As a musician, Jimmy Page has a pedigree that is eye-watering. Whether it be the numerous hits in the 1960s that he played on as a session musician, his work in Led Zeppelin, or his work after the band’s demise in 1980, Jimmy Page has long proven that he is one of the finest guitarists of all time.
Dextrous and emotive, it’s no coincidence that he is hailed as the master of “power-riffing”. In Led Zeppelin, his gargantuan licks helped to take rock down a much heavier and darker route, notably helping the establishment of metal in the process.
This is indicative of the kind of impact that Jimmy Page has had on culture. Without his work, the contemporary music scene would look and sound completely different, a stunning and multi-faceted point when you stop to consider it for a moment. Everyone from Rage Against the Machine to Måneskin owes a lot to Page, and the fact that his riff on ‘Kashmir’ was once sampled by Puff Daddy on ‘Come With Me’ shows just how extensive his work’s impact has been.
Page is perhaps the only person on earth who can boast that he’s played with The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck and Van Morrison. His CV is about as hallowed as you can get. He’s had a career brimming with classics, and even at the age of 77, Page remains one of the most influential guitarists out there, a testament to his skill. His dexterity and technical proficiency are two elements that mark him out as being a true master.
Page is not just a master guitarist either. The musician has also proven at many points that he’s a genius producer, helming some of Led Zeppelin’s best efforts such as IV — and that is without citing his brilliance as a songwriter. In truth, it seems that creatively, there’s nothing that the silver-haired wizard can’t do. So here, we’ve taken the step to list his ten best tracks both with and without Led Zeppelin.
A list brimming with masterworks, be prepared to be blown away by Jimmy Page’s mythical CV. Just a word of warning, we’ve omitted ‘Stairway to Heaven’.
Jimmy Page’s ten best songs:
‘Happenings Ten Years Time Ago’ – The Yardbirds
A psychedelic rock chef-d’oeuvre, ‘Happenings Ten Years Time Ago’ is credited with helping to influence the creation of the metal genre. It’s also one of the only Yardbirds moments that featured both Page and Jeff Beck, two of London’s hottest guitarists at the time. Slightly ominous-sounding, the dovetailing guitars of Beck and Page are intelligent, and today the track remains as stellar as it was when released in 1966.
This was the first instance where The Yardbirds started to take rock down a darker path, and in many ways, ‘Happenings Ten Years Time Ago’ set Page on his path to forming Led Zeppelin, wherein he’d perfect his long-standing aim of modifying rock in a much weightier way.
‘Beck’s Bolero’ – Jeff Beck
A rock staple, ‘Beck’s Bolero’ brought together some of ’60s London’s biggest names. Aside from Beck and Page, the other icons on the track were Keith Moon, Nicky Hopkins and John Paul Jones. An instrumental, the guitar riff is one of the most famous ever penned, and the thunderous break towards the end gives the track the necessary shot in the arm to take it from verging on boring to anthemic.
The ’60s to its core, the collaboration was unlike anything anyone had ever heard in 1967 and it had a huge impact on all those who listened, including messers Hendrix and Allman.
‘Sunshine Superman’ – Donovan
Page was a busy man in 1966, and ‘Sunshine Superman’ is one of his most well-known works from it. Jimmy Page actually played across all of Donovan’s album of the same name, with the highlight being the title track. Providing the electric guitar on ‘Sunshine Superman’, this plinky line is one of the most suggestive Page ever recorded, and you can imagine him pouting hard when laying it down.
The solo is simple but just what the song needed, and accordingly, ‘Sunshine Superman’ was one of the earliest indicators that Page understands the concept of song fully, which his extensive experience as a session musician undoubtedly affected. He provided the flower-power staple with just what it needed when other guitarists would certainly have over egged the pudding.
‘I Can’t Explain’ – The Who
A mod anthem, ‘I Can’t Explain’ is an early hit by The Who that has a considerable legacy. Taking cues from The Kinks’ proto-punk masterpiece ‘All Day and All of the Night’, the track helped to assert the dominance of rock in the ’60s and set The Who up as one of the era’s most essential outfits.
It is a lesser-known fact that Jimmy Page provided the track with its rhythm guitar. Confirmed by Who guitarist Pete Townshend, it’s one of the only tracks where Page takes a backseat, letting another guitarist take centre stage.
‘Communication Breakdown’ – Led Zeppelin
A proto-punk masterpiece, Page’s work on ‘Communication Breakdown’ is legendary. Credited with helping to establish downstroke as one of punk’s
key signifiers, everyone from Johnny Ramone to The Dictators cite it as an inspiration. Released in March 1969, Led Zeppelin truly arrived with this behemoth.
This was the first time that Jimmy Page was let loose, and his riff and soloing was the first teaser of what else was to come over the rest of the decade and the ’70s. Not long after the release of ‘Communication Breakdown’, Page would finally start earning plaudits for his masterful guitar work.
‘The Rain Song’ – Led Zeppelin
A more balanced Jimmy Page take, ‘The Rain Song’ is one of his most lauded efforts. There’s flecks of his work on Led Zeppelin IV, and his acoustic playing is some of the most passionate. The acoustic and electric guitars intertwine romantically, and one would argue that is perhaps his best work with Led Zeppelin. It’s got everything, and when the swooning mellotron comes in, it’s sensory overload.
This is modern guitar playing at its finest, and Page’s mix of chord work and licks is stunning. That sensual slide from A to G that carries the track is just incredible.
‘Immigrant Song’ – Led Zeppelin
‘Immigrant Song’ is the highlight from 1970’s polarising effort Led Zeppelin III. The riff that carries the track is simple but effective, providing the sound with a pounding edge. Additionally, who can forget Page’s minimalist use of tremolo, which helps to give the song a real bite.
It rumbles along and gradually builds to a dissonant crescendo, showing that Zeppelin possessed a fundamental understanding of how to bring a piece to a climax in a subtle way, it’s bombastic but restrained. Mystical and heavy, ‘Immigrant Song’ set a precedent for the band’s next effort, Led Zeppelin IV.
‘Whole Lotta Love’ – Led Zeppelin
Hard rock at its finest, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ is one of Led Zeppelin’s most well-known tracks, and there’s no surprise why. Featuring Page’s unique power-riffing, the slide guitar that pans in and out was a genius studio trick for the time. It is said that the riff emerged out of an onstage jam of ‘Dazed and Confused’, which makes a lotta sense.
The jazz-like break in the middle was unlike anything a rock band had ever attempted until that point, which confirmed Led Zeppelin as the most refreshing rockers out there, ready to take the throne left by the demise of The Beatles the following year, 1970. Swaggering, loaded and unashamed, this is Led Zeppelin at their most primal.
‘Black Dog’ – Led Zeppelin
‘Black Dog’ has to be Jimmy Page’s best riff. Another legendary Led Zeppelin moment, the opener to Led Zeppelin IV, set the tone for the rest of the album and was a big finger up to the band’s detractors of their previous album. Flaming hot, all band members shine on the track.
Page’s guitar work here is one of the most well-known intermediate guitar lines, and the call and response utilised on the track was another simple but effective songwriting device that audiences lapped up. One of the band’s finest moments, people will be discussing ‘Black Dog’ for many years to come.
‘Ramble On’ – Led Zeppelin
Starting off with that Simon & Garfunkel-esque acoustic guitar line, ‘Ramble On’ is a folk-hard rock fusion piece at the core. Dynamically refreshing, Page’s work on the track covers every inch of the fretboard, and his career as a session musician is really brought to the fore, with many different techniques utilised.
In a way, for Page, this was a culmination of everything that came before in terms of style, giving the song a multi-faceted feel, which makes it stand out in Led Zeppelin’s extensive back category. There are many brilliant moments contained within its four and a half minutes, but the most iconic is the sustained violin-like sound Page achieved in the break.