Critics and fans alike hail the depth, maturity, and complexity of Led Zeppelin as their albums progressed, especially III and IV. While I wouldn’t call the band’s self-titled debut underrated, it often gets overlooked or downplayed because of the covers and “one-dimensional” composition of being a straight blues-rock album.
Let’s talk about why it’s so great though.
The covers “You Shook Me” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby” are absolutely earth-shaking. The former only just missed being included on my greatest covers list, and the latter would have been included had I known it was a cover. While obviously long-time fans (myself included, to some degree) might find more merit in authentically-penned Zeppelin songs (Kashmir is my favorite original song by the band and I don’t care if that is cliche), the strength and rawness of this album is perfectly encapsulated in the raucous, powerful versions of these songs. The band completely made even the cover songs their own, which is why it eschews the idea that it’s a lesser album because of said cover songs.
“Your Time is Gonna Come” is a hidden gem that I personally overlook often. It’s got organ, it’s got the usual strong vocals, and the melody and lyrics really stick with you after it’s gone, thanks in no small part to John Bonham’s drum licks that pop out of the speakers. Speaking of hidden gems, the album’s closer “How Many More Times” is a 97% Led Zeppelin song (the sample of “Beck’s Bolero” by Jeff Beck being the other 3%) that brings blues tenacity to rock and roll guts. I love the rollicking guitar riff, and I love the hook. Plain and simple.
Not to mention, the album features hits “Good Times, Bad Times”, “Communication Breakdown”, “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”, and “Dazed and Confused”. That isn’t to say that I love all of those songs equally, or at all (“Dazed” is the only one I would consider for my top ten favorite songs of all-time), but they are well-received songs by many fans, so it’s worthwhile to remember they are on the first album.
All in all, this album gets overlooked as being one of the greatest albums of its time. While we could argue that it’s not Zeppelin’s best (and despite this post, I don’t think I’d rank it as my favorite, but it’s close), it certainly is greater than most people give it credit for.