Led Zeppelin started as a psychedelic blues band in the last 1960s. It didn’t take long for them to prove they had a soft side with their more delicate work in the folk and country genres. They never shied away from unplugging, and the best acoustic Led Zeppelin songs are some of the finest in their catalog.
Tunes you won’t see on our list of Led Zeppelin’s best acoustic songs
Zep’s reputation as a heavy blues band was so ingrained in their image that George Harrison didn’t realize they had a softer side. Founding guitarist Jimmy Page answered the challenge when the famous Beatle complained to drummer John Bonham that Led Zeppelin never wrote ballads. Page came up with “The Rain Song,” and he subtly referenced the George hit “Something” while doing it.
Though one of their many stellar tunes, you won’t find “The Rain Song” on our list. Nor will you see “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” “Your Time Is Gonna Come,” “Stairway to Heaven” or “Ramble On.” Those songs incorporate electric guitars into the mix. For our list of the best acoustic Led Zeppelin songs, we limited our selection to songs that feature only acoustic instruments.
1. ‘Black Mountain Side’
The segue between the mostly (but not fully!) acoustic “Your Time is Gonna Come” and the rocking “Communication Breakdown” on Led Zeppelin’s first album sees Page bring his interest in Indian music to the masses. Tablas sit next to Page’s exquisite acoustic guitar work. He even coaxes his six-string to sound like a sitar at the 1:25 mark.
Led Zeppelin III became known as the acoustic album. It’s a slight misnomer as the record features a few rockers (such as lead track “Immigrant Song”) and some gentle plugged-in tunes.
For “Friends,” Page put his guitar into open C tuning, allowing him to easily finger a bouncy melody on the high strings while adding rhythmic depth on the low strings. With some vaguely Middle Eastern string sounds in the background, “Friends” stands out among Led Zeppelin’s best acoustic songs.
3. ‘Gallows Pole’
The third Led Zeppelin record might not have the universal acclaim of some of the other albums, but it possesses some amazing musical backstories. “Gallows Pole” contains one of them.
Page proved his skills extended beyond guitar by playing the banjo part on “Gallows Pole.” That despite never having played the instrument before. Led Zeppelin’s take on the traditional folk song sees it build as guitar, mandolin, and Page’s banjo enter the fray.
It’s one of Led Zeppelin’s best acoustic songs and one that proves you can still perform a stirring and electric song even if the instruments are unplugged.
4. ‘Battle of Evermore’
Remember how we said “Gallows Pole” showed how to write a stirring song with unplugged instruments? Well, “Battle of Evermore” upped the ante. Built around a beautiful mandolin riff, Plant’s epic and poetic lyrics are some of his finest, even though it’s the only Led Zeppelin song where he shares vocal duties.
Led Zeppelin IV included two soaring anthems — “Stairway to Heaven” and “When the Levee Breaks.” Add another epic with “Battle of Evermore,” one of the best acoustic Led Zeppelin songs.
5. ‘Going to California’
Led Zeppelin’s homage to Joni Mitchell features Page on guitar, Plant singing, and John Paul Jones on mandolin.
The band put this delicate tune one near the end of Led Zeppelin IV, situated between the muscular “Four Sticks” and epic closer “When the Levee Breaks.” That doesn’t change the fact it’s one of Led Zeppelin’s best acoustic tracks from their entire catalog.
This holdover from the Led Zeppelin III sessions saw the light of day five years later on Physical Graffiti. It’s the shortest song of the band’s career and also one of the finest.
Where the other songs on our list feature other instruments and performers, “Bron-Yr-Aur” is just Page on his guitar as he strums a beautiful and intricate melody for nearly two minutes. Don’t miss him playing something of a bass line on the low strings. Impeccable.
7. ‘Boogie With Stu’
“Boogie With Stu” sits on Physical Graffiti’s Side 4, but it’s still one of Led Zeppelin’s acoustic standouts. Sometimes-Rolling Stone Ian Stewart’s piano playing takes center stage, but Page checks in with a fun rockabilly solo amid Bonham’s treated drums and Plant’s Little Richard-esque lyrics.
8. ‘Hey, Hey, What Can I Do’
We almost never got to hear this gem. The band recorded it for Led Zeppelin III, but it didn’t make the album. Page kept it in the vault when he pieced together the posthumous Coda album.
Led Zeppelin hated singles, but the only fans who heard this song were U.S. Zep-heads who found it on the B-side to “Immigrant Song.”
Jones lays down an impeccable and essential bass line and plays mandolin, Bonham shows off his restrained side (for the most part), and Page knocks it out of the park on his 12-string. We also get to hear the other members of Led Zeppelin provide harmonies behind Plant’s lyrics toward the end of the song.
“Hey, Hey, What Can I Do” sounds like a back porch jam, but it’s most definitely one of Led Zeppelin’s best acoustic songs.
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