Deep Album Cuts Vol. 108: Led Zeppelin

I've always wanted to feature Led Zeppelin in this series, but I saw it as a daunting task because it can be so difficult to even say what's a 'deep cut' in their catalog. Most Zep albums only had one or two officially released singles with charting A-sides, but so many other tracks that were never singles have become some of their most famous songs, from "Stairway To Heaven" to "Ramble On." They've got more songs in classic rock radio rotation than any other band (Van Halen and the Rolling Stones come closest but still trail them by quite a bit). And many stations have a nightly 'Get the Led Out' block that often includes favorite album tracks that don't get played in the daytime. So I feel like I've probably heard almost every song Led Zeppelin ever made on the radio at some point, which makes this playlist a challenge. But I think I managed to pick out the best songs that are among the least played tracks from each album.

Led Zeppelin deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):
1. Celebration Day
2. Four Sticks
3. The Rain Song
4. Night Flight
5. Out On The Tiles
6. Bring It On Home
7. Hots On For Nowhere
8. Custard Pie
9. Your Time Is Gonna Come
10. Black Mountain Side
11. Hot Dog
12. The Crunge
13. South Bound Saurez
14. The Battle Of Evermore
15. Royal Orleans
16. That's The Way
17. Moby Dick
18. Ten Years Gone

Tracks 9 and 10 from Led Zeppelin (1969)
Tracks 6 and 17 from Led Zeppelin II (1969)
Tracks 1, 5 and 16 from Led Zeppelin III (1970)
Tracks 2 and 14 from Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
Tracks 3 and 12 from Houses Of The Holy (1973)
Tracks 4, 8 and 18 from Physical Graffiti (1975)
Tracks 7 and 15 from Presence (1976)
Tracks 11 and 13 from In Through The Out Door (1979)

Part of the challenge here is representing every album even though arguably every song is pretty famous on certain records. The 2 least popular tracks on IV/Zoso might be more familiar to most people than the biggest songs on Presence. And the records that there was the most to choose from aren't necessarily my favorites: III grew into a good reputation among fans, but at the time a lot of people who wanted an album full of "Whole Lotta Love"'s thought there was too many acoustic tracks, so there are plenty of songs on there that aren't too overexposed (ironically I think Presence is their least popular album for the opposite reason: by then people expected a variety of quiet and loud Zep songs by that point and instead got their heaviest record). And Physical Graffiti is the only double album in the band's catalog, so it had a lot of tracks to choose from.

I think it says a lot about Zep that I'd have to rank them high in the list of artists with the best recorded output of the 1970s even though 2 of their most hit-filled albums were released in the '60s. I remember the 1995 album Encomium: A Tribute To Led Zeppelin ended up being my weird introduction to some of their less famous songs via covers like "Out On The Tiles" by Blind Melon and "Custard Pie" by Helmet with David Yow.

Houses Of The Holy is my personal favorite, and "The Rain Song" is a big part of that, one of those songs that I'd only hear occasionally in nightly radio Zep sets and then finally figured out what it was called. It's funny to learn that Jimmy Page only wrote it in response to George Harrison telling them that they didn't have any ballads, hence the song opening with a nod to "Something." But I also really find the album's most criticized parts, the funk and reggae pastiches "The Crunge" and "D'yer Mak'er," to be really enjoyable examples of the range and elasticity of their rhythm section.

I have a lot of favorite drummers, but when it comes down to it, it's pretty hard to put anyone above John Bonham. Like Biggie Smalls, virtually every recorded performance he left behind is flawless and inspired. There are days when I feel proud of myself as a drummer, and then I'll hear something Bonham did and just feel awed by his combination of power and precision, of swing and propulsion, and think about how hard it is to measure up to that. I think Jimmy Page deserves a lot of credit for purposely putting the drums at the center of the mix on records that are typically thought of as being driven by guitars, and finding the acoustics and the ambiance to give Bonham that booming sound that really redefined how everyone recorded rock drummers from then on.

I think a lot about the old yarn that 'critics hated Led Zeppelin' and how it must have felt for a lot of rock fans, as the Beatles era was closing, to see this brutishly unsubtle, unapologetically misogynist heavy blues combo quickly becoming just about the biggest band in the world. I can certainly see how people saw them the way I look at Imagine Dragons or something now. But in retrospect, of course, Led Zeppelin invented and perfected so much in addition to the things they borrowed and stole and amplified, and their catalog is so dense and varied and emotional, especially when you compare them to the hundreds of metal and hard rock bands who based their entire careers on specific Zep songs.
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