Jimmy Page was on the radar of The Who’s Pete Townshend way before Led Zeppelin came to fruition and even before he became hot property as a session musician on the London scene. Staggeringly, Townshend was still at school the first time he witnessed Page in action, and the “arrogant” display is something he’s never forgotten.
Famously, the two now-iconic artists have a chequered past, with Townshend sharing his discontent with Led Zeppelin on more than one occasion, even accusing the group of “copying” his own work. However, Page also played as a session musician on The Who’s first hit single, ‘I Can’t Explain’, in 1964, which shows the admiration that Townshend once held for his counterpart.
If you were unsure about his opinion on Led Zeppelin when asked about The Who’s most recent album, 2019’s Who, he said to Rolling Stone: “It doesn’t sound like The Who from those early heavy metal years. We sort of invented heavy metal with (our first live album) Live at Leeds (1970). We were copied by so many bands, principally by Led Zeppelin, you know heavy drums, heavy bass, heavy lead guitar.”
The comparisons between the two groups are easy to make considering their similar seismic impacts on the musical world. Additionally, they were both born out of London around the same era, further enhancing the association. However, it’s advisable not to mention the subject to Townshend. In 1995, he fumed, “I don’t like a single thing that they have done, I hate the fact that I’m ever even slightly compared to them.”
He added, “I just never ever liked them. It’s a real problem to me cause as people I think they are really, really great guys. Just never liked the band. And I don’t know if I have a problem because they, well, became so much bigger than The Who in so many ways, in their chosen field, I’ve never liked them.”
Townshend claims that the problem with the band has never been a personal one. In fact, his respect for Jimmy Page as an individual musician is overwhelming. However, in the prism of Led Zeppelin, it’s an entirely different story.
“I first saw Jimmy Page when I was 14 or 15 and he was already in a professional band,” Townshend later reflected about the first time he caught eyes on the guitarist. “He was one year older than me, and he was in a professional band at 16 when I was just still in school. He was playing really fast stuff. He was an extraordinary player, arrogant, flash.”
Even though he’s dragged Led Zeppelin’s name in the mud for decades, Townshend isn’t blind to Jimmy Page’s magical technical ability as a guitarist. Judging by his comments, The Who man looked up in admiration of Page, who, despite being just a year older than him, was already living out his dream, and perhaps grains of jealousy seeped in which perhaps later even fuelled his contempt for his contemporaries.