This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #7: Stairway To Heaven by Led Zeppelin.
“Stairway To Heaven” is consistently rated as being the top Rock song of all-time or, at the very least, one of the top Rock songs ever. The famous Jimmy Page guitar solo that closes the final third of the song is, also, regarded highly and universally revered as being one of the top guitar solos ever created. Finally, “Stairway To Heaven” is the #1 most played song in the history of FM, Album-Oriented-Rock (AOR) radio. It is all of these things even though it is, essentially, an eight-plus minutes long song that defies meaning. Even Robert Plant, who wrote the lyrics, throws his hands in the air and exclaims that even he thinks the song means different things, depending on the date and time he is asked about it by some reporter. However, in the end, all that matters is that “Stairway To Heaven” is a great rock song from, arguably, one of the most stacked albums of all-time, “Led Zeppelin-IV”. Here is the story of how it all came to be.
“Stairway To Heaven” is a song that is constructed in three very distinct parts…..
Part #1 is the slow, gentle introduction of the “lady who’s sure, all that glitters is gold and she’s buying a stairway to Heaven”. This opening segment goes on for almost three full minutes. Bassist, John Paul Jones, recounted the story of the very first time they played “Stairway To Heaven” live, the audience grew bored during the first part of the song because it was so unlike the type of music the band was known for.
Part #2 is the middle section, where several instruments are added and the pace of the music picks up. It is not a full-on rocker yet but, the band is getting there. It is where Plant tosses in the very English line about there being, “a bustle in your hedgerow“. For those who don’t understand the reference……if you have ever seen a photo of the English countryside, you will note that, instead of fences, many neighbours separate their properties with rows of hedging….or, hedgerows, as some would call them. So, if something unusual is happening in your hedgerow then, you should take note.
Part #3 is when “Stairway To Heaven” kicks into high gear…….”And as we wind on down the road…” starts this segment off, …”Our shadows taller than our souls…“. The pace really speeds up. Robert Plant’s voice raises up an octave. All instruments are wailing and then, Jimmy Page starts his grand and glorious solo. The intensity of this segment maintains itself until Page winds down the solo and all becomes still thus, allowing Robert Plant to finish off the song with a slow, controlled, almost whispery breath that states, “And she’s buying a stairway to Heaven” and then, a high hat closeout, the song is finished and so are we, as listeners.
There are several rumours of note about this song. The first being that the construction of the song was based upon the physical act of making love to someone. If you look at how the song starts slow, almost tenderly and then, picks up in action and intensity in the middle part, eventually, ending in an action-packed climax that leaves everyone drained and still in the end….I guess there may be something to that rumour. No one in Led Zeppelin has ever confirmed that rumour, though. The second rumour concerns the theory that if you play the song backwards, Satanic messages will appear. Part of the crux of that they comes from the fact that neither Robert Plant nor Jimmy Page have ever really stated where the inspiration for the song originated. Sure, they will speak of Page playing guitar in front of a fire in a cottage and Plant composing the lyrics on the spot but, neither says how the magic happened, just that it did. The further bit of lore to this rumour goes way back to legendary Bluesman, Robert Johnson, who was reported to have sold his soul to The Devil in exchange for insight into how to properly play The Blues. Those who promote the “Satanic messages” rumour on “Stairway To Heaven” pull from the mythical take of Robert Johnson and state that Page and Plant made a similar bargain in that cottage, before that roaring fire and that “Stairway To Heaven” is actually, The Devil playing and singing through his servants in Led Zeppelin. I, personally, have never played the album backwards to find out if there is anything of note to be discerned so, feel free to do with this rumour what you will.
All that I really know is that, for me, “Stairway To Heaven” is a heck of a song. Sure, we have all heard it played hundreds of times but, having said that, I don’t mind listening to it at all, even today. It is one of the best songs of all-time for a reason.
So, without further delay, here is Led Zeppelin with their signature song, “Stairway To Heaven” from the album, “Led Zeppelin IV”. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Led Zeppelin, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.