“Heartbreaker” is a legendary track from Led Zeppelin’s 1969 sophomore album, Led Zeppelin II. Coming at the midpoint of the album, opening side two, “Heartbreaker” is known for its loose, raw feel and iconic lead guitar riff played by Jimmy Page.
It’s one of those songs that makes you want to pick up a guitar, even if you’ve never played before. Led Zeppelin have a lot of those, to be fair.
Lyrically, “Heartbreaker” deals with, well, heartbreak. Robert Plant sings about a failed relationship with a woman named Annie who may or may not be a prostitute. Regardless, she broke his heart with her carefree ways. Time has passed, he’s not over it, and she’s back in town.
During your countless play-throughs of “Heartbreaker” you may have noticed that the extended guitar solo that comes about halfway through the song has a different feel to it than the rest of the track. It almost sounds like it’s a different song, but then it goes back into that bold main riff before the final verse, and we’re able to catch our bearings again.
Jimmy Page revealed in a 1998 Guitar World interview that the reason for this is because the solo was actually recorded in a different studio than the rest of the song. According to Wikipedia, this is documented in Guitar World editor Brad Tolinski’s 2012 book Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page.
This solo is frequently cited as one of the greatest guitar solos of all time.
“Heartbreaker” Lyrics Meaning
Now that we’ve explored the track’s roots and standout solo, let’s delve into its lyrical intricacies.
“Heartbreaker” opens with that riff that we all know, heavy and boisterous, lasting nearly a full thirty seconds before Plant comes in to tell us about his plights in the first verse:
Hey fellas, have you heard the news?First verse to “Heartbreaker” by Led Zeppelin.
You know that Annie’s back in town
I won’t take long, just watch and see how the fellas lay their money down
Her style is new, but the face the same as it was so long ago
But from her eyes, a different smile like that of one who knows
Plant spreads the word to all the other men that his old lover Annie is back in town. He says that it’s only a matter of time before men start spending all their money on her.
While it’s not explicitly stated, the way that Plant words this implies that she may be the type of woman to engage in monetary exchanges for sexual favors.
Plant notices that she looks different, with a new style, but her face hasn’t changed. He can see it in her eyes, as they have a mysterious all-knowing quality to them, as if they’re giving a malicious smile.
The second verse further explains Plant’s stance:
Well, it’s been ten years or maybe more since I first set eyes on youSecond verse to “Heartbreaker” by Led Zeppelin
The best years of my life gone by, here I am alone and blue
Some people cry and some people die by the wicked ways of love
But I’ll just keep on rollin’ along with the grace of the Lord above
It’s been at least a decade since Plant has last seen her, and he’s let his youth pass him by. Now, he’s still alone and sad, but he has accepted it as part of life — or so he says.
Plant notes that love brings people a lot of pain, but he trusts in God to help him keep moving forward. The feel is that he’s outwardly accepted the loss, but he’s all torn up inside. Especially now that he has to see her again.
Next, we have the bridge:
People talkin all around ’bout the way you left me flatBridge to “Heartbreaker” by Led Zeppelin.
I don’t care what the people say, I know where their jive is at
One thing I do have on my mind if you can clarify, please do
It’s the way you call me another guy’s name
When I try to make love to you, yeah
I try to make love but it ain’t no use
Give it to me
Here, Plant shares that people all over town are talking about their breakup. He doesn’t care, he says, he knows that they are disingenuous, but he does have some questions for her. This represents denial, and as we learn in the next lyric, this woman is not faithful to Robert Plant.
While they attempt intimacy, she says the name of another man. This takes Plant out of the moment, and he’s not able to perform. Her saying of another man’s name while in bed with Plant is a dead giveaway that he is not her only lover, no matter how much he wants to be.
The bridge breaks into Jimmy Page’s famous extended solo, followed by the final verse:
Mm, work so hard I couldn’t unwindThird verse to “Heartbreaker” by Led Zeppelin.
Get some money saved
Abuse my love a thousand times
However hard I tried
Heartbreaker, your time has come
Can’t take your evil way
Go away, heartbreaker
Plant is trying to move on and forget. He’s working so hard that he doesn’t have time or energy to unwind. He’s saved some money, and things on paper may be looking good.
She has taken his love for granted too many times, and he feels that he has given her enough chances. He tells her to take her evil business somewhere else, because he’s not going to have any more of it.
Whether Plant was successful in ridding himself of Annie, we may never know. We can always listen again, and again, to try and figure it out. Now’s a good a time as ever, I’d reckon.
Listen to “Heartbreaker” by Led Zeppelin below.