Solos don’t get much more supreme than Jimmy Page’s royal effort on Led Zeppelin’s iconic song ‘Stairway To Heaven’. In truth, it’s astonishing that a human is even capable of such things. Whether anyone has ever bettered the solo is a question that will continue to linger for an eternity.
Page is the man behind some of the most formidable solos of all time, efforts that have ultimately left his imprint on music forever. Therefore, it’s not up for debate if he sits in the pantheon with the greats. Even before Led Zeppelin, Page was a session musician that most established artist attempted to recruit on their record. When he formed the group, Page gained the freedom to do whatever he wished, and the results were out of this world.
All his hard work before forming Led Zeppelin helped set the foundation for the band’s reign of dominance, and his finest moment in the group isn’t even up for debate for many. Of course, looking past his mercurial solo in ‘Stairway To Heaven’ is near-impossible. That performance alone epitomises why Page is revered so highly and sits in the Mount Rushmore of prominent guitarists.
“I would invariably do guitar solos at the end, once the finished vocals and any overdubs were already on,” Page recalled about the creation of the riff to Classic Rock. “Under the circumstances here, there’s a bass, an electric, 12-strings, recorders, a whole manner of things. I always put the solo on at the end because you’ve really living the track by then, and being the producer you’ve already supervised all the overdubs that have already gone on.
“I basically got my Telecaster out to do that solo. Even though I’d been playing Les Pauls, I wanted to get that bite of the Telecaster on it. It was the same Telecaster that I’d played on the first album, the one Jeff Beck had given me that I’d used in The Yardbirds. A bit of a magical guitar, really.”
Remarkably, the solo wasn’t even planned by the guitarist, and it just arrived at Page when he got lost in the moment. If there was anything to confirm that Jimmy Page is superhuman, it’s this moment of spontaneous genius.
“I just said: ‘Roll it’, took a deep breath – that’s what I usually do – and then go,” he continued. “So I had a couple of cracks at it, because you didn’t have as many options as you would have now. I worked out how I was going to actually come into it, the first two or three notes, but after that I didn’t work it out, I just played it.
“It’s ad-libbed just as much as it would have been in any of the live shows. After the recorded version was laid down on record, the solo would remain in a similar vein live, but not exactly the same. I was constantly changing it, mutating it, like we did with all the songs.”
Page concluded: “That doesn’t mean I ever surpassed the one on the record. It is what it is and you can tell that it’s just flying. It’s not a laboured solo, it’s not something that’s worked out, written down and read, it’s more like a stream of consciousness.”
Most guitarists don’t have the sheer ability to freestyle in the studio, and everything has to be meticulously etched out, but that was never Page’s approach. After all, it worked for him, so who are we to judge his methods? It’s a testament to his wild talent that he could let his intuitions take over and create a piece of magic from nowhere.