As one-quarter of Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page carved out one of the most illustrious positions in all of rock and roll. Page, an admirably gifted guitarist, saw the future when he quickly assembled his band around some heavy rock rituals. While the sixties’ swinging sensibilities would allow Zeppelin to come together fully-formed, the way Page set them up meant they were ready for any future story, if not to write it themselves.
One thing that many people may not know about Page is that, despite being so ubiquitous with Zeppelin, he was already a pivotal figure in British music before forming the group. The aficionados among us may quickly point to The Yardbirds — the band he shared with Jeff Beck — as the only name on his CV but, the truth is, Page was already a well-established session musician before even then. As such, below we’re bringing you 10 of Jimmy Page’s best songs before Led Zeppelin.
The list below may not be full to the brim with archetypal rock anthems or blockbuster tunes, but it does show the wide variety of songs Page was on during his session days. That said, Page did work with the great and the good of the sixties before forming his own band, including The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Who and many more.
The fact is, when you’re as talented as Jimmy Page, you can turn your hand to pretty much anything and give it a rollicking lead line and, given the opportunity, that’s what Page did. The full weight of Page’s pre-Zeppelin discography from those early sessions may never be fully explored, below we’ve got a taster set of ten that prove Jimmy Page has always been a genius.
Jimmy Page’s 10 best songs before Led Zeppelin:
‘Diamonds’ – Jet Harris
When The Shadows bassist Jet Harris walked into the studio, there’s a good chance that a young Jimmy Page was left starstruck. When Page was asked to contribute some guitar work for the session, the art college student must have been in raptures.
Page began performing at a young age and it quickly got him some offers for studio session work and, with money scarce, Page took up the role whenever required. On ‘Diamonds’ the soon-to-be Zeppelin hero showcases his talent with an acoustic guitar. When the song shot to number one and remained there for three weeks, Page suddenly became very in demand.
‘Goldfinger’ – Shirley Bassey
One of the biggest song to have ever graced the James Bond franchise, ‘Goldfinger’ has since become a behemoth classic hit and also features Page on guitar. Released for the third edition of the James Bond sequence, it cemented Bassey as the ultimate Bond girl and the singer would feature on two more Bond theme tunes during her illustrious career.
Page’s contribution to the track is fairly minimal and largely lost beneath the lush composition of John Barry who oversaw the track. Nevertheless, it confirmed that Page’s golden touch wasn’t reserved for pop music of the day and could be applied to almost any sound.
‘Heart of Stone’ – The Rolling Stones
Though the confirmed collaboration between The Rolling Stones and Jimmy Page on their now-released 1974 track ‘Scarlet’ is truly wonderful, it came when Page was an already paid-up member of Zeppelin and therefore not up for contention. But, this rarely heard demo version of the band’s single ‘Heart of Stone’ certainly is.
Included as part of the Stones’ 1975 compilation record Metamorphosis, the original demo is a lot looser than the song which was eventually cut as the single. Page’s style is highly-charged with country rock and also offers a perfect refrain for Jagger’s higher register. There’s a playfulness on the track that reminds us all how easy Page found working on such tracks.
‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ – Them
Van Morrison may well be leaving us with our heads in our hands in recent months, apparently content to cry wolf at a chihuahua as the lockdown rules continue to disturb his fragile sensibilities. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy one of his finer moments as the leading man in Them.
Originally written by Big Joe Williamson ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ was scheduled to be the band’s second single after their debut release flopped. Made famous by John Lee Hooker, Van Morrison and co’s attempt on the song saw Them guitarist Billy Harrison handle the lead lines while Page brought his always-perfect rhythm to the track. The B-side to the release, ‘Gloria’ would overshadow the song forevermore.
‘Downtown’ – Petula Clark
One of the biggest songs to ever hit the airwaves, it’s hard to see how the impresario behind ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and ‘Whole Lotta Love’ could also be a part of such a classic tune. A tribute to city living, Petula Clark’s ‘Downtown’ is rightly revered as one of the most potent songs of the 20th century. What’s more, it features the wild talent of Page too.
Not that many people would notice. As with ‘Goldfinger’ Page’s gentle contributions to the song are hard to hear. Covered by the swinging arrangement, Clark’s vocal soars and captivates the audience, meaning Page’s acoustic lines are only for experts to pick out. If you listen out for the midpoint of the song you can just about hear a few notable guitar stabs at the melody.
‘I’m A Lover Not A Fighter’ – The Kinks
The Kinks were always a presence on the British pop music scene. They triumphed on the back of an overdrive sound that not only typified their output but showed their direct connection to the swathes of a new generation not content with the rock ‘n’ roll of their fathers. However, on ‘I’m A Lover Not A Fighter’, the band ditched their brand new sound favouring something a little more nostalgic.
Embracing the fifties swoon of Elvis Presley et al, Dave Davies on guitar does his best impression of Elvis’ guitarist Scotty Moore. While Davies steals the show, Page provides a 12-string arrangement that works effortlessly within the song and adds a needed piece of textural grit.
‘The Last Mile’ – Nico & Brian Jones
Before she became the fashionable side of Andy Warhol’s pop dream, AKA The Velvet Underground, the German model and singer Nico had a few goes at pop stardom. After meeting Brian Jones and then working with the Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, Nico went into the studio ready to record her new single ‘The Last Mile’. Featuring Jones in the studio, Page’s performance also emboldens the song.
Page was particularly attached to the song having co-written it with Oldham. As such, Page takes control of the track and pushes it towards some of the solid gold pop the decade produced. In fact, listening to the track makes it hard to understand why the song didn’t reach the top of the charts. It does offer, at least, a peek into the careers of all those that worked on the song.
‘Bald Headed Woman’ – The Who
While Jimmy Page was also involved on the A-side of this track, ‘I Can’t Explain’, we thought we’d share the lesser-known song ‘Bald Headed Woman’. The latter song cherishes Page’s contributions while the former was a bit more difficult.
In an interview with David Fricke back in 2012, Page said of ‘I Can’t Explain’: “I don’t know, really, why I was brought in. I’m playing the riff, in the background — behind Pete Townshend. I didn’t need to be there. You can barely hear me. But it was magical to be in the control room.”
It shows just how in-demand Page was as a session guitarist.
‘I Pity The Fool’ – The Manish Boys
Had David Bowie not reached the astronomical heights that he did as a solo performer then, chances are, we wouldn’t be talking about his former band The Mnaish Boys and this song ‘I Pity The Fool’ which features Page on guitar. Davie Jones, as he was known then, would enter the studio with the band and lay down the track in 1965, way before he truly found his feet as an artist.
While the song is pretty plain-sailing in regards to the pop music of the day, it was Jimmy Page’s swirling guitar solo which really shone on the song. Though a tad messy, it’s hard not to be enraptured by the performance. It was during his session that Bowie claimed Page gave him the riff for the 1970 song ‘The Supermen.’
‘Beck’s Bolero’ – Jeff Beck
It’s only fitting that we pay tribute to Jeff Beck’s classic reinterpretation of the Bolero as it can rightly be seen as the first moment Led Zeppelin was born. Page and Beck had already been working together within the Yardbirds and, having seen the band fail, were now keen to try out some new things. Beck was going solo and this single was the beginning of a truly intriguing career. He asked his old pal Page to help out in the studio.
Page called in John Paul Jones to work the bass and Keith Moon to perform on the drums as he strummed on a 12-string electric guitar. It was such a joy to record that the four members began to muse on what a solidified band would sound like. Talk about a potential group grew louder until Moon claimed that it would “go over like a lead balloon” and the first sparks of the roaring Led Zeppelin fire hit the petroleum thoughts of Jimmy Page.