Sunday, December 4, 2011

Stairway to Heaven

All right now for one of the greatest, some may even argue it is the greatest, rock song in music history..."Stairway to Heaven".

 "Stairway to Heaven" was released on November 8,1971 by Led Zeppelin and it runs for 8 minutes and 2 seconds. The song, which is the fourth song on Led Zeppelin IV, is composed of several sections, that increase in tempo and volume as the song progresses.The last section is a high tempo hard rock section highlighted by Jimmy Page's intricate guitar solo.

  Led Zeppelin started planning "Stairway to Heaven" in early1970, when they decided to create a new epic song to replace "Dazed and Confused" as the centerpiece of their concerts.Jimmy Page would work on the song in 8-track studio he had installed in his boathouse, trying out different sections on his guitar. By April he was telling journalists that their new song could be 15 minutes long and described it as something that would "build in climax" with John Bonham's drums not coming in for sometime. In October of 1970, after nearly touring constantly for 18 months Page and Plant worked on the song in a Welsh cottage called Bron-yr-Aur, where the started writing songs for the album. Led Zeppelin started writing "Stairway to Heaven' in December of 1970 at Basing Street Studios, a new Island Records studio,  in London.

  To complete the song and the rest of the album Led Zeppelin went to the former poorhouse, Headley Grange in Liphook Road, Headley, Hampshire where they recorded the album with the Rolling Stone mobile studio.

  Page kept a cassette recorder close by and the idea  for "Stairway to Heaven" came together in bits and pieces of taped music. Jimmy Page states:

 "I had these pieces, these guitar pieces,that I wanted to put together. I had a whole idea of a piece of music that I really wanted to try and present to everybody and try to come to terms with. Bit difficult really,it started on acoustic and as you know it goes through to electric parts. But we had various run-through [at Headley Grange] where I was playing the acoustic guitar. Robert was sitting in the corner or rather leaning against the wall and as I was routining the rest of the band with this idea and this piece, he was just writing. And all of a sudden he got up and started singing, along with another run-through and he had 80% of the words there... I had these sections and I knew what order they were going to be in, but it was just a matter of getting everybody to feel comfortable with each gear shift that was going to be coming."

  John Paul Jones, Led Zeppelin's bassist, recalled this presentation of "Stairway to Heaven" following its beginning at Bron-Yr-Aur:

  "Page and Plant would come back from the Welsh mountains with guitar intro and verse. I literally heard it in front of a roaring fire in a country manor house!I picked up a base recorder and played a run-down riff which gave us an intro, then I moved into a piano for the next section, dubbing on the guitars."

  In a 1977 interview, Page elaborated:  

   "I do have the original tape  that was running at the time we ran down "Stairway to Heaven"completely with the band. I'd worked it all out the night before  with John Paul Jones, written down the changes and things. All this time we were all living in a house and keeping pretty regular hours together, so the next day running it down. There was only one place where there was a slight rerun. For some unknown reason Bonzo couldn't get the timing right on the twelve-string part before the solo. Other than that it flowed pretty quickly."

   The first attempt at the lyrics written by Robert Plant sitting by an evening fire at Headley Grange, were partly spontaneous and Page claimed that " a huge percentage of the lyrics were written then and there.'" Page was strumming the intro chords when a flash of inspiration came to Robert Plant.  Said Plant: "I was holding a pencil and paper and for some reason I was in a very  bad mood. Then all of a sudden my hands were writing out the words 'There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold/ And she buying a stairway to heaven.' I just sat there and looked at them and almost leapt out of my seat." Plant's explanation for the lyrics was that it "was some cynical aside about a woman getting everything she wanted all the time without giving back any thought or consideration. The first line begins with a cynical sweep of the hand... and it softens after that." 

  The lyrics to "Stairway to Heaven" is a reflection of Robert Plant's reading at the time. Plant, who is a great admirer of all things mystic, Celtic writings and old English legends and lore, had been reading J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" and "Magic Arts in Celtic Britain" by Lewis Spence.The Tolkien influence can be heard in the phrase "In my thoughts I have seen Rings of Smoke Through the Trees." which could be a reference to Gandalf , the wizard in "Lord of the Rings",making smoke rings when he is puffing his pipe. There is also a correlation to the lady in the song and Lady Galadriel , the Queen of the Elves, who lives in Lothlorien, the golden forest.

   On March 5,1971 Led Zeppelin performed "Stairway to Heaven" for the first time in Belfast, Northern Ireland and according to John Paul Jones the people were not impressed. The audience came to hear songs they knew- like - "Whole Lotta Love".

  When the band started the U.S. leg of their tour the song got a better reception.From 'Led Zeppelin: The Definitive Biography' by Ritchie Yorke, Page said of playing the song at an August 1971 show at the Los Angeles Forum: "I'm not saying the whole audience gave us a standing ovation- but there was a 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."

  The world premiere of " Stairway to Heaven" was recorded on April 1, 1971 at the Paris Cinema, in Lower Regent Street,London, in front of a live audience and three days later it was broadcasted on the BBC. After that the song was performed at almost every following concert,unless there were  technical issues or those rare cut short due to curfews. 1975 marked the time when"Stairway to Heaven" got it's place as the regular finale in every Led Zeppelin concert. But, after their U.S.concert tour in 1977, Plant began to tire of singing "Stairway to Heaven". According to him " There's only so many times you can sing it and mean it...It just becomes sanctimonious." Led Zeppelin's last performance of this song, as a whole band, was on July 7,1980 in Berlin ( in the Western Sector I would imagine); this version was also one of the longest, lasting for about 15 minutes.

  When playing the song live, the band often extend the song over 10 minutes, with Plant adding lyrical ad-libs and Page playing an extend guitar solo, using a Gibson EDS-1275 double neck guitar so that he would not have to switch between a six string guitar to a twelve string guitar.

  At the 1985 concert event Live Aid,  "Stairway to Heaven" was played by the surviving members of Zeppelin and in 1988 at the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary concert with John Bonham's son, Jason Bonham, on drums and as an instrumental by Jimmy Page on his solo concert tours.

  By the late 1980's , Plant made his negative feelings towards the song clearer in an interview. He stated in 1988:

   "I'd breakout into hives if I had to sing ("Stairway to Heaven") in every show. I wrote those lyrics and found that song to be of some importance and consequence in 1971, but  17 years later, I don't know. It's just not for me. I sang it at the Atlantic Records show because I'm an old softie and it's my way of saying thank you to Atlantic because I've been with them for 20 years. But no more "Stairway to Heaven" fo me."

  But by the mid 1990's, Plant had apparently a softer view of the song. During the Page and Plant tours instead of playing the final notes of "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You"they played the first few bars of "Stairway to Heaven". In 1994, at a Tokyo news station, they performed an acoustic version for Japanese television. Also, thy performed the song at O2 Arena on December 10,2007 as part of the Led Zeppelin reunion show.

  Robert Plant cites the most unusual performance of "Stairway to Heaven" as being at Live Aid when Duran Duran was at the side of the stage crying. Plant stated "... there was something quite surreal about that."

  The legacy of "Stairway to Heaven" is that of high regard. It is often rated as among one of the greatest rock songs of all time. Although the song was released in 1971 it wasn't until 1973 that it  achieved it's "anthemic" status. Recalls  Jimmy Page I knew it was good, but I didn't know it was going to be like an anthem... But I knew it was the gem of the album, sure."

 "Stairway to Heaven" was put into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock 'n' Roll, in 1994. The English rock magazine 'Classic Rock', in 1999,listed it as the #1 song of the Best Songs Ever and was placed #31 on Rolling Stone magazine's "500 Greatest Rock Songs of All Time"  Despite never having been officially released as a single, it is one of the most requested song on FM radio in the United States during the 1970's. Through download sales promoting Led Zeppelin's compilation album "Mothership", "Stairway to Heaven" hit #37  in November of 2007 on the U.K. Singles Chart.

  In the late '90's the trade magazine 'Monday Morning Replay' reported that "Stairway to Heaven" was still played 4,203 times a year by the 67 largest AOR (album-oriented rock) radio stations in the U.S. ASCAP, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, refuse to release exact figures on how many it has been since it has been released, but that on each AOR station in America, the song was played 5 times a day, during the first 3 months of existence; twice a day for the next 9 months; once a day for the next 4 years;and 2 to 3 times a week for the next 15 years. There are roughly 600 AOR and Classic Rock stations in the U.S., which means "Stairway to Heaven"has been broadcasted a minimum of 2,874 times. At 8 minutes per spin, roughly 23 million minutes-almost 44 years- have been devoted to the song. So far.


 There's a Lady Who's Sure All That Glitters is Gold.
 And She's Buying a Stairway to Heaven.
 And When She Gets There She Knows
If the Stores Are Closed.
 With a Word She Can Get What She Came For.

 There's a Sign on the Wall
 But She Wants to Be Sure
 Cause You Know Sometimes Words Have
 Two Meanings.
 In a Tree by the Brook There's a Songbird
Who Sings Sometimes.
 All Our Thoughts Are Misgiven.

 There Is a Feeling I Get When I Look
 To the West.
And My Spirit is Crying For Leaving.
 In My Thoughts I Have Seen Rings of Smoke
 Through the Tree.
 And the Voices of Those Who Stand Looking.

And It Whispered That Soon If We All
Call the Tune.
 Then the Piper Will Lead Us to Reason.
 And a New Day Will Dawn for Those
Who Stand Long.
 And the Forest Will Echo With Laughter.

And It Makes Me Wonder.

If There's a Bustle in Your Hedgerow
Don't Be Alarmed Now.
 It's Just a Spring Clean for the May-Queen.
 Yes There are Two Paths You Can Go By.
 But In the Long Run
 There' Still Time To Change the Road You're On.

 Your Head is Humming and It Won't Go
-In Case You Don't Know.
 The Piper's Calling You to Join Him.
Dear Lady Can You Hear the Wind Blow
 And Did You Know
You're Stairway Lies On the Whispering Wind.

 And As We Wind on Down the Road
Our Shadows Taller Than Our Soul.
There Walks a Lady We All Know
Who Shines White Light and Wants to Show.
 How Everything Still Turns to Gold
 And If You Listen Very Hard
 The Tune Will Come to You at Last.
 When All Are One and One is All
To Be a Rock and Not to Roll.

No comments: