Jimmy Page’s Top 5 Guitar Solos with Led Zeppelin: From “Stairway to Heaven” to “Communication Breakdown”

Jimmy Page’s impact on rock music is undeniable. As the lead guitarist for Led Zeppelin, the musician is known as a trailblazer of the hard rock genre with a special gift for delivering indelible guitar riffs and truly unforgettable solos. You instantly know them when you hear them, whether it’s the transcendent rise of “Stairway to Heaven” or the adrenaline rush of “Black Dog.”

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The guitarist’s musicality has both influenced generations of artists and earned the respect of his contemporaries, with Queen’s Brian May remarking to British Music Monthly Guitarist in the early 2000s, “I don’t think anyone has epitomized riff writing better than Jimmy Page—he’s one of the great brains of rock music.”

Page is so good at what he does that it’s almost impossible to parse through the wonder of his work on a six-string (or more like 12- or even 18-string, given his well-documented love of his custom, cherry red Gibson EDS-1275 6/12), let alone rank his genius.

Below, American Songwriter selected five of Page’s most memorable guitar solos on Led Zeppelin songs. So grab some headphones, crank up the volume, and scroll through our picks for just a few of the icon’s best-remembered musical moments. 

1. “Stairway to Heaven” (1971)

Could there really be another choice for the top spot on this list? Often imitated but never quite duplicated, Page’s epic solo on “Stairway to Heaven” is the stuff of rock legend. The guitarist and frontman Robert Plant originally wrote what became Led Zeppelin’s most instantly recognizable song together for the band’s fourth album in 1971—officially untitled but colloquially and unilaterally known as Led Zeppelin IV.

By now, fans know each beat of the song’s orchestral composition, arranged in three movements of ever-increasing tempo, decibel and ferocity, ultimately crescendoing in Page’s iconic hard rocking solo—the very last element to be recorded at London’s Island Studios—in the final act as Plant wails his enthralling final lyrics. More than fifty years later, “Stairway to Heaven” has firmly ascended to rock god status, and for good reason.

2. “Achilles Last Stand” (1976)

Presence, Zeppelin’s seventh studio album, was recorded in the wake of the 1975 car accident that left lead singer Plant recovering from multiple serious injuries. As such, Page took charge of much of the album’s creation, with the duo stripping their sound of keyboards and the vast majority of acoustic guitar.

The album kicks off with “Achilles Last Stand,” a bombastic and complex 10-and-a-half-minute opener that weaves together influences from Moroccan music, the mythology of William Blake’s Albion, the ancient Greek tales of Atlas and Achilles, and the band’s experience as tax exiles in their native United Kingdom. 

Page recorded the entirety of the song’s guitar overdubs on his own over the course of a single evening, and would later call “Achilles Last Stand” his favorite Led Zeppelin song in many an interview—even going so far as to put the song’s guitar solo on the same level as his “Stairway to Heaven” solo. 

3.“Black Dog” (1971)

Led Zeppelin became bulwarks of album-oriented rock in their time, but “Black Dog” was actually released as one of the band’s official singles (rather than, say, “Stairway to Heaven,” which would follow as a promotional single off Led Zeppelin IV). In fact, the album opener titled after a black Lab the band encountered around the studio as they recorded the LP remains one of their highest-charting songs on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 15. 

Rather than the double-necked guitar he’d become synonymous with, Page recorded his guitar parts for “Black Dog” on a Gibson Les Paul, interlacing his beast of a riff in a spiffy call and response to Plant’s famous a capella vocal lines before he breaks the proverbial dam to unleash gushing waterfall of notes for his solo saved for the song’s final third. 

4. “Communication Breakdown” (1969)

Miscommunication never sounded so good. “Communication Breakdown” came early in Led Zeppelin’s oeuvre. Recorded in 1969 for the band’s self-titled debut (and released as the B-side for their very first single “Good Times Bad Times”), the track serves as an early blueprint for the entire hard rock genre the quartet would inspire, as well as something of a tease of Page’s abilities to command a breakdown on the guitar like no one else. 

The musician’s playing here (starting around the 1:24 mark) is wild yet contained, urgent yet considered, and captures a frenetic quality that whips the song into a memorable piece of work. Future guitar solos would be longer and perhaps more widely memorable, but with “Communication Breakdown,” Page planted an indisputable flag and declared his place as an icon-in-the-making on his musical weapon of choice.

5. “Stairway to Heaven” Live in London (1975)

There’s no argument to be had that the studio version of “Stairway to Heaven” is anything but iconic, but if a series of live performances exists that transcends Page’s acumen in the studio, it’s the band’s five-night stop at Earls Court Arena in May 1975. Page, Plant, and their bandmates hit the London venue for what was originally supposed to be just three nights but became a five-day stint after unprecedented demand for tickets. 

The series of shows occurred just a couple of months after Zeppelin wrapped their 1975 tour of North America promoting Physical Graffiti, and the band saved “Stairway to Heaven” as the grand finale on the setlist ahead of not one, but two encores. Plant’s vocal delivery is nothing short of majestic in footage captured from the week-long event, but it’s Page who transforms into a machine with his trusty, double-necked Gibson EDS-1275 for the song’s famous instrumental climax. Consider that mythical stairway to heaven bought and paid for in perpetuity.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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