Covering Led Zeppelin is always a dangeorus game.
If you get too quirky with such distinctive songs, you’ll lose the essence of what makes them great; if you stick too close to the script, well … let’s face it — you’re no Jimmy Page. (Remember that scene from Wayne’s World where the music store employee points to the “NO Stairway to Heaven” sign? That rule should be mandatory in every Guitar Center.)
Despite the odds, plenty of people have done it right. To mark the half-century anniversary of Led Zeppelin’s fourth LP, we’ve rounded up the 50 best cover versions of that album’s eight tracks: bluegrass versions of “Going to California,” orchestral renditions of “Stairway to Heaven,” jazz interpretations of “Black Dog,” a whole lotta Heart — pretty much anything we find satisfying for one reason or another.
And if you listen very hard, you might find a new favorite hidden gem.
50. 8-Bit Arcade, “Black Dog” (2015)
On the Rock & Metal Anthems LP, 8-Bit Arcade reinterpreted everything from AC/DC‘s “Back in Black” to System of a Down‘s “Chop Suey!,” conjuring the primitive electronic nostalgia of early arcade machines and gaming consoles. Who among us hasn’t wanted to hear Plant’s sensual moans translated into digital bleeps and bloops?
49. Tenacious D, “Rock and Roll” (2013)
Jack Black‘s Led Zep track record is immense, from the scene in School of Rock where he belts “Immigrant Song” like a lunatic to his enthusiastic introduction speech at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors. The dude knows his stuff. So it’s fitting that he and Tenacious D bandmate Kyle Gass paid tribute onstage, melding their own “Rock Is Dead” with a slow-blues acoustic take on “Rock and Roll.” Come for Black’s hilarious vocalizing, stay for Gass’ classic white socks and sneakers.
48. Kristin Hersh, “When the Levee Breaks” (1994)
Kristin Hersh, singer of alt-rock bands Throwing Muses and 50FootWave, goes the minimalist route on “When the Levee Breaks” — stripping away the distortion and diabolically heavy drums in favor of acoustic strums, woozy slide and soft, trebly vocals. It’s like the photo negative of Led Zeppelin’s original: just as intense, but in a completely opposite way.
47. The Wonder Band, “Stairway to Heaven” (1979)
This one-shot disco band decided, eight years afterward, to give this epic track a funky makeover. It was a ludicrous idea, but the results are endearingly nuts: jagged string lines, cartoonish vocals, four-on-the-floor drums, a copious amount of slap-bass. And to make it even more absurd, they structured their cover into a five-part suite also featuring bits of “Whole Lotta Love.”
46. Miley Cyrus, “Black Dog” (2019)
Some music fans still can’t shake the image of Miley Cyrus as a squeaky-clean Hannah Montana, but she’s also a noted classic rock fan — having covered everything from Pink Floyd to Elton John over the years. Her most famous throat-shredding moment came in 2019, playing “Black Dog” at the iHeartRadio Music Festival. The vocal phrasing is a bit awkward, and shoehorning in the word “bitch” feels more silly than edgy. But you can’t deny the match of tone and tune: Plant would presumably be proud of her assorted, melismatic ad-libs and intense vibrato.
45. Zepparella, “When the Levee Breaks” (2010)
This all-female Zeppelin tribute band nails all the nuances of “When the Levee Breaks”: that iconically trashy drum sound, the slide-guitar stagger, the harmonica howl. But their take has a bit more grunge and indie-rock in its blood.
44. Rick Wakeman, “Stairway to Heaven” (2017)
Rick Wakeman strips away the glitter and gold for this delicate solo piano rendition, channeling Page’s main riff while embellishing the melodies in high-octave flourishes. Yes, it’s the kind of cover you could imagine stumbling upon in some random cocktail lounge, but that fact makes it no less beautiful.
43. Far Corporation, “Stairway to Heaven” (1985)
Formed by producer Frank Farian (who later created the infamous Milli Vanilli), the hodgepodge studio group Far Corporation earned a minor hit with their ’80s-appropriate “Stairway” cover. The first section is fairly straightforward, pairing fingerpicked guitars with a plaintive vocal. But then things get slick, adding a slightly gated (and slightly dated) drum sound and digital synths.
42. Rasputina, “Rock and Roll” (2001)
Melora Creager leads this quirkiest of “Rock and Roll” renditions, singing in clipped, restrained bursts over a clacking drum pulse and a swarm of buzzing cellos.
41. Larry Coryell, Victor Bailey and Lenny White, “Black Dog” (2016)
These three jazz giants first tamed “Black Dog” for their 2015 trio LP Electric, which also features reworked cuts from Miles Davis and Sly and the Family Stone. Their Led Zeppelin rendition blooms further in this live performance from the following year, with White adding a supreme swing, Coryell layering in atmospheric chords and Bailey twisting around the main melody on bass.
40. Sheryl Crow, “Rock and Roll” (2002)
Sheryl Crow adds a soulful drawl to her rollicking live version of “Rock and Roll”: Check her phrasing of “carry me back” around the 2:05 mark. Meanwhile, playing air guitar on top of a piano is a peak rowdy-mom-at-a-wedding-reception vibe.
39. Rachel Barton Pine, “Heartbreaker” / “Black Dog” / “Stairway to Heaven” (1998)
Violinist Rachel Barton Pine mashes together three Led Zeppelin classics for her group Stringendo. The first of the bunch, “Heartbreaker,” comes off a bit stiff and choppy, but the two Zeppelin IV tracks accommodate more expressive playing; the transition into the “guitar solo” section is striking.
38. People’s Front of Zeppelin, “Four Sticks” (2021)
You’ll notice an abundance of “Black Dog” and “Stairway to Heaven” on this list. But few are bold enough to tackle the deepest of IV cuts, “Four Sticks” — partly because it’s less famous, partly because it’s set in a fidgety combo of 5/8 and 6/8. People’s Front of Zeppelin nail every second of this percussive monster, even switching it up with a drum solo inspired by Joe Morello on the Dave Brubeck jazz staple “Take Five.”
37. Aldo Romano, Remi Vignolo and Baptiste Trotignon, “Black Dog” (2006)
Another jazz trio take on “Black Dog,” with low-octave piano keys handling the main riff and the high register adding a disorienting amount of dissonance.
36. 4 Non Blondes, “Misty Mountain Hop” (1995)
On this obvious standout from the Encomium tribute LP, 4 Non Blondes singer Linda Perry doubles down on the hilariously unhinged vocal style that propelled her band’s 1992 hit “What’s Up?” (translation: the “What’s goin’ on?” song). Kudos on the intro guitar nod to “Black Dog.”
35. A Perfect Circle, “When the Levee Breaks” (2004)
It’s important to note that Led Zeppelin based “When the Levee Breaks” on an old country-blues tune recorded in 1929 by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie. With that in mind, A Perfect Circle‘s dramatic revamp has little to do with electric blues – instead dropping the mournful original lyric into a piano-heavy art-rock atmosphere. You could rightly argue it isn’t a Zeppelin cover at all, but we’re not splitting hairs on this one.
34. Soulfly, “Four Sticks” (2010)
Soulfly give “Four Sticks” a stoner-friendly groove-metal facelift, letting lead guitarist Marc Rizzo translate Plant’s vocal into a torrent of squealing wah-wah.
33. The London Philharmonic Orchestra, “The Battle of Evermore” (1997)
Jaz Coleman, singer of post-punk band Killing Joke, embarked on a jarring new career venture in the mid-’90s: arranging orchestral music. One such project was the self-explanatory Kashmir: Symphonic Led Zeppelin, featuring performances by the London Philharmonic — including this sweeping take on “The Battle of Evermore.”
32. Collective Consciousness Society, “Black Dog” (1972)
C.C.S., led by blues guitarist Alexis Korner, earned a minor hit in 1970 by covering Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” Naturally, they tried their luck again two years later with a winding take on “Black Dog.” If you can listen past the overbearing vocals, you’ll find plenty of interesting details — including a cornucopia of brass.
31. Frank Zappa, “Stairway to Heaven” (1991)
For his final full tour in 1988, Frank Zappa assembled a staggering 12-piece band — including an enormous horn section — and rearranged material from throughout his back catalog. He also presented an array of reliably wacky covers, including a love-it-or-loathe-it take on “Stairway to Heaven.” Zappa’s irreverent approach (numerous sound effects and goofy voices) may irritate purists, but the mustachioed maestro adds a unique flair to the piece, like transposing the guitar solo into a wall of brass.
30. Robert Plant and Allison Krauss, “The Battle of Evermore” (2008)
Touring behind their debut collaborative LP, Raising Sand, Plant and Allison Krauss dusted off a handful of Zeppelin tunes, including the Physical Grafitti obscurity “Black Country Woman.” But the most fitting of the bunch was already structured as a duet: For “The Battle of Evermore,” Krauss stays faithful to Sandy Denny’s Celtic-styled vocal, only adding some of her bluegrass finesse amid the pounding-drum climax.
29. Dolly Parton, “Stairway to Heaven” (2002)
No way around it: Dolly Parton sounds rather unnatural singing a phrase like “bustle in your hedgerow.” But the country legend/world’s most unifying celebrity still makes this hard-prog epic her own, lassoing in some melancholy fiddle, gospel choir and melismatic vocals.
28. Deodato, “Black Dog” (1975)
Brazilian composer Eumir Deodato gives “Black Dog” the mid-’70s jazz-funk squeeze, adding congas and wah-wah synth.
27. Midnite String Quartet, “Black Dog” (2014)
They’ve tackled everything from the Beatles to Bieber in their artist-centric cover series, so of course the Midnite String Quartet found time for Zeppelin. The group’s dark, minimalist rendition of “Black Dog” ratchets up the tension with tons of rapid-fire bow strikes and droning cello.
26. Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins, with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, “Rock and Roll” (2008)
Less than a year after Led Zeppelin’s long-awaited reunion at the O2 Arena in London, Page and Jones made a surprise cameo during Foo Fighters‘ encore at Wembley Stadium. The quartet found Dave Grohl channeling his inner Bonham on drums, while Taylor Hawkins gave up the throne to tackle the Plant parts out front. Their “Rock and Roll” is deliriously giddy — both the Foos look like they’re living out childhood fantasies, with Grohl beaming a smile as he bashes his kit.
25. Stanley Jordan, “Stairway to Heaven” (1988)
Jazz virtuoso Stanley Jordan turns “Stairway” into a guitar-led instrumental, employing his signature tapping technique to simultaneously play chords and melodies. The limp drums and digital keyboards water down the arrangement about halfway through. If only he’d kept it truly solo.
24. Jeff Buckley, “When the Levee Breaks” (1996)
Led Zeppelin were there for Jeff Buckley throughout his life: Physical Graffiti was the first album he ever owned. Before he accidentally drowned in the Wolf River Channel of the Mississippi River, Buckley reportedly swam out singing the chorus to “Whole Lotta Love.” He also played the band’s music during his revered live sets: This “When the Levee Breaks” is charmingly gnarly, with Buckley brooding over his own somewhat-in-tune slide guitar.
23. Double Trouble (with Susan Tedeschi), “Rock and Roll” (2001)
Stevie Ray Vaughan‘s former bandmates recorded with singer Susan Tedeschi for this no-nonsense “Rock and Roll.” Blues-rocker Kenny Wayne Shepherd adds some guitar fireworks, but Tedeschi’s raspy vocal is the star: She could have gone a cappella and been just fine.
22. Amy Lee, “Going to California” (2015)
You could argue the Evanescence singer gets a little too precious on this cover, extending plenty of notes and experimenting with phrasing. But Amy Lee wrings out every possible ounce of emotion from “California.” On those elegant high notes, she might as well be riding a white mare in the footsteps of dawn.
21. Jake Shimabukuro, “Going to California” (2007)
The basic melody and chords of “Going to California” hold up in any setting — especially when played by a virtuoso like Jake Shimabukuro, who translates the basic song (including some added harmonic ideas) into one ukulele arrangement.
20. Anchor + Bell, “Going to California” (2016)
This live-from-the-living-room setting suits the intimacy of “California.” In a YouTube duet, Anchor + Bell add some breathy harmonies and simplify the instrumentation to one softly strummed acoustic guitar.
19. Jamie Dupuis, “Going to California” (2021)
This cover would have made the list even if arranged for a regular acoustic. But Jamie Dupuis’ hushed rendition, with its precise hammer-on melodies and clean picking, adds another dimension with the bass register of his harp guitar.
18. Ben Harper, “When the Levee Breaks” (2013)
Singer-songwriter Ben Harper adds swampy soul to “When the Levee Breaks.” The arrangement is fairly unsurprising: We’ve got harmonica, the same heavy blues riff, the massive drums. But his own contributions stand out — particularly the intro lap-steel, which drops in like an ominous storm cloud.
17. Dave Rawlings Machine (with John Paul Jones), “Going to California” (2013)
Jones adds his mandolin to this heavenly “Going to California,” filmed at the Georgia Theatre in Athens, Ga. But the balanced, one-mic vocal harmonies — from Dave Rawlings, Gillian Welch and Willie Watson — deserve a special chef’s kiss.
16. The Lovemongers, “Battle of Evermore” (1992)
Ann and Nancy Wilson tackled this spookiest of folk ballads for the Singles soundtrack, billed under the banner of their acoustic project the Lovemongers. If it weren’t for a certain “Stairway to Heaven” cover that appears later on our list, this intense vocal duet would reign as their finest Zeppelin tribute.
15. Van Halen, “Rock and Roll” (1986)
Van Halen closed out their concert video Live Without a Net by tearing through a fiery “Rock and Roll,” led by Sammy Hagar‘s raspy vocal and a virtuoso Eddie Van Halen solo filled with squeals and bent-note licks. The visuals are half the fun: At one point, Michael Anthony stops playing bass altogether to catch a baseball cap thrown onstage by a fan; later, everyone not behind a drum kit parades around with a series of Rockettes-styled kicks.
14. Billy Strings, “Four Sticks” (2020)
Something about that bluesy “Four Sticks” riff translates perfectly into a bluegrass setting, as Billy Strings demonstrates below. This live version — arranged for a traditional quartet — rips throughout, with the singer yelping in a Plant-like high register over upright bass and springy banjo.
13. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant (with Najma Akhtar), “The Battle of Evermore” (1994)
Page and Plant recruited a massive crew of collaborators, including an Egyptian orchestra, for their not-quite-Zeppelin live reunion in 1994. Many of the more Eastern-influenced songs highlighted the subsequent album and DVD, No Quarter, including a cinematic “The Battle of Evermore” featuring guest singer Najma Akhtar.
12. BORNS, “Four Sticks” (2016)
Indie-pop singer BORNS channels his inner Jeff Buckley on this live version of “Four Sticks,” skyrocketing to silky high notes as his band lays down heavy rhythms and splattering, psychedelic synth.
11. Gov’t Mule, with Ann Wilson, “Black Dog” (2017)
After opening — as Zeppelin often did — with a tease of “Out on the Tiles,” Gov’t Mule and Ann Wilson launch into a no-frills “Black Dog.” But for all the instrumental prowess (see: Warren Haynes‘ guitar solo), Wilson’s bluesy vocal does a fair amount of the heavy lifting.
10. Mary J. Blige, with Steve Vai, Travis Barker, Orianthi and Randy Jackson, “Stairway to Heaven” (2009)
Mary J. Blige can clearly sing anything, but it’s shocking how capably she handles this all-time rock epic — adding an R&B flavor to her vibrato and vocal runs. Of course, she has some help: the all-star backing band of guitarists Steve Vai and Orianthi, bassist Randy Jackson and blink-182 drummer Travis Barker.
9. John Paul Jones and Paul Gilbert, “Going to California” (2003)
Jones teams with Mr. Big/Racer X guitarist Paul Gilbert for this live instrumental duo version of “Going to California.” Gilbert strums and vigorously nods while Jones goes wild on his mandolin, blending bits of the original riff with fragments of Plant’s vocal melody.
8. Chris Cornell, “Going to California” (2016)
Chris Cornell was born to belt Led Zeppelin. In another life, he could have been the greatest Plant tribute singer ever. Not because their voices sound anything alike, but because they’re on the same spiritual wavelength. On this vocal-and-acoustic rendition of “Going to California,” he nails the song’s physical and emotional range, from rumbling verses to breathtaking high notes (“might be sinking“). If only some better video footage existed: According to Setlist.fm, he only played it once.
7. Mastodon, “Stairway to Heaven” (2019)
The prog-metal band Mastodon saluted longtime manager Nick John after he died from pancreatic cancer in 2018 by performing “Stairway” at his funeral. After hearing a cell phone recording of that tribute, they decided to go the extra mile, recording a studio version for a 2019 Record Store Day exclusive. Fittingly, the band stays true to the original arrangement, with drummer Brann Dailor turning out one of his most dynamic, vulnerable vocals.
6. Brandi Carlile, “Going to California” (2017)
By 2017, “Going to California” was already bordering on a setlist staple for Brandi Carlile — and with good reason. Few artists have so fully inhabited a cover song, enhancing it with the kind of vibe only they can add. Carlile’s whole vocal performance is mind-blowing, with full-voiced belting and in-the-clouds high notes. During the bridge section, she looks like she might collapse from the emotional toll.
5. Robert Plant, “Misty Mountain Hop” (2017)
Plant injects new blood into a decades-old staple, turning “Misty Mountain Hop” into an arty Americana rocker befitting his solo work with the Sensational Space Shifters. He alternates between a gentlemanly croon and a punk-ish sneer over a throbbing backdrop highlighted by fiddle and distorted bass.
4. Steve ’N’ Seagulls, “Black Dog” (2016)
When you want a quality Led Zeppelin cover, you naturally consult a Finnish country band. Steve ‘N’ Seagulls, who also famously blew up YouTube by tackling AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” transform “Black Dog” with dizzying banjo, stacked bluegrass vocal harmonies, left-field whistling and brushed drums that somehow sound more intense than most metal bands’.
3. Rodrigo y Gabriela, “Stairway to Heaven” (2006)
Acoustic duo Rodrigo y Gabriela put “Stairway to Heaven” through the stylistic ringer, adapting the melodies, riffs and solos into their virtuoso hodgepodge of flamenco, jazz and classical. The studio take is hard to beat, but don’t sleep on the live versions.
2. Karolina and Boom Pam, “Black Dog” (2013)
Israeli rock band Boom Pam and singer Karolina joined forces for one of the most original Led Zeppelin covers ever recorded, running the “Black Dog” riff through a Middle Eastern scale. The vocals, the surfy guitar, the percussion breaks, the tuba (yes, that’s correct) — it’s thrilling from start to finish.
1. Heart, “Stairway to Heaven” (2012)
Plant clearly experienced the full range of human emotion while gazing from the theater balcony during the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors event: laughing, smiling, tearing up, staring out in a seeming state of shock. Heart’s rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” was the catalyst, the cover to end them all. They utilize a platoon of guitars, drummer Jason Bonham (son of the late John Bonhan), strings and a choir that just keeps expanding with the song. Ann Wilson’s vocal, meanwhile, lies on the whispering wind. If you’re thinking about traveling the “Stairway,” just forget about it. Consider it climbed.
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