This is a genuine toughie: I grew up much more on Zep and even 30+ yrs after their demise I can still take out any one of their cd's and listen start to finish without feeling overly compelled to hit the `next track' button (and that includes their outtake album, "Coda"!).
With The Who, their middle albums are all killer (Tommy-Leeds-Next-Quadrophenia) and they have plenty of non-album tracks that are excellent as well, but their very early albums and the last two after Quad (Who By Numbers and Who Are You) are mostly filler. I do like plenty of their early singles, but there's no early Who album (pre-1969) that I really enjoy start to finish. The post-Moon albums "Face Dances" and "It's Hard" are ok, but those played more like Townshend solo albums with the others tagging along than actual "Who" masterpieces. "Endless Wire" has its moments, but is mostly a footnote. So Zep is the more consistently good/great band imo.
BUT... The Who were more explosive/dynamic, so while they may be less consistent, they also have the higher highs imo, and today anyway, if I were to take the top 40-50 songs from each band, I'd probably prefer the Who, primarily because their lyrics are a little more cerebral, more engaging. Lyrics DO matter to me and with Zep the lyrics were often so-so and occasionally flat out indecipherable or absurd, ie, a detriment. With The Who, lyrics were almost always a towering strength.
So... a VERY slight edge to The Who based on my musical preferences today, but Zep is most definitely right there too. Both would be in my top 5 bands of all time.
3. The Who
4. Led Zep
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