Top 10 Led Zeppelin Blues Songs
Selecting the Top 10 Led Zeppelin Blues Songs sort of gave us the blues, too. After all, over the span of 12 years and nine studio albums, Zeppelin rightfully earned a reputation as one of the hardest rocking bands in the history of recorded music -- but they consistently relished in showing off their roots, too. “Ultimately, I wanted Zeppelin to be a marriage of blues, hard rock and acoustic music,” guitarist Jimmy Page once explained. Between unique adaptations, clever arrangements and more than a few borrowed lyrics and melody lines – hats off here to Willie Dixon – Led Zeppelin returned to a full well of blues music for inspiration throughout the entirety of their career, and to astounding returns. That made picking the Top 10 Led Zeppelin Blues Songs difficult, indeed.
Our list of the Top 10 Best Led Zeppelin Blues Songs begins with a cover of one of the greatest bluesmen who ever lived, Robert Johnson. Originally recorded in 1937, "Travelling Riverside Blues" was later tacked onto the seminal 1961 compilation disc King of the Delta Blues Singers, a record that famously helped spark Eric Clapton’s own lifelong love affair with the blues. Zeppelin recorded their version in 1969 for the BBC, but it didn’t actually see a wide release until nearly 30 years later on the Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions. It was also added onto the updated and expanded edition of Coda.
As the final song, on the final record that they recorded together while drummer John Bonham was still alive, there’s plenty to get depressed about with "I’m Gonna Crawl." Written primarily by John Paul Jones, the song is about as classic blues as it gets, finding as it does singer Robert Plant crooning about his love for a woman who just don’t want him around anymore. And to what lengths would he go to get her back? Well, “I don’t gotta go by plane/I don’t gotta go by car…” You get the point.
It’d be hard to define this Led Zeppelin I closing track as a straight blues number, but for its lyrical content, repetitive infectious bass-line and allusion to the Albert King track "The Hunter," we think it certainly merits inclusion on our list. When performed live, the band would typically turn the already long song into a full-on medley, frequently throwing in bits and pieces of material by John Lee Hooker and Ray Charles.
The next cover song on our list of the Top 10 Best Led Zeppelin Blues Songs comes straight from sweet home Chicago by way of Chess Records’ music-writing savant Willie Dixon. Based heavily on a 1964 Howlin’ Wolf track "Killing Floor" which Dixon wrote, the "Lemon Song" actually gains its name from the No. 10 song on our list, or more specifically the lyric, “squeeze my lemon/until the juice runs down my leg.” Zeppelin later, and not for the first time, landed themselves in hot water when they failed to give Dixon a writing credit for the "Lemon Song" when it first debuted on Led Zeppelin II. They corrected the oversight with a check for $45,123 and the promise of including Dixon’s name on all future releases of the record.
Another Dixon original, "Bring it on Home" was originally recorded in 1963 by harmonica whiz Sonny Boy Williamson II and was included on Zeppelin’s second record as a sort of homage to the late bluesman. Page was intimately aware of Williamson from a studio session he had worked on with him back in 1965. Those tapes laid dormant for nearly a decade before they were eventually dusted off and released by the Springboard independent record label to cash in on Zeppelin’s enormous wave of popularity.
Yet another song based on a Willie Dixon composition. "You Shook Me" was first laid down by slide guitarist Earl Hooker in 1961 and was later overdubbed with vocals by the king of the Chicago blues, Muddy Waters. Interestingly, before Led Zeppelin recorded their own version, they were beat to the punch by Page’s longtime friend Jeff Beck for his 1968 solo debut Truth, a version that featured John Paul Jones on organ. While Beck has remained under the impression that there may have been some malicious intent with the move, Page has loudly proclaimed his innocence saying, “It was on Truth, but I first heard it when I was in Miami after we'd recorded our version. It's a classic example of coming from the same area musically, of having a similar taste.”
The roots of "In My Time of Dying" extend deep down into the farthest reaches of the Mississippi Delta. Rooted firmly in gospel tradition, the song has ben recorded throughout the years by a vast number of blues luminaries, including Blind Willie Johnson, Bessie Smith and Charlie Patton. Bob Dylan even came up with his own arrangement for his self-titled 1962 debut LP. Led Zeppelin’s take of the song was part on their monster 1975 double record Physical Graffiti and is dominated by Page’s otherworldly slide guitar work. Clocking in at 11:06, it's Zeppelin’s longest studio cut, and only seems to come to an end by way of a random coughing fit that happened to be captured on tape.
The staggering fourth song on our list of the Top 10 Best Led Zeppelin Blues songs to be based on a Willie Dixon original, "I Can’t Quit You Baby" began its life as a pretty significant hit for guitarist/singer Otis Rush back in 1956. In addition to its inclusion on Led Zeppelin I, an abbreviated version of the song was taken from the band’s 1970 performance at the Royal Albert Hall and tacked onto their career-ending catch-all record Coda.
Between the phased-out guitars, the backwards echo harmonica and the greatest drum sound in music history, it can be argued that "When the Levee Breaks" is the de facto example of Led Zeppelin at their most daring and creative. The fact that all the innovation was imbued into a song originally recorded in the 1920s makes it all the more interesting. Originally written by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie, "When the Levee Breaks" tells the story of the great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Whereas the original can almost be considered jaunty, the Zeppelin version seeks to put the listener square in the middle of the ascending chaos and tumult. Simply put, it’s a world-ender.
The No. 1 song on our list of Top 10 Greatest Led Zeppelin Blues Songs might be their most melancholy of all. Released in 1970 on their third record, "Since I’ve Been Loving You," as so many blues songs do, tells the tale of a hard-working man and a up-to-no-good cheating woman who has caused him to “lose his worried mind.” Minus an intro lick borrowed from the Yardbirds’ song "New York City Blues," it’s a wholly original composition that features some of the best guitar work Page ever laid down – as well as some of the most bombastic vocals Robert Plant was ever able to belt out. For the musicianship, the minor-key swing and the downright depressing content it is undoubtedly the best blues number in Zeppelin’s vast back catalog.