Witness Jimmy Page’s genius with these 5 isolated guitar tracks
Jimmy Page is a pioneering figure in the world of rock music, the crucial lynchpin in Led Zeppelin’s phenomenon. The band’s early success was partly thanks to the work he’d already put in as one of the finest session musicians in all of London Town. He was an unsung hero before Led Zeppelin; then his greatness finally got the recognition it deserved with the group. These isolated guitar tracks prove precisely why.
What Led Zeppelin created during their reign of terror was genuinely remarkable, Jimmy Page building on the name he had already established thanks to his extraordinary work in The Yardbirds. When he first stepped on to the stage with Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones on September 7th, 1968, even he wouldn’t have believed what they would go on to achieve.
Jimmy Page had taken over from Jeff Beck as lead guitarist in The Yardbirds two years prior in 1966—with Beck previously taking over from Eric Clapton—so it’s no great surprise that he went on to have such a long, fruitful career as he has enjoyed. Led Zeppelin found themselves quickly part of the growing roster of rock acts on Atlantic Records. The band toured relentlessly and refined the idea of a rock show like no other band had done before them. With their touring schedule, the group showcased a future vision and laid the blueprints for most modern rock shows as we know them today.
Life after Led Zeppelin has not quite as eventful for Page and he dipped his toes into several different rivers to discover what it was that he wanted to do following the split of Led Zeppelin. The first of his ventures in the 1980s would be in ’81 with the short-lived supergroup XYZ with ex-Yes members Chris Squire and Alan White — but they would split before the same year. Next, he formed the ill-fated, The Firm, and then release his only solo album in 1988. Whilst it wasn’t a commercial success, his guitar skills remained formidable.
Where else to start but with one of the best guitar masterclasses of all time, ‘Whole Lotta Love’, this is the sound of Page at his best, and this isolated track proves precisely why this is the song that immediately springs to mind when one thinks of Led Zeppelin.
‘Whole Lotta Love’ represents the band’s fiery beginnings and the one thing they possessed that others acts could only hope to achieve. Four equal parts of a well-oiled machine. Every member of Led Zeppelin puts in the performance of their life on the track, but it’s still Jimmy Page who steals the show. The song was written by Page on his soon to be iconic Les Paul Standard sunburst and has credited its a unique sound for the golden power of the song’s iconic riff.
Led Zeppelin – ‘Over The Hills and Far Away’
This track is a world away from the firepower of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ but is a testament to the versatile skill set that Page has at his disposal. The 1973 track which appeared on Houses of the Holy was Page’s way of paying homage to his Celtic ancestry but in a way that only he could and by giving his roots the full Led Zeppelin treatment.
‘Over The Hills and Far Away’ features riffs that Page had been trying to use since his days with The Yardbirds but he couldn’t find a home for them before this track came along. It was intended to be an instrumental but expanded into something more significant and shows that Page could do more than just these stonking great solo’s.
Led Zeppelin – ‘Ramble On’
Taken from the iconic sophomore album Led Zeppelin II, the album the quartet released in 1969, the vision for ‘Ramble On’ was one of fantasy from Robert Plant. The singer, like many other artists his age, had become inspired by the work of fantasy fiction writer J.R.R. Tolkein and with the track makes reference to its impact on him.
One of Zeppelin’s more obviously joyous songs, the upbeat tone of the cut is perfectly complimented by guitarist Jimmy Page’s silky solo which saunters in around the one minute 47-second mark. It swirls and spirals like a magician’s spell and there is something entirely hypnotic about it. It’s a piece of music which not only sounds great and fulfils what a guitar must do in providing the melody of the track but adds its own narrative structure.
Led Zeppelin – ‘What Is and What Should Never Be’
Another track from the seminal, Led Zeppelin II, ‘What Is and What Should Never Be’ is another magnificent performance from Jimmy Page that deserves to be listened to isolated. The iconic effort is one of the first songs that Page used his soon-to-become legendary Gibson Les Paul to record and after, hearing this version it’s clear why the two of them fit like gloves.
Legendary producer Rick Rubin once remarked, “The descending riff [of ‘What Is and What Should Never Be’] is amazing: It’s like a bow is being drawn back, and then it releases. The rhythm of the vocals is almost like a rap. It’s insane — one of their most psychedelic songs.” The song was also one of the first that Robert Plant received a writing credit for, with the lyrics allegedly being inspired by his affair with his wife’s sister.
Led Zeppelin – ‘Heartbreaker’
The 1969 track begins with a simply iconic riff. The chugging sound is perfectly summed up by legendary producer Rick Rubin who has previously remarked, “One of the greatest riffs in rock. It [‘Heartbreaker’] starts, and it’s like they don’t really know where the ‘one’ is. Magical in its awkwardness.” Awkward as it may be, there was nothing awkward about one particularly joyous part of the song; Page’s solo.
The solo was a spontaneous performance and attached to the track unaccompanied, given its own room to breathe and it is sensational. The guitarist explained to Guitar World in 1998: “The interesting thing about the solo is that it was recorded after we had already finished ‘Heartbreaker’ – it was an afterthought. That whole section was recorded in a different studio and it was sort of slotted in the middle.”