Led Zeppelin's discography has come to encapsulate the '70s, in the same way the Beatles' recorded output loomed as a monolithic presence in the previous decade. The successive musical era was defined by album-length musical expression, outsized lifestyle choices and dazzling concert spectacle, and no one band so perfectly personified each facet.

They kicked off the decade with a bang, offering a metric ton of heavy blues over two albums before boldly diversifying into one of rock's most exciting bands. By their fourth album, Led Zeppelin were working within a stirring range of styles, even as they continued to make and then break their own rules. That 1971 project would go untitled, and would yield no singles. Yet, it still went 23-times platinum in the U.S.

Eventually, fatigue and personal tragedy slowed Led Zeppelin, and then ground the band to a complete halt. But not before they'd created a catalog of music – carefully curated more recently through a lengthy reissue series by Jimmy Page – which remains a well spring of inspiration for musicians working in every genre from hard rock to alternative, from folk to metal.

  • 1969

    'Led Zeppelin I'

    'Led Zeppelin remains the prototypical hard-rock album, and could well pegged as the first album of the ‘70s, aesthetically speaking. It also opened the door for countless bands, from Black Sabbath to Deep Purple, who then threw commercial caution to the wind and turned their amplifiers up to 11. Rock would never be the same. But somebody had to get their first – and that was Led Zeppelin, with this enduring classic of a first album.

  • 1969

    'Led Zeppelin II'

    Even for a band whose entire catalog is built on awesome riff after awesome riff, Led Zeppelin II stands out as something special. Song for song, there isn’t an album out there that celebrates the power of the riff like this one. Fans responded, as this became Led Zeppelin’s first No. 1 album, after their debut stalled at No. 10. Other bands did, too. Before the Led Zeppelin II, people wrote songs – the melody, hook and chorus grabbed them. In October 1969, it suddenly became all about the riff.

  • 1970

    'Led Zeppelin III'

    Zeppelin had already unleashed an unheard-of-until-then heaviness on their debut, then expanded upon that sound with the follow up. The more acoustic-leaning Led Zeppelin III found them making a conscious decision to go in the opposite direction. That felt like a sharp left in the fall of 1970, but III has since become recognized as one of the most representative examples of Led Zeppelin's impressively wide musical spectrum.

  • 1971

    'Led Zeppelin IV'

    All it took was the slightest hint of a backlash against III to instigate a resounding musical response. In fact, Led Zeppelin IV may well be the definitive hard rock album of all time. Certainly, it showcases the band's striking diversity as tough favorites like "Black Dog" and "Rock & Roll" are balanced by Tolkien-inspired fantasy ("The Battle of Evermore"), wistful folk ("Going to California"), reinvented blues ("When the Levee Breaks") and the multi-faceted tour de force "Stairway to Heaven."

  • 1973

    'Houses of the Holy'

    After releasing their first four records in just under three years, Led Zeppelin were finally afforded a bit of breathing room with which to create Houses of the Holy. They responded over a 16-month span between studio projects by delivering some of the band's most complex, nuanced work ever. Among the most notable new explorations included the reggae-influenced "D'yer Mak'er" and the funky James Brown-inspired "The Crunge," making this fifth album arguably Led Zeppelin's most wide-ranging.

  • 1975

    'Physical Graffiti'

    Worn out by over scheduling, Zeppelin completed the very-heavy Physical Graffiti by combining eight new songs with a collection of seven outtakes stretching from Led Zeppelin III through Houses of the Holy. The results, though half filled with leftovers, sound remarkably cohesive. In fact, taken together, they form a rafters-shaking, foot-stomping double-album assault that’s bigger and badder than their previous five albums.

  • 1976

    'Presence'

    With a wheelchair-bound Robert Plant working to recover from a serious auto accident, Led Zeppelin returned to their roots. They finished Presence – recording and mixing – in less than 20 days, the fastest any project had come together since the band’s self-titled debut – an album that shares this set’s hard-blues sensibility. They never again sounded this fiercely focused. Or this fierce, period.

  • 1976

    'The Song Remains the Same'

    Really the soundtrack for a bloated concert film rather than a true live album, The Song Remains the Same has a complicated history. In fact, Led Zeppelin almost immediately began backing away from this one, but it remained – despite notable flaws – the only concert document from the band for many years. A 2007 remastering essentially reconstructed the entire project, syncing up the soundtrack and film, and drawing out a new clarity from the performances.

  • 1979

    'In Through the Out Door'

    Led Zeppelin's long-awaited return to the studio produced a sleek, pop-leaning album driven along by a growing musical partnership between Plant and John Paul Jones, something that couldn't have had less in common with their most recent work. Reviews were decidedly mixed, but a three-year wait sent fans streaming to record shops. In Through the Out Door debuted at No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic.

  • 1982

    'Coda'

    Drummer John Bonham's death on Sept. 25, 1980 effectively put an end to Led Zeppelin. It would be a couple of years before the surviving members got together to clear out the archives for this release. Coda, which ranges from a pair of 1970 live cuts through In Through the Out Door outtakes, actually holds up as a solid collection for fans and collectors. Best are the groove-centric "Ozone Baby" and "Darlene," both recorded during the sessions for that last LP.