As far as rock ‘n’ roll solos go, few would argue that there is anything more widely adored than Jimmy Page’s swashbuckling effort on Led Zeppelin’s anthemic ‘Stairway To Heaven’. It’s something that will live long in the history books after we are all gone, but the Zeppelin guitarist who constructed that famous phenomenal sound disagrees. Page thinks that he’s achieved even better on a different song.
Page is the definition of a perfectionist. The man behind some of the most formidable solos and riffs of all time, everyone will remember Page among the best to pick up a guitar. Even before joining Led Zeppelin, he was one of Britain’s most esteemed guitarists, making his name with The Yardbirds. All his hard work before forming Led Zepellin helped set the foundation for the band’s reign of dominance. The four quarters of Zeppelin are undoubtedly strong, but Page has always seemed a cut above the rest.
‘Stairway To Heaven’ is a track that epitomises why Page is revered to such a high degree. How many other guitarists have got that kind of ability to create a solo that lives on for decades in the minds of his audience? In that regard, it’s hard not to fall head over heels in love with ‘Stairway To Heaven’. After all, it’s eight minutes of pure songwriting brilliance.
However, the song isn’t necessarily one the band enjoy, having noted countless times how little they liked to perform it in the latter stages of the group. While Robert Plant doesn’t connect with the track from a lyrical standpoint anymore, he can still doff his cap to Page’s majestic work. “The way Jimmy Page took the music through, and the way that the drums almost climaxed and then continued —it’s a very beautiful piece,” Plant said.
In 2016, Classic Rock probed Page with the age-old question about whether ‘Stairway To Heaven’ is his best guitar solo, which elicited the following response, “No, but it’s pretty damn good.”
Page then delved into further detail about how he created the mighty solo, adding: “The solo was done very quickly – in actual fact, there were already layers underneath, the bottleneck you can hear was on before the solo,” Page noted. “You’d save maybe three tracks to lay guitar solos into, which meant you could have two or three cracks at it and then choose the best.”
The pioneering guitarist then somewhat surprisingly recognised ‘Achilles Last Stand’ as his most outstanding solo. Explaining his decision, Page said: “[‘Achilles’] was testy, to say the least, to try and replicate, or at least to get a mean average of all the guitar parts on the record.”
Jimmy Page overdubbed six guitar tracks to create the mammoth sound that we hear on ‘Achilles Last Stand’, and the result is a source of pride for the guitarist. Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2007, Page recalled how the solo was born: “It was done in one evening, the whole of the arrangement. To be honest with you, the other guys didn’t know: ‘Has he gone mad? Does he know what he’s doing?’ But at the end of it, the picture became clear. It was like a little vignette, every time something comes around.”
From a technical standpoint, both solos are jaw-dropping and the kind of thing that guitarists strive their whole careers to achieve. Page can sit there comfortable knowing that both came from his magical hands, while casual fans across the world will think of ‘Stairway’ as Led Zeppelin’s archetypal solo tune, it was another that pleased Page most.
Take a few minutes out to listen to both ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and ‘Achilles Last Stand’, then decipher for yourself which one is Page’s finest hour.