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Best Jimmy Page Guitar Riffs: 10 Hard-Hitting Led Zeppelin Highlights
Michael Brito
List & Guides

Best Jimmy Page Guitar Riffs: 10 Hard-Hitting Led Zeppelin Highlights

Powering Led Zeppelin to their greatest heights, the best Jimmy Page guitar riffs staged a blistering assault on rock’n’roll.

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The best Jimmy Page guitar riffs not only secured Led Zeppelin’s place in the pantheon of rock gods, they also mapped out an entirely new future for rock’n’roll music as it evolved into hard rock, and provided the bridge to heavy metal to boot. Masterminding many of the best Led Zeppelin songs, the guitarist was also a sonic visionary who pioneered new recording techniques that helped the group demolish the competition throughout the 70s, but Jimmy Page’s legacy still largely rests on his superhuman prowess on his instrument. Here are ten examples of the rock icon at his incendiary best. Beware: it might get loud.

Listen to the best of Led Zeppelin here, and check out the best Jimmy Page guitar riffs, below.

10: Moby Dick (from ‘Led Zeppelin II’, 1969)

The instrumental Moby Dick is primarily remembered for drummer John Bonham’s nearly three-minute solo – a tour de force which he often stretched out to half an hour on stage – but it’s bookended by a memorably sprightly guitar riff which, at the outset, jousts with Bonham’s cowbell as Page deploys a combination of nimble fingering, a simple melody and a nifty key change. It’s still Bonham’s showcase, but Page cheerfully sets one of the best drummers of all time up to do his thing.

9: Rock And Roll (from ‘Led Zeppelin IV’, 1971)

While taking a break from recording the altogether more complex Four Sticks, for “Led Zeppelin IV, John Bonham kicked into the breakneck drum part for one of Little Richard’s classic 50s rock’n’roll tunes and, within 15 minutes, the band had worked up a full-tilt throwback rocker that rock critic Robert Christgau later praised as “simply the most dynamic hard-rock song” in music. Recorded after the group had taken a more pronounced acoustic direction with Led Zeppelin III, Rock And Roll, which sees Page unleash a joyously amped-up 12-bar blues riff, was, frontman Robert Plant later told Creem magazine, the result of Led Zeppelin deciding “rock’n’roll needed to be taken on again… It was a very animal thing, a hellishly powerful thing, what we were doing.”

8: The Ocean (from ‘Houses Of The Holy’, 1973)

By the time they released their fifth album, Houses Of The Holy, Led Zeppelin had gone way beyond rock music’s parameters and were assimilating elements of folk, funk and reggae into their blues-rock onslaught. A sparse reminder that Page didn’t have to make things complex in order to make them memorable, The Ocean’s opening 15-note riff acts as a spiky, funky counterpart to John Bonham’s anchoring groove. Two years after Beastie Boys nabbed it for their 1986 cut She’s Crafty, Plant himself got in on the action, sampling the track – along with other contenders among the best Jimmy Page guitar riffs, such as Whole Lotta Love – for the song Tall Cool One, from his 1988 solo album, Now And Zen. It “seemed a bit of a hoot” the singer later said of pillaging his own back catalogue.

7: Heartbreaker (from ‘Led Zeppelin II’, 1969)

This Led Zeppelin II highlight is often singled out for Jimmy Page’s guitar solo – literally taken solo, with Plant, Jones and Bonham all sitting back in silence to witness 45 seconds’ worth of masterful string-bending fretwork. Heartbreaker does, however, also earn its spot among the best Jimmy Page riffs thanks to its commanding intro, which anticipates the arrival of heavy metal (Black Sabbath’s Toni Iommi would soon pick up from where it left off, and would later even down-tune his guitars to create an even more doomy effect). Producer Rick Rubin, no stranger to heaviosity, once called it “one of the greatest riffs in rock”, signalling out its seemingly elusive “one” beat as being “magical in its awkwardness”.

6: When The Levee Breaks (from ‘Led Zeppelin IV’, 1971)

Most often remembered – quite rightly – for opening with one of the best John Bonham drum performances of all time, the thunderous When The Levee Breaks bursts forth in a flow of production trickery and a sinewy guitar line that confidently winds its way into the best Jimmy Page guitar riffs. Bonham’s sample-fodder drumming (it’s been sampled on well over 100 hip-hop songs) and the backwards echo on Robert Plant’s harmonica remain defining features of Led Zeppelin’s take on this 1929 Memphis Minnie blues standard, but it’s Page’s fluid slide riff that helps complete the swampy vibe of a song Led Zeppelin biographer Mick Wall called a “hypnotic, blues rock mantra”.

5: Houses Of The Holy (from ‘Physical Graffiti’, 1975)

The sounds of 70s rock in all its cocksure glory, Jimmy Page’s Houses Of The Holy riff has swagger to spare, essentially taunting all other six-string pretenders who dared try to claim a place among rock’s best guitarists. Initially held over from the sessions for the album of the same name, but finding a place on Led Zeppelin’s double-album masterpiece, Physical Graffiti, Houses Of The Holy’s stop-start strut unfolds with effortless ease, but it’s the little flourishes that Page deploys throughout that keep the riff fresh.

4: Communication Breakdown (from ‘Led Zeppelin’, 1969)

Inspired by Eddie Cochran’s vintage rocker Nervous Breakdown, Communication Breakdown shows how the best Jimmy Page guitar riffs can be deliciously simple yet devastatingly effective. With rapid-fire one-note picking resolved by a swift three-chord blast, Communication Breakdown effectively strafes listeners from the outset, and the fact that it was tucked away towards the end of Led Zeppelin’s self-titled debut album shows just how strong their arsenal was from the get-go. Page created what he called its distinct “guitar in a shoebox” sound by placing his amp in a small recording booth and miking it up from a distance. “There’s a very old recording maxim which goes, ‘Distance makes depth,’” he explained to Guitar Player magazine in 1977. “I’ve used that a hell of a lot on recording techniques with the band generally.”

3: Immigrant Song (from ‘Led Zeppelin III’, 1970)

Charging forward with a merciless drive, Jimmy Page’s opening Immigrant Song riff combines with John Bonham’s dextrous kit work to create something so relentlessly powerful it seems hardly capable of being performed by humans. Indeed, there’s an almost remorselessly mechanical precision to not only Page’s timing, but to the way the cyclical riff resolves itself. As the rhythm section builds across the song’s first 30 seconds, the effect is akin to watching Viking longships gather on the horizon and knowing you can do nothing to stop their onslaught.

2: Kashmir (from ‘Physical Graffiti’, 1975)

Another example of how the best Jimmy Page guitar riffs could be bolstered by John Bonham’s thunderous drumming in order to create something ominous and hypnotically otherworldly. Kashmir’s Eastern-influenced motif set the pace for one of the Physical Graffiti album’s undoubted highlights, and provided the basis for Led Zeppelin at their most ambitious. “I had thought of the riff in orchestral terms, with cellos doing it, and this cascading brass, for the different colours of the orchestra,” Page told The Guardian in 2015. With the final recorded version of the song including brass and a string section, Kashmir brought the second half of Physical Graffiti’s original vinyl pressing to a suitably dramatic close. It was, he explained, “supposed to be: That’s it. Nothing follows that. You need time to catch your breath after.”

1: Whole Lotta Love (from ‘Led Zeppelin II’, 1969)

Regularly featuring in lists of the best guitar riffs of all time, the muscular opening to Whole Lotta Love smashes its way to the top spot in this run-down of the best Jimmy Page guitar riffs by virtue of its ubiquity alone. However, across-the-board recognition (it was, for years, used as the opening theme for BBC TV’s Top Of The Pops) isn’t the only reason for Whole Lotta Love’s status. Opening the group’s second, album, Led Zeppelin II, it supercharged everything their debut had delivered, serving notice that Led Zeppelin were quickly soaring above the competition – if they hadn’t done so already. More than a rock riff, it captures something elemental that seems to appeal to fans of all types of music. “That riff was so fresh and still is,” Page told Total Guitar in 2020. “If somebody plays that riff it brings a smile to people’s faces. It’s realty a positive thing.”

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