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4 Most Essential Led Zeppelin Albums

Led Zeppelin’s influence on rock and roll transcends time, but their best albums were released between 1969 and 1973.

Classic Rock, Hard Rock, Blues Rock

You are no stranger to Led Zeppelin’s hits. Whether your town’s rock radio station has them on repeat or you recognize tracks from movie moments, Led Zeppelin’s music has become ubiquitous in pop culture due to the band’s continued influence on rock and roll.

“Classic rock” and “hard rock” are the styles that most often get tacked to their discography. In retrospect, they are now credited as early ancestors of heavy metal. However, Led Zeppelin was also heavily influenced by blues, folk, and fantasy lore, which lead to equally legendary compositions. 

Led Zeppelin was formed in 1968 following the breakup of another iconic English band, The Yardbirds. Jimmy Page was their guitarist for two years until their dissolution, then tried to form a group with fellow ex-Yardbird Jeff Beck. While plans for that project ultimately fell through, band recruitment continued and eventually resulted in Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones (bass and keyboard), John Bonham (drums), and Robert Plant (vocals). This lineup actually started as the New Yardbirds, but quickly rebranded as Led Zeppelin, which was inspired by a now-famous assumption that a Page and Beck collaboration would “go down like a lead balloon.”

Led Zeppelin released eight studio albums in 11 years until its disbandment in 1980 when John Bonham sadly passed away due to substance abuse. The surviving trio has reunited multiple times since – often with John’s son, Jason Bonham, on drums – resulting in various live albums and remasters (notably a 2020 run on 180-gram vinyl) which have kept Led Zeppelin records in demand but also accessible to new and long-time fans alike.

While their tenure as a band lasted over a decade and their influence on rock and roll is still felt today, Led Zeppelin’s best albums were released in their first five years between 1969 and 1973. All four are among the top 40 most collected albums amongst fans cataloging their music on Discogs.

Debut Album

Led Zeppelin (1969)

Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin
Blues Rock, Hard Rock
Vinyl, Album, Reissue, Remastered, Stereo, 180g

The band’s debut album (often dubbed Led Zeppelin I because of the subsequent self-titled release) was an instant hit when big-name rock bands and supergroups were battling for attention.

“Good Times, Bad Times” and “Communication Breakdown” inspired a lot of talk of “heavy” rock, but as a whole, the album is the band’s bluesiest thanks to Plant’s wailing vocals and Page’s ability to create and adapt (and in the case of “Dazed and Confused,” steal) classic scales and riffs. An original pressing of Led Zeppelin consistently has fans paying top dollar for a copy.

Sophomore Release

Led Zeppelin II (1969)

Led Zeppelin II
Led Zeppelin
Blues Rock, Classic Rock
Vinyl, LP, Album, Reissue, Remastered, Stereo, 180 Gram

The year 1969 was a busy one for the band. Led Zeppelin quickly followed up their debut with Led Zeppelin II, which was recorded while they were touring across Britain and North America.

Led Zeppelin II was even more successful with music charts and record sales, although it wasn’t well-received by critics at the time. Tracks such as “Whole Lotta Love” and solos like the one in “Heartbreaker” kept driving the early concept of heavy metal. However, “What Is And What Should Never Be” and “Ramble On” incorporated more experimental sounds and the first references to fantastical works from J.R.R. Tolkien.

Best album overall

Untitled (1971)

Led Zeppelin
Hard Rock, Classic Rock, Blues Rock
Vinyl, LP, Album, Reissue, Remastered, Stereo, Gatefold, 180 gram

Led Zeppelin’s fourth studio album is untitled, but it is also referred to as Led Zeppelin IV, Four Symbols (due to the now iconic four symbols on the back), or Zoso (due to some people’s interpretation of one of those symbols).

No matter what you call it, this masterpiece – the eighth most-collected album on Discogs – is consistently cited as Led Zeppelin’s best work and includes the quintessential “Stairway to Heaven” as well a range of songs that show some of their influences. “When the Levee Breaks” is a cover of a blues song, “Battle of Evermore” feels like a fantasy epic and features folk singer Sandy Denny, and the aptly named “Rock and Roll” is just that – a bangin’ rock and roll song.

The era of Untitled’s release spawned most of the mythic Led Zeppelin stories filled with drugs, alcohol, bad decisions, and what can only be called general debauchery.

End of an Era

Houses Of The Holy (1973)

Houses Of The Holy
Led Zeppelin
Classic Rock
Vinyl, LP, Album, Reissue, Remastered, Stereo, 180 Gram, Gatefold

Houses Of The Holy, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2023, showcases more unique arrangements from Page, Plant, Jones, and Bonham. The blend of acoustic and electronic stylings is perfectly represented in “Over The Hills And Far Away.”

Houses Of The Holy is a mild sonic departure from the more blues-inspired sound of previous records and incorporates styles like psychedelic rock  (“No Quarter”) and reggae (“D’Yer Mak’er”). Led Zeppelin also experimented with non-standard tuning and melodies that were offbeat.

This would be the last release on a major label before Led Zeppelin charted new territory with Swan Song, their own label.

More Essential Led Zeppelin Records

Led Zeppelin III
Led Zeppelin
Classic Rock, Hard Rock
Vinyl, Reissue, Remastered, 180g, Gatefold

Led Zeppelin III has “Immigrant Song,” one of the band’s most iconic tracks and one of the best openings of all time.

Physical Graffiti
Led Zeppelin
Hard Rock, Blues Rock, Folk Rock, Prog Rock
2 x Vinyl, Reissue, Remastered, 180g

Physical Graffiti is the first album released on Led Zeppelin’s own label, Swan Song, and features the orchestral “Kashmir,” which has been used countless times in film and television.

Led Zeppelin
Hard Rock, Classic Rock
Box Set, 4 x Vinyl, Remastered, 180g

Mothership is the most affordable and comprehensive box set of 180-gram vinyl records and includes all of the major hits across Led Zeppelin’s discography.

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