Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
When Led Zeppelin III was released 45 years ago, it seemed destined to disappoint both the fans who wanted “Whole Lotta More Love” and the critics who weren’t all that keen on the band to begin with. Oh, sure, “Immigrant Song” was an instant hard-rock classic, and “Since I’ve Been Loving You” was blues as slow and heavy as you could hope for, but this album’s heart and soul lay with its acoustic numbers on what was then called Side Two. This wouldn’t do – hadn’t these guys already set up camp in the heavy metal slums? How dare they pretend to be other than what they were?
Of course, time has proven Zeppelin the wiser. III proved them capable of expanding their palette, showing more sides and more shades than the wannabes who were only capable of following one set of Zep’s footprints. The critics have come around, taking note of the bucolic dimension Jimmy Page and Robert Plant brought to their songwriting after a recharging stay in a quiet cottage in Wales named Bron-Yr-Aur. And the fans? Well, Led Zeppelin was never going to lose their fans.
The songs have proven their strength over the years, in part by holding up well under any number of interpretations. In fact, there were enough good ones that in a couple cases I couldn’t decide which MP3 would be better to share, so I shared both of them. So, here are twelve covers of the ten songs from Led Zeppelin III. (Oh, and if you want the B-side “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” let me recommend the version by Chris Thomas King, who played guitar for the Soggy Bottom Boys in O Brother Where Art Thou.)
SOAK – Immigrant Song (Led Zeppelin cover)
“Immigrant Song” may be the most covered song on III; curiously, it was also the one that gave me the most trouble finding a quality cover, as they all tended to stick fairly slavishly to the original arrangement. Of course, when that arrangement has the power to blow a hole through someone’s rib cage, it makes sense not to stray too far from it. SOAK took the path of most resistance, making a pulsing electronica version that carves out its own territory far away from the tried and true.
Elliott Smith – Friends (Led Zeppelin cover)
Today it’s kind of hard to hear Elliott Smith insisting that the greatest thing you ever can do is trade a smile with someone who’s blue, but when he played “Friends” in concert, one can easily picture the fans, cheering as they recognize what he’s playing, offering him hundreds of their own smiles. Thanks to Rawkblog for compiling Smith’s live covers in one great place.
Spearfish – Celebration Day (Led Zeppelin cover)
Spearfish is a hard-rocking trio from Sweden; their 2003 album Back, for the Future was a mostly-covers album with all proceeds going to charity. They make “Celebration Day” sound like what would happen if Led Zeppelin had a baby with Geddy Lee.
Corinne Bailey Rae – Since I’ve Been Loving You (Led Zeppelin cover)
Allmusic.com calls “Since I’ve Been Loving You” “the only time [on III that] Zeppelin sound a bit set in their ways.” Corinne Bailey Rae calls it an opportunity. The English neo-soul singer-songwriter has said she started covering this to show people she still loved the rock music she grew up with, turning it into a jazz standard. Who knew a Page/Plant song could sound like such a good fit for Billie Holiday?
Sista – Out On the Tiles (Led Zeppelin cover)
An Apple a Day (feat. Ria Currie) – Out On the Tiles (Led Zeppelin cover)
When looking on Spotify for “Out On the Tiles” covers, I found Sista’s cover, which slows things down and pares them down, then motivates forward with a languid sort of power. I was knocked out at the reimagining, and couldn’t see how I could find any better cover. Then Spotify played the next song – An Apple a Day’s cover, sung by special guest Ria Currie – and I was just as knocked out by their groovy, soulful take. Which one should I choose? Well, who says I have to choose? I think you’ll be glad that I couldn’t make up my mind, because both of these covers are well worth your time.
Great Big Sea – Gallows Pole (Led Zeppelin cover)
“Gallows Pole” is ye olde folk song, one that Led Zeppelin arranged and concluded with the hangman carrying out his duties despite taking bribes so that he wouldn’t. Great Big Sea, the late great band from Newfoundland, take the Page/Plant arrangement and apply their own contemporary Celtic spin to it, making it sound like the eternally evergreen classic that it is.
The Thermals – Tangerine (Led Zeppelin cover)
Bridging the Distance was a 2007 benefit album consisting of cover songs by artists from Portlandia, mostly radio favorites from the ’70s. The Thermals’ contribution was “Tangerine,” trading out Zeppelin’s country-folk sound for a chugging indie-basement sound, more insistent than delicate. This “Tangerine” is not the place to go if you need to be saved by the buoyancy of citrus.
The Vegetarians – That’s the Way (Led Zeppelin cover)
Patrick Fitzsimmons – That’s the Way (Led Zeppelin cover)
In his mixed review of III for Rolling Stone, Lester Bangs takes the time to single out “That’s the Way” as “the first song they’ve ever done that has truly moved me. Son of a gun, it’s beautiful.” Indeed it is, and for the second time I wasn’t able to chose one cover over another. I really liked the way the Vegetarians took the song in a different direction with their use of keyboards and drums, not beholden to the way it had been done before. But when Patrick Fitzsimmons follows that original template, he demonstrates that the song’s beauty is as strong as ever. Son of a gun, I’m sharing them both.
Devil in a Woodpile – Bron-Y-Aur Stomp (Led Zeppelin cover)
Among other things, “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” proved that Paul McCartney hadn’t cornered the market on Englishman-and-his-dog songs with “Martha My Dear.” Devil in a Woodpile, a country-blues band from Chicago, gave it their self-described “pre-electric backporch Americana” sound “that’ll have you giddily hoisting a jug, dancing a jig, singing the blues and praising the Devil!” Not to mention wondering what John Bonham could’ve done with a washboard.
The Corn on the Cob – Hats Off to (Roy) Harper (Led Zeppelin cover)
I’ll confess to being wary of the Corn on the Cob’s sole album, Tribute 2 Led Zeppelin, not only for the numeral in the title, but for their putting the tracklist in alphabetical order. But they do all right by “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper,” expressing the jumble of blues phrases with conviction and adding some nice guitar as well – it’s not Page with a bottleneck, but it’ll do. Hats off, indeed.
Led Zeppelin III is available at a Valhalla near you; if that’s too far, try Amazon.