It has been a while since the idea of diversifying this blog crossed my mind; perhaps it would be a good idea to write about something other than machines.
Following this idea, I decided to talk about another passion of mine, Classic Rock, but instead of telling the history of the bands, I will tell the history of songs that made those bands legendary. I hope you will enjoy it.
The Greatest Rock’n Roll Song Ever… (telling or asking?)
For this first “episode”, I chose Stairway to Heaven, the most popular song of the British band, Led Zeppelin, and one of the greatest works in the history of Rock’n Roll.
Robert Plant and Jimmy Page started to work on new songs for the band’s fourth album as soon as they came back from their American tour, in December 1970. The band went to Bron-Yr-Aur, a remote cottage in Wales, for an inspirational holiday.
Page wanted an epic song for the new album, as he told in an interview, – “I don’t want to tell you about it in case it doesn’t come off, it’s an idea for a really long track on the next album … we want to try something new with the organ and acoustic guitar building up and building to the electric thing.” –
“Stairway to Heaven”, just like any other artistic masterpiece in history, took a long time to be finished. According to Page, … “the song was written over a long period, the first part coming at Bron-Yr-Aur one night”.
Page used to keep a cassette recorder around to register new ideas that could burst at any moment. The rest of the song is a collection of pieces and bits from those tapes that Jimmy masterfully sewed together.
The lyrics and the dark controversy
As the work for the new album progressed, the band went to Headley Grange, an old mansion, located in Headley, Hampshire. This huge, dusty, and historic house was the perfect venue for many bands who wanted a secluded place with a good acoustic for recording and rehearsing. Jimmy Page was strumming Stairway to Heaven on his guitar, around a bonfire and Robert Plant recalls writing the lyric in a flash of inspiration.
“I was holding a pencil and paper, and for some reason, I was in a very bad mood. Then all of the sudden my hand was writing out the words, –There’s a lady who’s sure all the hitters is gold/And she’s buying a stairway to heaven. – I just sat there and looked at the words and then I almost leaped out of my seat.”
After revealing what happened that night, around the fire, Plant left the door open for speculations that “something else” wrote the lyrics. According to some conspiracy theories, members of Led Zeppelin gave their souls to the devil in exchange for what would become the greatest Rock’n Roll song of all time. Those theories even stretch to the point that if a certain part of the song is played backward, it sounds like a prayer for the devil.
The conspiracy of the so-called “Satanic backward massage” got some endorsement when connected with the fact that Jimmy Page bought a house that belonged to the English occultist Aleister Crowley, on the southern bank of Loch Ness, Scotland (picture above). In his books, Crowley advocated that his followers learned to read and speak backward.
In an interview with Musician magazine, Robert Plant expressed his frustration about the whole satanic theory: “‘Stairway To Heaven” was written with every best intention, and as far as reversing tapes and putting messages on the end, that’s not my idea of making music. It’s really sad. The first time I heard it was early in the morning when I was living at home, and I heard it on a news program. I was absolutely drained all day. I walked around, and I couldn’t actually believe it, I couldn’t take people seriously who could come up with sketches like that. There are a lot of people who are making money there, and if that’s the way they need to do it, then do it without my lyrics. I cherish them far too much.”
Stairway to Heaven is a poetic message about our greedy, materialistic, society that believes everything, including a path to heaven, can be acquired with money, which is the opposite of what the conspiracies keep telling us. If they wanted to praise the dark side, why not do it openly like so many other bands did? But I will not try to convince you of anything here, after all, there is plenty of material on the Internet about the subject; you can do your own research and come to your own conclusions.
Led Zeppelin IV
The recording sessions for the new album began in December 1970, at Island Records, on Basing Street, in London. Stairway to Heaven received Plant’s vocals in 1971 (this part being recorded at Headley Grange). Bass player John Paul Jones decided not to play bass on this because of the folk character of the song. Instead, he added a string section, keyboards, and flutes. Bonham starts playing his drums at 4:18. The song was completed when Page returned to Island Studios to record his guitar solo.
Led Zeppelin’s label, Atlantic Records, wanted to release the song as a single, but the band’s manager, Peter Grant, refused it. The untitled album reached the stores on November 08, 1971. The fans quickly named it, Led Zeppelin IV.
Jimmy Page originally wanted a 15-minute epic song but the recording version of Stairway to Heaven has 8:03 min. The British critics didn’t show a whole lotta love for the song at the time of its release, some said the song was boring and even pretentious.
The first time the band played it live was in war-torn Belfast, Northern Ireland on March 5, 1971 – John Paul Jones noticed the audience wasn’t that impressed. –They wanted to hear something they knew – like “Whole Lotta Love”.
It was the American fans that first showed a better appreciation for the song. Jimmy Page said of playing it in Los Angeles, in August 1971: “I’m not saying the whole audience gave us a standing ovation – but there was this sizable standing ovation there. And I thought, ‘This is incredible because no one’s heard this number yet. This is the first time hearing it!’ It obviously touched them, so I knew there was something with that one.”
It was also in the USA that Stairway to Heaven started a very successful radio journey. According to some experts, the song has a perfect format for it and it became one of the most-played songs on the radio all over the planet.
Scandals of plagiarism are part of Led Zeppelin’s history and it was no different with Stairway to Heaven. The band was accused of stealing the opening guitar riff from a song called Taurus by the American psych-rock band Spirit, recorded three years earlier. If the case was lost, Page and Plant would have been required to pay a sizable amount of money in compensation. Just to give an idea of the kind of money we are talking about here, the song has earned, since it was released in 1971, more than half a billion Dollars for the band. The case dragged on in court for five years and the judges finally ruled the two songs were not intrinsically similar.
During the trials, in 2016, Jimmy Page shattered one of the most beloved Led Zeppelin legends, when, under oath, he declared that he didn’t start working on Stairway to Heaven in the mystical and ancient Bron-Yr-Aur cottage in Wales.
Page said that he wrote the music on his own and first played it for his bandmates at Headley Grange mansion, where they recorded it using a mobile studio owned by The Rolling Stones. Plant corroborated the story in his testimony.
The fans elevated Bron-Yr-Aur (pictured above) to the status of holy ground for all Led Zeppelin-related stuff. The place became the destination of pilgrimage for thousands of fans that visit the cottage every year.
The place also has a strong connection with the band’s (especially Plant’s) beliefs in the Celt culture and religion. It was a bit of a disappointment to know that Bron-Yr-Aur never had an attachment to the creation of Stairway to Heaven.
If Stairway to Heaven is the greatest Rock’n Roll song ever is a matter that will be passionately discussed for generations to come. But one thing is for sure, it became Led Zeppelin’s anthem.
Jimmy Page holds the song as the band’s best work. After that, he put Robert Plant to write all the lyrics for Led Zeppelin. In 1975, Page was interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine and when he was asked how important the song was to him, he answered:
– To me, I thought “Stairway” crystallized the essence of the band. It had everything there and showed the band at its best… as a band, as a unit. Not talking about solos or anything, it had everything there. We were careful never to release it as a single. It was a milestone for us. Every musician wants to do something of lasting quality, something which will hold up for a long time and I guess we did it with “Stairway”. –
Page’s words sum up not only what the song represents for the band but also for the fans: Stairway to Heaven is the zenith of Led Zeppelin history.
Oddly enough, it is not Plant’s favorite song; for him, Kashmir is the band’s best work.
8 thoughts on “Classic Rock – Stairway to Heaven”
Fascinating! It would be difficult for me to pick one greatest rock song, but “Stairway” is one of the best – without a doubt. Don’t stop writing about Classic Machines but I vote YES! for more articles about classic rock.
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I am very pleased that you approved the idea. It is the same here, I think it is very hard to pick the “greatest ” rock song ever, I believe it is more like a “top 10” list. It is a pleasure to write about stuff that we love.
One of my all time favourites, takes me right back to my youth. Not many decent Rock bands back then, Sabbath, Deep Purple and the group I’ve seen live the most Hawkwind. Later I moved on to heavier, darker and then punkier music but still have a soft spot for the classics.
Yep, more posts like this please.
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During my teenage years, in the 1980s, the Brazilian radio stations ignored the Classic Rock completely. It was only when we moved to the USA, in the early 2000s that I had a more deep contact with the genre and I just fell in love with it.
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I knew pieces and bit of it, but not the whole story. Thanks for sharing.
Saw Zep in concert here in Milwaukee.
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Wow!!! Must have been really cool.
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