Why Led Zeppelin Released Only 10 U.S. Singles
Despite being one of the best-selling bands in history, Led Zeppelin released shockingly few singles during their initial run.
The hard-rocking quartet enjoyed a wildly prolific streak throughout the late '60s and early '70s, releasing five albums between 1969 and 1973. Yet from 1969 to 1979, Led Zeppelin released only 10 official U.S. singles.
The band largely abstained from releasing singles for several reasons. Part of the credit belongs to Zeppelin's manager Peter Grant, who marketed them primarily as a live act early on and had them tour the United States relentlessly at the beginning of their career. Grant also struck a deal with Zeppelin's label, Atlantic Records, that gave them the power to decide what got released (or didn’t) under their name.
That vetoing power proved crucial for Zeppelin, who routinely wrote five- and six-minute songs and had no desire to hack them down to a more radio-friendly length. They stuck to their guns as Atlantic pressured them to play the radio game, with Grant even promising a "limited-edition single" for Christmas 1969 that never came to fruition. “I think that was a cover-up," he later admitted. "We never went in just to record a single. That was the golden rule: no singles."
Radio politics aside, Led Zeppelin had a simpler, more fundamental reason for not releasing many singles: They wanted their albums to speak for themselves. Unlike, say, the Rolling Stones, the members of Led Zeppelin didn't see themselves as the type of band to court AM radio with a bunch of easily digestible pop hits. "I always thought of the Stones as a pop group who made singles," singer Robert Plant said in 2005. "The whole idea of what we did competing with Bobby Goldsboro for airplay as they were wasn’t where we were at. What we said was there’s no point putting out a single when the album is the statement of the band."
Technically, Led Zeppelin have released far more than 10 singles. But several of them, such as "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" and "Stairway to Heaven," were released only as promotional singles. They've also released five singles since their demise in 1980, but they were tied to post-breakup compilations and box sets, so we're not counting them here. With those criteria in mind, read on to learn more about the 10 U.S. singles Led Zeppelin released during their lifetime.
"Good Times Bad Times"
Led Zeppelin’s debut album opens with this thunderous rocker, driven by Jimmy Page’s arpeggiated riff and John Bonham’s stuttering kick drum. Recorded when the band was still known as the New Yardbirds, “Good Times Bad Times” marks a rare moment of semi-restraint for Led Zeppelin. Plant sings in a relatively calm midrange, and the song clocks in at a mere two minutes and 43 seconds, ideal for an AM radio push. The song peaked at a modest No. 80 on the Billboard Hot 100, merely hinting at Led Zeppelin’s imminent global takeover.
Read more: No. 47: 'Good Times Bad Times' – Top 50 Led Zeppelin Songs
"Whole Lotta Love"
The fiery blues-rock inferno opening Led Zeppelin II became one of the band's signature songs. "Whole Lotta Love" received plenty of airplay on FM radio, but AM stations were reluctant to play the five-and-a-half-minute tune. Several DJs made their own edits, simply nixing the experimental interlude that Page had worked so hard to create. With dollar signs in their eyes, Atlantic Records petitioned Led Zeppelin to release a single edit of "Whole Lotta Love." The band eventually relented and issued a four-minute version in the U.S. (still a minute longer than the preferred AM radio format), propelling the song to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it their biggest stateside hit. Still, Led Zeppelin refused to issue a radio edit of "Whole Lotta Love" in the United Kingdom.
Read more: No. 2: 'Whole Lotta Love' – Top 50 Led Zeppelin Songs
Led Zeppelin III was unfairly maligned upon release for its diversions into acoustic and folk territory, but the album still has plenty of heavy, electric moments - chief among them “Immigrant Song.” The album’s opening track and lone single is anchored by Page’s staccato guitar riff and Plant’s banshee wail, and its Norse-mythological lyrics were inspired by the band’s 1970 tour of Iceland, Bath and Germany. With its stratospheric hooks and two-and-a-half-minute run time, “Immigrant Song” was tailor-made for radio, and it became one of the band’s biggest hits, peaking at No. 16.
Read more: 50 Years Ago: Led Zeppelin Mostly Unplugs for 'III'
Bassist John Paul Jones came up with the knotty lead riff to “Black Dog,” one of Zeppelin’s most explosive and technically demanding hard-rock epics. “We struggled with the turnaround,” Jones explained, “until Bonham figured out that you just four-time as if there’s no turnaround.” Page ran his guitar through a Leslie speaker to achieve his washed-out tone on the scorching solo. “Black Dog” reached No. 15 on the Hot 100 and became one of Led Zeppelin’s most popular songs.
Read more: How John Paul Jones Sparked Led Zeppelin's 'Tricky' 'Black Dog'
"Rock and Roll"
The members of Led Zeppelin went back to their early rock ’n’ roll roots, particularly Little Richard and Chuck Berry, for the aptly titled “Rock and Roll.” The song evolved from an impromptu jam session as the band was blowing off steam while attempting to record the much more difficult “Four Sticks.” Bonham burst into the iconic intro drum fill, and Page quickly locked into the groove with a vintage-sounding guitar riff. “Rock and Roll” peaked at No. 47 on the Hot 100 but earned the honor of Led Zeppelin’s show opener from 1972 through 1975.
Read more: How a Little Richard Songs Inspired Led Zeppelin's 'Rock and Roll'
"Over the Hills and Far Away"
Houses of the Holy marked Led Zeppelin’s most musically diverse LP to date, and its lead single, “Over the Hills and Far Away,” reflects that adventurousness. The song opens with a tender, deceptively complex acoustic riff before swelling into a full-throttle hard-rock romp, full of funky drum-and-bass grooves and Plant’s heartrending squeals. The song peaked at No. 51 on the Hot 100, hardly a smash hit, yet it remains a classic-rock radio staple and a mainstay in the repertoires of bedroom guitarists everywhere.
Read more: No. 14: 'Over the Hills and Far Away' – Top 50 Led Zeppelin Songs
It’s no secret that Led Zeppelin borrowed liberally from lesser-known blues artists, updating and mutating their songs with their dramatic hard-rock flair. They took the same approach on “D’yer Mak’er,” a lighthearted homage to reggae and dub whose title is a play on the word “Jamaica” when pronounced with an English accent. Critics widely lampooned the song as a lazy, whitewashed genre exercise; Page countered that they didn’t appreciate the humor of the song or its title. “I didn't expect people not to get it,” the guitarist told Trouser Press in 1977. “I thought it was pretty obvious. The song itself was a cross between reggae and a '50s number, 'Poor Little Fool', Ben E. King's things, stuff like that.” Despite the criticism, “D’yer Mak’er” was a hit, peaking at No. 20 on the Hot 100.
Read more: The Story of Led Zeppelin's Most Diverse LP, 'Houses of the Holy'
"Trampled Under Foot"
Led Zeppelin had a more omnivorous musical diet than most of their head-banging peers, resulting in glorious, genre-bending rave-ups such as “Trampled Under Foot.” John Paul Jones drew inspiration from Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” for the song’s funky clavinet riff, bolstered by Bonham’s mammoth grooves and Page’s wah-drenched guitar riffs. “Trampled Under Foot” reached No. 38 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became a concert staple for the band from 1975 to 1980.
Read more: No. 16: 'Trampled Under Foot' – Top 50 Led Zeppelin Songs
"Candy Store Rock"
The lone single from Led Zeppelin’s penultimate studio album, Presence, “Candy Story Rock” remains an oddity in the band’s catalog for several reasons. It’s a brisk, hip-swiveling, retro-rock throwback on an album full of progressive blues epics and one of just 17 album tracks the band never played live. It’s also the only single released during Zeppelin’s initial run that failed to chart in the U.S., reflecting Presence’s commercial and critical underperformance, and hinting at the intra-band turmoil threatening to tear them apart.
Read more: 45 Years Ago: Led Zeppelin Go Rockabilly With 'Candy Store Rock'
"Fool in the Rain"
Even when they swapped guitar for piano and went in a more pop-oriented direction, Led Zeppelin were still a musical tour de force. “Fool in the Rain,” the final single released during the band’s initial run, is no exception. It’s a lighthearted but muscular tune about a man waiting on the (wrong) corner during a storm for his date, propelled by Bonham’s dizzying shuffle and Jones’ peppy piano melody. The chorus-free song is punctuated by a Latin break, with Plant unleashing some of his most yearning cries. “Fool in the Rain” peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100, proving that Zep still had plenty of fuel left in the tank prior to their untimely demise due to Bonham’s death.
Read more: No. 30: 'Fool in the Rain' – Top 50 Led Zeppelin Songs