Why Jimmy Page Recorded the ‘Heartbreaker’ Solo Without His Led Zeppelin Bandmates
While the debut album by Led Zeppelin represented a strong start for the band, it was Led Zeppelin II that established Zep as a commercial juggernaut. After its late ’69 release, the album knocked The Beatles’ Abbey Road off the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts.
That’s about what you’d expect from a record that kicks off with “Whole Lotta Love” and mixes in “Ramble On” and “What Is and What Should Never Be” along the way. Indeed, Led Zeppelin II also established Zep as a songwriting force, and it wasn’t all heavy blues-rock.
Meanwhile, the second Zep record served as another showcase for songwriter-guitarist Jimmy Page. If you weren’t jolted by his solo work on “Whole Lotta Love,” you had no choice but to stop and listen to him on the side 2 opener, “Heartbreaker.”
That’s because Page played that solo without any participation from his Zeppelin bandmates. As he explained later, Page wanted to give listeners something they weren’t hearing on other records.
Jimmy Page said he just wanted to do something different for his ‘Heartbreaker’ solo
In a 1993 Guitar World interview, Brad Tolinski asked why Page decided to record the “Heartbreaker” solo alone. “I just fancied doing it,” Page answered. But he also revealed something about his mindset while producing Zep’s albums.
“I was always trying to do something different, or something that no one else had thought of,” Page said. Hence the 46-second blast of Page alone with his guitar after the track’s opening two minutes.
As Page recalled it, he hadn’t composed the solo for “Heartbreaker” prior to recording it. However, he did try a number of different takes before settling on the one listeners got on Led Zeppelin II. But he pointed out why the solo sounds dropped into the record from out of nowhere.
“The interesting thing about that solo is that it was recorded after we had already finished ‘Heartbreaker,'” Page told Tolinski. “It was an afterthought.” For those with perfect pitch, Page’s anecdote can explain another unusual aspect of his solo.
Page laughed about the pitch variation in the ‘Heartbreaker’ solo
Tolinski, Guitar World’s editor-in-chief, asked Page about something that had baffled listeners for years: the higher pitch of his “Heartbreaker” solo, relative to the rest of the track. “The pitch was off as well?” Page replied with a laugh. “I did not know that!”
Considering the band recorded Led Zeppelin II in between tour stops, you had to expect the occasional mistakes. But Page was never one to remove them from recordings. Others have pointed to flubbed notes and other issues on “I Can’t Quit You Baby.” Page left them all on the recording.
Page’s bandmates shared that philosophy. That’s how you hear a plane passing overhead on “Black Country Woman” from Physical Graffiti (1975). When the engineer suggests taking it out, Robert Plant replies, “Nah, leave it.” Over 50 years later, it doesn’t take anything away from “Heartbreaker” — or any other classic Zep track.