No band, save for The Beatles, has fewer “deep cuts” than Led Zeppelin. Not only did the foursome of Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham release a paltry total of 73 album tracks over the course of their career — excluding 1982’s Coda compilation — but so many of those tracks have become part of pop culture’s consciousness. Where do you even start?
What constitutes a Led Zeppelin deep cut, anyway? Should it be any non-single? Tracks that did not appear on the Mothership best-of collection? Songs that are ignored by radio? Ones that were rarely, if ever, performed live? In the end, our list wound up a combination of all those queries. Much of the band’s early work, namely Zeppelin’s unimpeachable first five albums, has become so ubiquitous that it’s next to impossible to call any track a deep cut, so it should be no surprise that much of this list comprises of material from albums released from 1975 onward.
Quibbles aside, however, the main goal of this piece is to offer a fun glimpse of sides of Led Zeppelin that often go overlooked: the cheeky side, the adventurous, the soulful, the wistful. Acoustic or electric, blues or folk, funk or prog, funny or sad, Zeppelin at their best were capable of executing any musical whim that entered their imaginative minds. For those who have to endure a steady diet of “Stairway to Heaven”, “Black Dog”, and “Whole Lotta Love” on the radio, hopefully this will serve as a welcome respite, not to mention a reminder of the versatility of one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most important acts.
“Travelling Riverside Blues”
There was a brief spell when Zeppelin’s 1969 cover of Robert Johnson’s “Travveling Riverside Blues” wasn’t a deep cut at all. Originally recorded for a BBC radio session, the swaggering, heavy blues exercise was the primary focus track when the four-disc Led Zeppelin box set was released in 1990, featuring a video that received heavy airplay. Over the last quarter century the performance has faded back into the Zeppelin catalogue, but featuring Jimmy Page’s lithe slide work on 12-string acoustic guitar, it’s a memorable performance that showcases the legendary band in its relative infancy.
“Boogie With Stu”
An outtake from the sessions that yielded Led Zeppelin IV in 1971, this lively, whimsical little number surfaced on Physical Graffiti four years later, and remains a highlight of side four. Featuring Page on mandolin, a wickedly catchy beat created by an ARP guitar synthesizer, and boogie-woogie piano courtesy Rolling Stones road manager/pianist Ian Stewart — hence the song’s title — its informality and lightheartedness is palpable, a joy to listen to more than 45 years later.
“Wearing and Tearing”
One of the most ferocious hard rockers in the Zeppelin catalog, “Wearing and Tearing” was recorded during the In Through the Out Door sessions in late-1978 and eventually released on 1982’s posthumous release Coda. For a band that had been eclipsed by the punk movement and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, this five and a half-minute jam was a confident assertion that the foursome was still plenty capable of fiery, aggressive rock ‘n’ roll similar to the first two albums nearly a decade earlier.
The longest track on In Through the Out Door, “Carouselambra” is among the most experimental tracks Zeppelin ever recorded, a groovy, ten and a half-minute suite that blends hard rock, progressive rock, and Kraftwerk-inspired krautrock. Featuring three distinct movements — the first led by John Paul Jones’ careening synthesizer riffs, the contemplative middle featuring the only album recording of Page’s famous Gibson double-neck guitar, the third combining chilly synth sounds with symphonic theatricality — it’s a thrilling, daring composition that sadly has been buried by incessant radio spins of “Rock and Roll”.
It seems ridiculous that the second track on side one of Physical Graffiti could be considered a deep cut, but considering the legacies created by “Kashmir”, “Trampled Underfoot” and “In My Time of Dying,” it’s understandable how it could have been overshadowed. Originally recorded as an acoustic number during the 1972 sessions for Houses of the Holy, “The Rover” was given an overhaul by Page two years later, transformed into a wickedly catchy heavy blues tune. Ironically, for such a memorable song, “The Rover” was never performed in concert, its “deep cut” status cemented.
While “Moby Dick” remains the most famous Zeppelin instrumental, this short acoustic guitar piece by Jimmy Page, while understandably overlooked by classic rock radio, showcases a tender side to the artist’s music that few of his compositions can match. Named after the rural Wales retreat where Page and Plant wrote the bulk of Led Zeppelin III, recorded in 1970, and released five years later on Physical Graffiti, the contemplative “Bron-Yr-Aur” exquisitely evokes the pastoral setting, and thanks to a sly little maneuver at the 99-second mark, how delicate sunlight can give way to overcast gloom in a heartbeat.
“I’m Gonna Crawl”
The final song on In Through the Out Door closes Zeppelin’s unparalleled domination of the 1970s on an understated note, but while it’s not as immediate as “Fool in the Rain” and “All of My Love”, there’s so much more substance on “I’m Gonna Crawl” than on those two tracks. Built around a lavish synth arrangement by John Paul Jones, listeners are treated to one last glimpse of the magic that Page and Plant could create together. Plant delivers a powerhouse performance that evokes Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, while Page’s guitar work underscores the vocal melody with gorgeous color and shading.
“Ten Years Gone”
Capping off the underrated and disarmingly pretty side three of Physical Graffiti, “Ten Years Gone” is a masterful showcase of Page’s electric guitar wizardry, not to mention his skill as a producer. As Plant contributes bittersweet lyrics about an old lover from a decade earlier (“Kind of makes me feel sometimes, didn’t have to grow / But as the eagle leaves the nest, it’s got so far to go”) Page adds layer upon layer of guitars, culminating in a mesmerizing final movement of harmonies that captures the emotion of the song to devastating effect.
“Hots on for Nowhere”
Overshadowed by three indisputable masterpieces on 1976’s Presence — “Achilles Last Stand,” “For Your Life,” “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” — the whimsical “Hots on For Nowhere” is the easy highlight of the rest of the record. While Page’s riffs and solos are effervescent and Plant’s “la-da-da” vocal hook is contagious, this song is all about the legendary rhythm foundation of Bonham and Jones, as the pair make the song swing mightily. That combination of brute force and nimbleness goes a long way to making what initially feels like a throwaway track into a song with surprising longevity.
Proof that Zeppelin could play funk as ferociously as anyone in the early-1970s, “The Crunge” started out as a lark during the Houses of the Holy sessions in 1972. For all its jokey James Brown references, however, it rides one hell of a nasty groove, driven by Bonham’s wonky beat and Jones’ snappy bass line. The band’s versatility from this period remains a marvel more than four decades later: for a good five years Led Zeppelin were without peer, and while “The Crunge” is overshadowed by the likes of “Over the Hills and Far Away” and “No Quarter,” it’s just as vivid a snapshot of a band at the peak of its powers as any other. Only this song leaves listeners with big smiles on their faces.