believed the track was about the Misty Mountains in “The Hobbit.” But Plant explained, “It’s about a bunch of hippies getting busted, about the problems you can come across when you have a simple walk in the park on a nice sunny afternoon. In England it’s understandable, because wherever you go to enjoy yourself, ‘Big Brother’ is not far behind.”
5. The Battle Of Evermore
Speaking of J.R.R. Tolkien references, the lyrics contain references to “The Lord of the Rings”. It features singer Sandy Denny who recorded a duet with Plant – it’s the only Led Zeppelin song with a guest vocalist. To thank her for her participation, she was given a symbol on the LP’s sleeve. Plant told Uncut magazine in 1995, “[F]or me to sing with Sandy Denny was great. We were always good friends with that period of Fairport Convention. Richard Thompson is a superlative guitarist. Sandy and I were friends, and it was the most obvious thing to ask her to sing on ‘The Battle of Evermore’. If it suffered from naivete and tweeness—I was only 23—it makes up for it in the cohesion of the voices and the playing.”
4. Rock And Roll
Featuring the Rolling Stones keyboardist Ian Stewart, the song developed from an impromptu jam session while they were trying to finish “Four Sticks”. The tape was rolling when Bonzo played the drum intro from Little Richard’s Keep A-Knockin'” and Page blasted out a Chuck Berry-style guitar riff. They had the track’s foundation in less than 30 minutes and then recorded it within an hour.
3. Black Dog
Bassist John Paul Jones came up with the main riff and his first version was too complex – he said, “It was originally all in 3/16 time, but no one could keep up with that.” Named after the black Labrador Retriever that wandered the grounds around the Headley Grange studios, its complexity was a testament to their musicianship.
2. Stairway To Heaven
Undoubtedly the most popular track on the album, it didn’t take long for Plant to come up with the lyrics. He remembered, “I was holding a pencil and paper, and for some reason I was in a very bad mood. Then all of a sudden my hand was writing out the words, ‘There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold/And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.’ I just sat there and looked at the words and then I almost leapt out of my seat.”
1. When The Levee Breaks
Originally by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie, Led Zeppelin reworked the song and gave it a hard rock makeover with Bonzo’s drumming as the highlight. It was difficult to play in a live setting and they performed it just twice. His son Jason Bonham told Q magazine, “It’s the drum intro of the Gods. You could play it anywhere and people would know it’s John Bonham.”