Jimmy Page’s ‘Paranoid’ Solo Session for ‘Stairway to Heaven’
Jimmy Page and studio engineer Andy Johns recalled the “paranoid” moments that led up to the recording of the guitar solo for the Led Zeppelin classic “Stairway to Heaven.”
In a new feature in Classic Rock about the making of the band's fourth album, the pair discussed how the 1971 performance was tracked after all the other elements of the song had been laid down.
“I would invariably do guitar solos at the end, once the finished vocals and any overdubs were already on,” Page said. “I always put the solo on at the end because you’ve really living the track by then, and being the producer, you’ve already supervised all the overdubs that have already gone on.”
He recalled, “I just said, ‘Roll it,’ took a deep breath – that’s what I usually do – and then go. I had a couple of cracks at it, because you didn’t have as many options as you would have now. I worked out how I was going to actually come into it, the first two or three notes, but after that I didn’t work it out, I just played it.”
Johns, who died in 2013, remembered that the guitarist "hadn’t completely figured it out. I remember sitting in the control room with Jimmy. … He’d done a few passes and it wasn’t going anywhere. I could see he was getting a bit paranoid, and so I was getting paranoid. I turned around and said, ‘You’re making me paranoid.’ And he said, ‘No, you’re making me paranoid!’ Then bang! On the next take he ripped it out. Of course, it’s a really wonderful solo. Pagey was just unbelievable.”
Page described the solo as “ad-libbed just as much as it would have been in any of the live shows." “After the recorded version was laid down on record, the solo would remain in a similar vein live, but not exactly the same," he noted. "I was constantly changing it, mutating it, like we did with all the songs. That doesn’t mean I ever surpassed the one on the record. It is what it is and you can tell that it’s just flying. It’s not a labored solo, it’s not something that’s worked out, written down and read - it’s more like a stream of consciousness.”