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Jimmy Page Before Led Zeppelin: 20 Great Sixties Session Songs

Delve into the guitar great’s sideman career with this comprehensive playlist, featuring the Stones, Bowie, Donovan and many more

In the late 1960s and throughout the Seventies, Jimmy Page helped shape and define the future of rock & roll with his work in the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin. However, in the years prior, he’d already made an immeasurable impact on the sound of popular music by way of the hundreds and perhaps even thousands of recording sessions he sat in on as an anonymous face in the many studios that dotted London at the time.

Whether it was jamming on a rock track with the Kinks, the Rolling Stones or the Who, playing the blues with Otis Spann, or providing the backbone to pop hits by Marianne Faithfull and Shirley Bassey, Page was a true Renaissance man who had little trouble handling any style that came his way. And while the full scale of Page’s session discography may never really be known, there are more than enough compelling examples to prove the significance of the future icon’s early work. Here are 20 tracks that every Page enthusiast needs to know.

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DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 10 : Guitarist Jimmy Page of the rock band "The Yardbirds" poses for a portrait before their show at Green's Pavilion in Lakeview Park on August 10, 1966 in Manitou Beach, MI. (Photo by Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Jet Harris, “Diamonds” (1963)

The very first recording session that Jimmy Page was ever enlisted to perform on was for this instrumental song by former Shadows bassist Jet Harris. At the time, Page was still trying to make his way as a student at Sutton Art College around his hometown of Surrey. He took a gig playing guitar at the Marquee Club near downtown London, when he began receiving offers to bring his noticeable talents into the recording studio.

While Harris, accompanied by his fellow Shadows bandmate Tony Meehan on drums, handles the electric-guitar parts with a Fender Jaguar, Page can be heard ripping away underneath, keeping the rhythm steady on an acoustic. When "Diamonds" debuted in January, 1963, the single stunned nearly everyone by hitting Number One in the U.K. just a month later. It would go on to hold that position for three consecutive weeks. Almost overnight, Page became a heavily in-demand commodity in the studio world.

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DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 10 : Guitarist Jimmy Page of the rock band "The Yardbirds" poses for a portrait before their show at Green's Pavilion in Lakeview Park on August 10, 1966 in Manitou Beach, MI. (Photo by Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Shirley Bassey, “Goldfinger” (1964)

Written in 1964, this title track to the third entry in the James Bond series was based on the song "Moon River," itself the theme to Breakfast at Tiffany's. Shirley Bassey, who would go on to lend her voice to two more Bond themes in the years to come, was enlisted by composer John Barry to sing on the song after Barry supported Bassey on her 1963 tour of the U.K. While the lush instrumentation of the arrangement makes Page's contribution difficult to pick out, you can hear his acoustic guitar helping to drive the song forward.

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DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 10 : Guitarist Jimmy Page of the rock band "The Yardbirds" poses for a portrait before their show at Green's Pavilion in Lakeview Park on August 10, 1966 in Manitou Beach, MI. (Photo by Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Nashville Teens, “Tobacco Road” (1964)

Despite what their name might suggest, the Nashville Teens actually sprung out of Page's own hometown of Surrey, England, in 1962. The group cut its teeth early on as many bands of that era did, by backing up big-name American acts like Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins on their tours of Europe. (They can actually be heard on Lewis' seminal album Live at the Star Club released in 1964.) Naturally, the Teens decided to strike it out on their own shortly thereafter and scored the biggest hit of their career with this song, their first single, that same summer with a little help from Page, who was brought in by his future Yardbirds manager-producer Mickie Most to supply the track's signature string-bending riff.

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DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 10 : Guitarist Jimmy Page of the rock band "The Yardbirds" poses for a portrait before their show at Green's Pavilion in Lakeview Park on August 10, 1966 in Manitou Beach, MI. (Photo by Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Otis Spann, “Stirs Me Up” (1964)

Otis Spann was one of the greatest blues piano players to ever come out of postwar Chicago. But like many of his contemporaries such as Sonny Boy Williamson II and Howlin' Wolf, when the enthusiasm for the blues dried up in America in the early 1960s, he was all but forced to migrate over to Europe, where a fresh, young audience was ready to receive him with open arms. This particular track from 1964 is an oddity in Page's session catalog because it features him playing harmonica rather than guitar. Six-string duties for the song were well taken care of, however, by one Eric Clapton.

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DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 10 : Guitarist Jimmy Page of the rock band "The Yardbirds" poses for a portrait before their show at Green's Pavilion in Lakeview Park on August 10, 1966 in Manitou Beach, MI. (Photo by Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Dave Berry, “The Crying Game” (1964)

In the early-to-mid-Sixties in England, whenever a producer needed to book a musician to play guitar on a track, the call typically went out to one of two people: "little" Jim Page or "Big" Jim Sullivan. This pop hit by Dave Berry, which reached Number Five on the charts, is one of many that featured both players, with Page handling the acoustic side and Sullivan taking the electric. The two men remained friends long after Page's session days were over, and Big Jim even lent Page his treasured Gibson J-200 to record the acoustic numbers on the first two Led Zeppelin records.

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DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 10 : Guitarist Jimmy Page of the rock band "The Yardbirds" poses for a portrait before their show at Green's Pavilion in Lakeview Park on August 10, 1966 in Manitou Beach, MI. (Photo by Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

The Rolling Stones, “Heart of Stone” (1964)

Not the version that made it out as a hit single in 1964, this was most likely a demo that the band cut a little more than three months beforehand with Page on lead guitar and fellow session man Clem Cattini taking over on drums for Charlie Watts. This take on the song is far looser and decidedly more countrified than the better-known version, with Mick Jagger also singing in a bit of a higher register. This "Heart of Stone" would sit on the shelves for nearly a decade until it was eventually dusted off and included as part of the Stones' Metamorphosis compilation in 1975.

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DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 10 : Guitarist Jimmy Page of the rock band "The Yardbirds" poses for a portrait before their show at Green's Pavilion in Lakeview Park on August 10, 1966 in Manitou Beach, MI. (Photo by Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Them, “Baby, Please Don’t Go” (1964)

Fronted by Van Morrison, Them were one of the hottest and most inspired groups to come out of the Sixties British Invasion movement. "Baby, Please Don't Go" was slated to be the group's second single after Morrison and Co. had dropped "Don't Start Crying Now" a few months earlier to little fanfare. Delta bluesman Big Joe Williams originally wrote and recorded the song in 1935, but it was the version by John Lee Hooker released in 1949 that convinced a 19-year-old Morrison to take on the song. Them's then-guitarist Billy Harrison handles all of the distinctive lead parts while Page holds down the rhythm behind him.

"Baby, Please Don't Go" was released as a single on November 6th, 1964, but was ultimately completely overshadowed by the B-side, "Gloria" which of course became the biggest hit of Them's short career.

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DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 10 : Guitarist Jimmy Page of the rock band "The Yardbirds" poses for a portrait before their show at Green's Pavilion in Lakeview Park on August 10, 1966 in Manitou Beach, MI. (Photo by Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Petula Clark, “Downtown” (1964)

You can't really get farther away from the heavy blues-rock sound of Led Zeppelin than this grandiose, treacly paean to the big city by Petula Clark. When you're just trying to make it in the musical world, however, you take whatever work you can get, no matter how far afield it might seem. Plus, it never hurts to have a Number One hit in the U.S. on your résumé as you navigate the precarious session scene. Much as on "Goldfinger," Page's contributions here are generally overshadowed by the song's bombastic orchestration, but around the midpoint of the song, you can clearly make out the sharp stabs of his favored black Gibson Les Paul Custom.

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DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 10 : Guitarist Jimmy Page of the rock band "The Yardbirds" poses for a portrait before their show at Green's Pavilion in Lakeview Park on August 10, 1966 in Manitou Beach, MI. (Photo by Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

The Kinks, “I’m a Lover, Not a Fighter” (1964)

A far cry from the overdriven sound that marked the Kinks' biggest early hits, "I'm a Lover, Not a Fighter" borrows heavily from the early-Fifties Elvis and Johnny Cash school of rock & roll, with Dave Davies offering up a solo in the middle that brings to mind the best of Scotty Moore and Luther Perkins. Page, meanwhile, was enlisted to provide a 12-string guitar part that helps fill out the track and adds a distinctive rawness to the arrangement.

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DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 10 : Guitarist Jimmy Page of the rock band "The Yardbirds" poses for a portrait before their show at Green's Pavilion in Lakeview Park on August 10, 1966 in Manitou Beach, MI. (Photo by Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Vashti Bunyan, “Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind” (1965)

Originally written by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger for the duo Dick and Dee Dee in 1964, the song made its way to Vashti Bunyan the following year after the Stones recorded their own version, which they decided to keep locked up in the vaults. Bunyan's take was produced by Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham and overseen by Page, who at that point was acting as an in-house producer for Oldham's Immediate Records label. Much like Bunyan's 1970 debut album, Just Another Diamond Day, the song didn't do much on the charts and only got its due much later as part of her 2007 compilation of the same name.

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DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 10 : Guitarist Jimmy Page of the rock band "The Yardbirds" poses for a portrait before their show at Green's Pavilion in Lakeview Park on August 10, 1966 in Manitou Beach, MI. (Photo by Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Nico, “The Last Mile” (1965)

Years before German-born singer Nico ever ran into Andy Warhol and joined up with the Velvet Underground, she was just another model-actress struggling to jumpstart a career in music. After running into Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones in 1965, she was handed off to Andrew Loog Oldham, who agreed to sign her to a short-term deal with Immediate Records. Oldham teamed her with in-house producer Page, who co-wrote this song with Oldham to serve as the B-side to single "The Last Mile." Featuring Page's acoustic guitar alone, the song is truly arresting, a generous preview of the sounds and styles that would mark both artists' music in the years to come.

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DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 10 : Guitarist Jimmy Page of the rock band "The Yardbirds" poses for a portrait before their show at Green's Pavilion in Lakeview Park on August 10, 1966 in Manitou Beach, MI. (Photo by Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

The Who, “Bald Headed Woman” (1965)

Page actually played on both this song and its more popular A-side, "I Can't Explain," but as he revealed in an interview with David Fricke back in 2012 about the latter track, "I don't know, really, why I was brought in. I'm playing the riff, in the background — behind Pete Townshend. I didn't need to be there. You can barely hear me. But it was magical to be in the control room." Page's contributions are much more prevalent on "Bald Headed Woman," where he lays down a distinctive lead line that intertwines with Daltrey's wailing harmonica on the back half of the song.

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DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 10 : Guitarist Jimmy Page of the rock band "The Yardbirds" poses for a portrait before their show at Green's Pavilion in Lakeview Park on August 10, 1966 in Manitou Beach, MI. (Photo by Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

The Manish Boys, “I Pity the Fool” (1965)

The Manish Boys might have just been another forgotten British Invasion band that never fully made it off the blocks if not for the fact David Bowie was a member of the group while he was still going by his given name, Davie Jones. Recorded by the Boys on January 15, 1965, "I Pity the Fool" — a standard-issue white-boy-blues take on the original, written and performed by Bobby Bland four years earlier — was released two months later to veritable crickets. The real highlight of the track remains Page's high-pitched, messy solo thrown in the middle.

The effort wasn't all for naught, however. According to Bowie himself, it was during this session that Page gifted him with the riff that he would use for his song "The Supermen" off his 1970 album, The Man Who Sold the World.

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DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 10 : Guitarist Jimmy Page of the rock band "The Yardbirds" poses for a portrait before their show at Green's Pavilion in Lakeview Park on August 10, 1966 in Manitou Beach, MI. (Photo by Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Marianne Faithfull, “In My Time of Sorrow” (1965)

One of the rare pre-Zeppelin tracks where Page received a writing credit, "In My Time of Sorrow" was penned by the guitarist alongside his then-girlfriend and "What the World Needs Now" singer Jackie DeShannon and was written specifically for Faithfull for inclusion on her 1965 self-titled studio LP. It's a pretty run-of-the-mill pop track, most remarkable for the jaunty harpsichord accents and Faithfull's own vocal warble. After helping to record the track, Page would back the singer during a short tour of Europe.

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DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 10 : Guitarist Jimmy Page of the rock band "The Yardbirds" poses for a portrait before their show at Green's Pavilion in Lakeview Park on August 10, 1966 in Manitou Beach, MI. (Photo by Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Donovan, “Sunshine Superman” (1966)

Along with his future Led Zeppelin bandmate John Paul Jones, Page booked quite a number of sessions with acclaimed Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan in the latter half of the Sixties. In addition to this number, Page is reported to have worked with him on the songs "Hurdy Gurdy Man," Teen Angel" and "The Trip." "Sunshine Superman" is a trippy bit of psychedelia that was inspired by the superhero of the title — originally released as a single in July, 1966, the track would lay the groundwork for an LP of the same name released the following month. In 2011, Page would reunite with Donovan to perform the song, along with "Mellow Yellow," at one of the singer's gigs at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

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DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 10 : Guitarist Jimmy Page of the rock band "The Yardbirds" poses for a portrait before their show at Green's Pavilion in Lakeview Park on August 10, 1966 in Manitou Beach, MI. (Photo by Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

The Fleur De Lys, “Circles” (1966)

Page's history with the Fleur De Lys — another one of Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate Records signings — began with the single "Moondreams" in 1965. He hooked up with the band again the next year to produce and play on this cover of a Pete Townshend–penned Who track that had been mired in legal hell after a lawsuit from that group's producer Shel Talmy forced the band to pull it from their single for "Substitute." The Fleur De Lys version is much more energized and disorienting than the original and finds Page adding his signature blend of six-string mania and menace to the Technicolor arrangement.

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DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 10 : Guitarist Jimmy Page of the rock band "The Yardbirds" poses for a portrait before their show at Green's Pavilion in Lakeview Park on August 10, 1966 in Manitou Beach, MI. (Photo by Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Jeff Beck, “Beck’s Bolero” (1967)

As he was preparing to get to work on his first solo single after leaving the Yardbirds in 1966, Jeff Beck decided to reach out to his old bandmate and childhood friend Jimmy Page to lend a hand by producing the session and putting together a band to back him in the studio. Page put out the call and enlisted John Paul Jones to play bass and the Who's Keith Moon to play drums while he would play a 12-string electric rhythm, allowing Beck to take the lead.

The song, based on the rhythm of French composer Maurice Ravel's orchestral piece Boléro, was recorded at IBC Studios in London on May 16, 1966, but wouldn't be released for another 10 months, as the B-side to "Hi Ho Silver Lining." The four players involved were so enthusiastic about the results that day, however, that talk started up about forming a real band out of the project. Moon had one of the lines of the century when he quipped that the project would "go over like a lead balloon." Thus, the seeds of what would become Led Zeppelin were sown in Page's mind.

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DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 10 : Guitarist Jimmy Page of the rock band "The Yardbirds" poses for a portrait before their show at Green's Pavilion in Lakeview Park on August 10, 1966 in Manitou Beach, MI. (Photo by Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Johnny Hallyday, “A Tout Casser” (1968)

Touted early on in his career as the "French Elvis," by 1968, Hallyday was one of the biggest names in Europe. He would go on to log two back-to-back Number One albums in his home country that year, and two more the next. The fourth track on his album Jeune Homme, "A Tout Casser" (or "Breaking Everything" in English) is a full-on wailing psychedelic breakdown that fits in comfortably with what Page had only just been trying to do with the Yardbirds before they melted down. It's a stunning number replete with panned sounds, backwards echo and wah-inflected guitar licks, all signature elements that the guitarist would employ to great effect in the years to come.

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DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 10 : Guitarist Jimmy Page of the rock band "The Yardbirds" poses for a portrait before their show at Green's Pavilion in Lakeview Park on August 10, 1966 in Manitou Beach, MI. (Photo by Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Joe Cocker, “With a Little Help From My Friends” (1968)

With a little bit of downtime between the fall of the Yardbirds and the rise of Led Zeppelin in 1968, Page decided to re-enter the studio to help out British blues wailer Joe Cocker with his debut solo album, With a Little Help From My Friends. But while the guitarist ultimately contributed parts to five different songs on that record, it's the titular Beatles cover that really stands out. Right from the outset, Page makes his presence known with a vibrato-tinted howl from his electric guitar and proceeds to match Cocker's inimitable snarl moment for moment throughout the song. It was yet another Number One hit for Page, and the first of two for Cocker.

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DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 10 : Guitarist Jimmy Page of the rock band "The Yardbirds" poses for a portrait before their show at Green's Pavilion in Lakeview Park on August 10, 1966 in Manitou Beach, MI. (Photo by Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Wilson Lindsay/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

P.J. Proby, “Jim’s Blues” (1969)

This track is notable not just for the inclusion of Jimmy Page, but for featuring the entire lineup of Led Zeppelin before they even recorded their first album. John Paul Jones had been enlisted to arrange and play on Proby's Three Week Hero album months before he joined up with Page, Robert Plant and John Bonham to form the New Yardbirds. When the date came up for this session, rather than blow it off, he apparently decided instead to ask his new bandmates if they wouldn't mind lending a hand, a request to which they readily agreed. This wasn't exactly Page's first go-around with P.J. Proby, either: The guitarist had worked with him years before on his 1964 Top 10 hit "Hold Me."

Unlike many of the sessions that Page sat in on during his early career, this one comes the closest to approximating the sound that would come to define most of his work with Led Zeppelin. With Plant's added harmonica part, and the slow, bluesy tempo and feel, the track actually bears a striking resemblance to Zeppelin's cover of the Muddy Waters classic "You Shook Me." (It should also be pointed out that the Jim named in the song's title isn't Page, but rather Proby himself, who was born James Marcus Smith.)

In This Article: Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin

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