Led Zeppelin - "Stairway To Heaven"

40 years ago today, Led Zeppelin released IV, the album that includes “Stairway To Heaven.” This seems about right. Actually, it’s always seemed about right. For the twenty-some years that “Stairway To Heaven” has existed in my consciousness, “Stairway To Heaven” has seemed to be about 40 years old. I can’t imagine a reality when people were listening to, arguably, the most grandly ridiculous song in rock history when it actually came out.

In its sands-of-time mysticism and its inexorable whisper-to-wail build, “Stairway To Heaven” doesn’t seem like the sort of song that human beings sit down to write. All those old something-out-of-nothing story-pegs — the lyrics scrawled on crumpled notebook paper, the first muddy rehearsal run-through, the band hearing the track on the radio for the first time — seem like they couldn’t possibly apply to this eight-minute monolith. Instead, the song has exactly the sort of power that exists for people to joke about. The lyrics are ridiculous, sure, and the Lord Of The Rings flutes and balls-out soloing are the sorts of things that seem adolescent even when you’re actually an adolescent. But all the things that make “Stairway” absurd are the same things that make it great. Because it is great.

Consider, if you can bring yourself to do it, this endless deleted scene from Almost Famous, a scene that reportedly only got clipped because Cameron Crowe couldn’t get the rights to the song but which would’ve ground the movie to a halt if it’d made it in. The scene, in which Patrick Fugit attempts to convince Frances MacDormand and a roomful of grown-ups of the song’s worth, is both hilarious and deeply, deeply wince-worthy. On most of those faces, we eventually see an enthusiasm for the song that strikes me as perfectly genuine — natural, even. But the painful earnestness of that venture, and the entire enterprise of rocking out in front of your mom, also peg it as the sort of thing that brings on a full-body cringe when you remember it later.

“Stairway” may be a prototypical power-ballad, but it’s hard to judge its place within rock history. Did it actually influence anything? Did “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and “Silent Lucidity” reach for “Stairway”-hood? Could any song possibly aspire to “Stairway”-hood? “Freebird,” even? I honestly have no idea.

But let’s all listen to the song together anyway. Happy birthday, “Stairway.”

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Comments (36)
  1. Led Zeppelin never released ‘Stairway to Heaven’ as a single. Forty years ago today, their self-titled fourth album was released that contained ‘Stairway.’

    Zeppelin never was a singles band. They had a few sporadic releases, but ‘Stairway to Heaven’ never was one of them.

  2. aw. I wish John Bonham was still alive.

  3. I went to a pretty strict Catholic elementary school, but in 7th and 8th grade, we had these Saturday night hangouts chaperoned by parents where the rules went out the door. Every two months, we’d have dances and the DJ, this long haired early Marilyn Manson devotee, would always play “Stairway to Heaven” as the final dance of the night. Needless to say, my palms were pretty sweaty by the time those 7 minutes+ were up after having my hands around the waistline of a class crush.

    Also regulars on the playlist: Nine Inch Nails’ “The Perfect Drug,” Smashing Pumpkins’ “Eye.”

  4. November Rain I think maybe is the closest thing we’ll ever get to Stairway to Heaven again.

  5. Never did finish learning to play that guitar solo.

    • I actually learned the two opening solos to play for a friend’s wedding ceremony over the summer. It was the “walking down the aisle” theme. True story.

  6. It’s definitely an overwrought song, but I thought this was an unneccesarily snarky article. Just saying.

    • It’s the typical Stereogum formula for writing about classic rock: pretend to knowledgeable enough to appreciate and understand it, while at the same time maintaining that it’s lame because your dad likes it.

  7. I’ll take “When the Levee Breaks” any day of the week.

  8. the song is great period, most bands would love to write a song as enduring as this, at least once in their life span, its a timeless clasic which will probably find a new audience over and over, no matter how snarky stereogum gets…

  9. “Stairway” is one of those songs that we should all be sick of because of the jerks at classic-rock radio who over-play the hell out of it on a daily basis. But I still find it moving every time I hear it. Bonzo’s drumming is so undeniable, and Page’s guitar work is equally stunning.

    Who else has/had the balls to go for it this big and the skill to hit the mark? No one.

  10. Fuck listening to just the song; I’m listening to the whole damn album (again)!

  11. This song is such legend in itself, that will never go out of style. We all might (probably already have) get sick of the song eventually, but everyday across the world young boys turn 14 years old and fall in love with song, starting a never ending cycle.

  12. my roomate’s sister makes $68 every hour on the computer. She has been without a job for 6 months but last month her pay was $8123 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read about it on this web site 133t.us/ab

    • Do you know that you’re roomate’s sister makes that money doing dirty things on her webcam? Her last month’s pay may have been over $8K but there’s no amount of money that will make up for the embarrassment of teen strangers at the local mall telling her that they know what her brownstar looks like while she waits in line for an Orange Julius.

      I heard this Zeppelin band is big in Japan.

  13. Do you know that you’re roomate’s sister makes that money doing dirty things on her webcam? Her last month’s pay may have been over $8K but there’s no amount of money that will make up for the embarrassment of teen strangers at the local mall telling her that they know what her brownstar looks like while she waits in line for an Orange Julius.

    I heard this Zeppelin band is big in Japan.

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