Why Led Zeppelin Never Released a Greatest Hits Album

You don’t have to think too hard before realizing Led Zeppelin did things differently. Once the band began selling albums and concert tickets like mad, they generally did everything bigger than other rock groups. But the band also established a few unusual ground rules.

For starters, Zeppelin didn’t go around begging to play on the big TV programs of its day. Quite the contrary, in fact: Zeppelin declined to appear on TV starting in the early ’70s. If you wanted to see them play, you had to join the legions and buy a concert ticket. And people did.

Likewise, if you wanted to own “Stairway to Heaven,” you had to buy the album. Zeppelin wasn’t going to do radio stations any favors by trimming down its songs for quick consumption. That strategy worked, too, as Led Zeppelin IV sold more than any Beatles album ever did.

In other words, Zeppelin was breaking records set by The Beatles without even releasing singles. So you won’t find that tidy “greatest hits” album anywhere because they never had a Billboard No. 1.

Zeppelin rarely released singles and never had a No. 1 hit.

John Bonham, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin | Chris Walter/WireImage

While Led Zeppelin fans in America had a few chances to buy a single early on in the band’s run, they never had tat shot in the UK. During the band’s time together, a Zeppelin single never got released in the band’s home market. And Zep wouldn’t promote any single Atlantic released in the U.S.

Therefore, what became “a hit” largely depended on what DJs chose to play or what fans loved to hear at a Zeppelin concert. But the band was mostly in control. So you wouldn’t be seeing a “greatest hits” collection coming in the mid-’70s like you did from The Eagles in ’76.

Whenever Zeppelin released an album, you’d see the band’s earlier records return to the charts. After the blockbuster Physical Graffiti hit stores in ’75, all five previous Zep records hit the charts. No band had ever pulled off such a feat.

In brief, every new album served as an ad for the band’s older records, and fans didn’t require the shortcuts of a one-album compilation. And Zeppelin (led by Jimmy Page) basically kept on with that M.O. for the next 40 years.

Zeppelin mostly stuck with large-scale releases after the band ‘s run ended.

Led Zeppelin poses at their first photo shoot in London, December 1968. | Dick Barnatt/Redferns

Surely, Led Zeppelin would offer a simple single-disc release with “Stairway” and 11 other classics at some point … right? No, the band never did that, either. You can go down the list and you’ll mostly find giant boxed sets or smaller boxed sets.

Page kicked things off with Led Zeppelin (1990), the four-disc box that didn’t have a mediocre track on it. He followed that with Remasters, a two-disc set slimming the list down with remastered tracks. Then he released another two-disc set filling in the gaps before the 10-disc Complete Studio Recordings.

If you thought you’d get that one essential disc with The Best of Led Zeppelin, well, that had a Vol. 1 (1999) and Vol. 2 (2000) as well. Mothership (2007), maybe the last shot at the concept, also has two discs and insisted on including at least one track from each studio album.

So if greatest hits are your thing, Led Zeppelin isn’t the band for you. We suggest getting the entire catalog, or one of the four-disc sets if you must.

Also see: Did Jimmy Page Really Play Guitar on Kinks and The Who Records?