Ranking the Best 5 Album-Opening Songs by Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin did a lot of things very well during their time together. One underrated accomplishment: They really knew how to jump-start an album. When they kicked into gear on Side One, Track One, you could usually expect something very special.

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To illustrate our point, here are five album-openers for Zep that any band would love to have created. We’re even going to rank them for you.

5. “In the Evening” from In Through the Out Door (1979)

First off, In Through the Out Door is a lot better than you remember it. You just have to go into it expecting a different band, one led by Robert Plant’s and John Paul Jones’ musical tendencies, rather than those of Jimmy Page and John Bonham, both of whom weren’t as active on the record. But “In the Evening” is one song where everyone brings the thunder. Page’s main riff is pretty much the foundational element of the song, as they keep coming back to it after brief deviations. Smart move, because it’s strong enough to support a lot.

4. “Good Times, Bad Times” from Led Zeppelin I (1969)

Zep relied on outside writers and covers on that first record more than on any subsequent efforts. But the leadoff track is an original credited to all four members, which is fitting because their individual efforts all lead to something special on the track. John Paul Jones, often the guy in the background in this group, shows out with some impressive bass runs. John Bonham, often known for his power, manages a funky hitch in the beat here. Robert Plant alternatively bellows and preens, while Jimmy Page takes off like a shot in the solo. A well-oiled machine right from the jump.

3. “Immigrant Song” from Led Zeppelin III (1970)

Led Zeppelin III is known as the album where the band eased off the gas pedal a little bit, allowing for more contemplative, melodic numbers like “Friends” and “That’s the Way” to get the spotlight. But there was no way they were about to start the thing off with a slower pace. Instead, they came ripping out of the gate with one of Page’s most iconic riffs and Bonham battering away as if trying to get to whatever the opposite of Valhalla might be. This is also one of the first times the band got a little bit idiosyncratic with the lyrics, instead of falling back on blues idioms.

2. “Whole Lotta Love” from Led Zeppelin II (1969)

It’s understandable if you get caught up in Page’s jackhammer riff here. But what truly makes “Whole Lotta Love,” the band’s first masterpiece song, so special is where it goes from there. Page the producer keeps taking it to strange places, including a bizarre instrumental part that sounds like the aural equivalent of some sort of psychotic breakdown. That’s followed by an a cappella showcase for Plant where the echoes come before the main sound. Give credit to John Bonham, because he follows this winding path and yet never lets up with the potency.

1. “Black Dog” from Untitled (1971)

From their best album comes their best opening track. (And can we give an honorable mention to “Rock and Roll,” which keeps the opening momentum going and then some?) The band creates an aura of mystique with that strange little fade-up before Plant’s a cappella opening. Then there’s just that fraction of hesitation before Page, Jones, and Plant charge ahead with that battering ram of a main riff. That push and pull between Plant’s vocal sections and the instrumentalists’ thunder keeps replaying itself over the course of the track, and it’s mesmerizing every time.

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