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Bong-Man

A Stairway to Hell

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November 9th, 1991, The Detroit News

stairwaytv8.jpg

There's a writer who's sure all that glitters may not be gold, and she'd like to take you along down a ....

STAIRWAY TO HELL

by Susan Whitall

Back in '71 there was no heavy metal, no metal trade magazines, no MTV Headbanger's Ball - no MTV for that matter. There was just rock and roll, and a hot British band was cutting it with an incredibly hard edge. Led Zeppelin - the very name dropped out of the sky like a thud. The psychedelic era of the 60's had just sputtered to a close with the drug deaths of Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix, but it still looked and felt like the 60's. And yet musically, a change was gonna come.

On November 8, 1971, Led Zeppelin IV was released, unleashing "Stairway to Heaven" on an unsuspecting world. That funky decade, the 70's, had finally begun.

Twenty years and 10 million copies later, it's the rock song we love to hate. Think of it: But for "Stairway to Heaven", there would never have been a Heart, Geddy Lee would have never formed Rush, and an army of metal bands with falsetto singers would have found a more reputable line of work.

Zeppelin had only formed in 1969. In two years they'd released three albums, and not a live one in the bunch. They had flowing Raphealite locks, drew a tidal wave of groupies and wore incredibly groovy, rich-hippie silks and velvets. Who knew they were about to change musical history ?

Led Zep guitarist/composer Jimmy Page had been experimenting with high-crunch factor rock and roll - sonic boom reworkings of old blues and folk melodies. He also loved Ravel's Bolero, especially the way the dynamics of the song grew into a climactic frenzy of sound. This was all about to come together in a Led Zep piece, and "Stairway to Heaven" was it. The song builds from a soft folk sound, with acoustic guitar and a Celtic-derived melody, inexorably up and up in chord progressions until finally, after 7 minutes, it explodes in the listener's ear, an unprecedented blast of heavy metal thunder.

Steve Kostan, who hosted WRIF's Zeppelin show "Get the Led Out", wasn't even a DJ yet in 1971, but he was a devoted Led Zeppelin fan. That Summer the band premiered the song on their North American Tour. "Some of my best buddies went up and saw Led Zeppelin in Toronto on Labor Day," says Kostan. "They played Stairway to Heaven, and my friends came back and told me 'It's really wild in Toronto - the audiences lit matches at the end of the song !' They had never seen anybody do that before". Kostan is convinced the song is a classic. "I think it really exemplifies the diversity of Led Zeppelin", he says. "They were always branded as heavy metal, and they were instrumental in inventing it and taking it to the next level. But this song encompasses both sides, the hard and the soft, the light and the dark."

In November of '71, WLLZ-FM program director Jay Clark spun records on WTRY-FM in Albany, NY. "Stairway is the quintessential rock song," says Clark. "I remember at the time that it was the cut that the record company wanted us to play. It was a hit on FM radio, but they wanted it to cross over and be a top 40 hit as well. And it was huge and wonderful. I thought it was a great song. It took some time, almost a year before the thing really hit."

The song was more a labor of love for guitarist Page than his flower power lyricist Plant. Page had already worked out the chords to the song, and he played it for Plant at Headley Grange, a remote house in the English countryside where they worked.

Those famous, airy-fairy lyrics were written almost on the spot: Plant refers to the automatic nature of his lyric writing at the time. It seems that he and Page were lounging peacefully in front of a fire, as he told Stephen Davis, author of the Led Zeppelin biography Hammer of the Gods. "I was holding a paper and pencil, and for some reason I was in a very bad mood," Plant reports. "Suddenly my hand was writing out words. I wrote down the first line, I looked at it and almost leaped out of my seat." Later, many others would have the same reaction when they heard lyrics like "if there's a bustle in your hedgerow don't be alarmed now."

Ooo, it makes us wonder : What on earth does the song mean ? It seems to be about a woman who thinks worldly possessions are the key to existence, whereas millionaire Plant assures her that it ain't so. Plant's fascination with English legend is evidenced by lines like "and the forest will echo with laughter" - one of his many references to fairies or the little people. All in all, it seems the world would have been spared all of this if somebody had just grabbed Plant's well thumbed copy of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and burned it years ago. Perhaps he had second thoughts about this rash outpouring of emetic lyrics, because recently Plant has referred to it as "that bloody wedding song." He claims the prospect of singing it in every major North American city is enough to put him off a Led Zeppelin reunion tour. (And it's possible he can't hit those canine high notes quite as easily now.)

On the other hand, Jimmy Page told Led Zep biographer Davis that the song "crystallized the essence of the band. It had everything there and showed the band at its best; it was a milestone for us. Every musician wants to do something that will hold up for a long time." 'RIF's Kostan agrees. "Especially from a guitar player's viewpoint, I think 'Stairway' really epitomizes the whole Zeppelin style," he says. "If you had to play one song to show someone from another planet what Zeppelin is all about, that would be it. That guitar solo Page does at the end - it sounds like he's playing from high atop Mt. Everest ! Like the music is coming down from heaven."

So fans loved the song and rock stations couldn't play enough of it. Well - maybe they could. sometime around the early 80's, both "Stairway" and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" - another perfectly good song - came to be loathed as examples of the kind of tunes that r radio stations would play over and over, in place of anything new and different. It was the time that Kostan refers to as the "Knack attack/skinny tie rebellion." But as Gomer Pyle would say, "suh-prise, suh-prise." As one generation moved away from "Stairway", another one grew up and learned how to string love beads. Long hair came back in style and young fans discovering Led Zeppelin for the first time racked up sales for Atlantic's Led Zep Boxed Set, released last year. They also keep shows like 'RIF's daily "Get the Led Out" on the air. The hammer of the Gods pounds on.

*"Stairway to Heaven" first played : During the band's U.S. summer tour in 1971, three months before the albums release. Fan reception was intense.

The album : Led Zeppelin IV hit the racks on November 8, 1971

Sales : The album has sold 10 million units worldwide. In Michigan, the Harmony House chain has sold at least 30,000 LPs, 18,000 cassettes, and 8,000 cds

It's long : "Stairway to Heaven was 8 minutes long, an unheard of length for a radio cut except at underground radio stations. Yet the song was also a hit on Top 40 radio, uncut.

Crabby: Robert Plant says he was "in a bad mood" when he wrote the lyrics.

Could it Be Satan ? : "Stairway" was one of the first songs accused of containing a backwards-masked message, supposedly "I live for Satan" and "Here's to My Sweet Satan". Anyone trying to play the record backwards will find some mumbled, sibilant words, and will almost surely ruin the turntable.

One More Time ! : According to Monday Morning Replay, the song is still played 4,203 times a year by the country's 67 biggest album-oriented-rock stations.

I bet Knebby thought this was going to be one of "those" threads. :D

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Hi all,

Thanks Bong-man,man,I wish they et a few facts straight,.... :slapface:

KB

Edited by zepyep

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Hi all,

Thanks Bong-man,man,I wish they et a few fatcs straight,.... :slapface:

KB

Pre-Internet article.....never let the facts get in the way of a good story. B)

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Twenty years and 10 million copies later, it's the rock song we love to hate.

Just for the record,I hated "Stairway" before it was cool. B)

Edited by 59LesPaul

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Just for the record,I hated "Stairway" before it was cool. B)

So did Keef but somebody liked it...i suppose.

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Just for the record,I hated "Stairway" before it was cool. B)

That's how I feel about "Start Me Up". If I gotta hear that fucking song one more time I'm gonna hurl..

B)

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That's how I feel about "Start Me Up". If I gotta hear that fucking song one more time I'm gonna hurl..

B)

Right there with you,brother........let's not forget "Emotional Rescue"....

*Edited to add:At least "Start Me Up" has a decent riff......

Edited by 59LesPaul

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Right there with you,brother........let's not forget "Emotional Rescue"....

*Edited to add:At least "Start Me Up" has a decent riff......

Agreed on that riff.

And NOTHING is worse than "Emotional Rescue"! At least nothing that isn't on a Bee Gees record..

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Agreed on that riff.

And NOTHING is worse than "Emotional Rescue"! At least nothing that isn't on a Bee Gees record..

It's another example of trying to follow the trend.

The Worlds' Greatest Rock-n-Roll Band playing.....disco.

I blame Mick,he's always been the trendy...... B)

Not that there's a lot of them,but actually,I blame Mick for every bad Rolling Stones song

It's Micks' fault dammit!! :rant:

Edited by 59LesPaul

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Agreed on that riff.

And NOTHING is worse than "Emotional Rescue"! At least nothing that isn't on a Bee Gees record..

That song SHOULD have been a career-killer but miraculously it wasn't. How any band could produce a gem like Exile and then come out with that vomit......ouch.

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That song SHOULD have been a career-killer but miraculously it wasn't. How any band could produce a gem like Exile and then come out with that vomit......ouch.

See above. B)

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That song SHOULD have been a career-killer but miraculously it wasn't. How any band could produce a gem like Exile and then come out with that vomit......ouch.

It boggles the mind... :rolleyes:

And it IS all Mick's fault. Compare his solo slop against Keith's two gems. 'Nuff said.

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It's another example of trying to follow the trend.

The Worlds' Greatest Rock-n-Roll Band playing.....disco.

I blame Mick,he's always been the trendy...... B)

Not that there's a lot of them,but actually,I blame Mick for every bad Rolling Stones song

It's Micks' fault dammit!! :rant:

Uh huh. Thats all fine and dandy but how in the world did he ever get Keith to agree to this????????

I love the guy but his integrity is at stake here....

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Angie's the one that sets my teeth on edge, but most Stones fans seem to love it as much as most Zep fans love STH (not my favorite, either).

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Uh huh. Thats all fine and dandy but how in the world did he ever get Keith to agree to this????????

I love the guy but his integrity is at stake here....

What do you think caused their long standing feud? :lol:

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Uh huh. Thats all fine and dandy but how in the world did he ever get Keith to agree to this????????

I love the guy but his integrity is at stake here....

Because that's when he was at the depths of his heroin addiction.Remember,it's right before his big bust in Toronto-when he almost got put away for 20yrs..

It's Keith at rock bottom.

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Angie's the one that sets my teeth on edge, but most Stones fans seem to love it as much as most Zep fans love STH (not my favorite, either).

"Angie" is terrible on Goat's Head Soup. Sappy as hell. But the version played in Brussels live in 1973 will change your mind about the song in general. That version is a masterpiece, thanks to Mick Taylor's guitar, and Jagger singing it like a MAN.

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"Angie" is terrible on Goat's Head Soup. Sappy as hell. But the version played in Brussels live in 1973 will change your mind about the song in general. That version is a masterpiece, thanks to Mick Taylor's guitar, and Jagger singing it like a MAN.

Mick Taylor.....the JPJ of the Stones. So talented yet so underappreciated. Nothing against Woody but he can't hold Mick guitar pick...

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Mick Taylor.....the JPJ of the Stones. So talented yet so underappreciated. Nothing against Woody but he can't hold Mick guitar pick...

:notworthy:

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Mick Taylor.....the JPJ of the Stones. So talented yet so underappreciated. Nothing against Woody but he can't hold Mick guitar pick...

I agree except that I don't think he's underappreciated--always seems unanimous that the band hasn't been the same since he left.

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Because that's when he was at the depths of his heroin addiction.Remember,it's right before his big bust in Toronto-when he almost got put away for 20yrs..

It's Keith at rock bottom.

Yep...i was about 300 yards away from his hotel at the time.

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I agree except that I don't think he's underappreciated--always seems unanimous that the band hasn't been the same since he left.

Taylor leaving the band was disastrous for the Stones' sound. <_<

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"Jimmy Page told Led Zep biographer Davis that the song "crystallized the essence of the band...."

I dont think James and Robert told Davis anything....he is not on their christmas card list

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