It’s one of the all-time classic rock songs, but Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” is also divisive. Jimmy Page had a special guitar built to play the song properly, and it contains what many music fans call the greatest guitar solo ever. On the other hand, singer Robert Plant got so tired of hearing it that he donated to a radio station that promised never to play the song again. Plant may have grown away from the song, but it endures for music fans, and Page once explained the “everlasting quality” that helps “Stairway to Heaven” remain a classic more than 50 years later.
‘Stairway to Heaven’ was the centerpiece of ‘Led Zeppelin IV’
Led Zeppelin released three albums in two years when they formed. The first three albums are classics, but it all built up to 1971’s Led Zeppelin IV. Zep intended the classic fourth album to be all about the music, and it was.
Led Zeppelin IV hit shelves more than a year after Led Zeppelin III, which wasn’t well-received by some fans and critics. The cover of Led Zeppelin IV sent a message that the music mattered more than marketing. The jacket didn’t have a band name, label info, or song titles. Four mysterious symbols represented each of the band members.
The band threw fans a bone and included a lyric sheet for “Stairway to Heaven,” the first time Plant’s words appeared in print. “Stairway to Heaven” remains one of Led Zeppelin’s defining songs, and Page once explained the “everlasting quality” that makes it endure.
Jimmy Page said ‘Stairway to Heaven’ has an everlasting quality because Led Zeppelin was firing on all cylinders
Led Zeppelin IV delivers two hard-driving songs — “Black Dog” and “Rock and Roll” — to kick things off, before detouring into mandolin-driven folk with “The Battle of Evermore.” Fans expecting another banger with “Stairway to Heaven” had to be patient.
Jones playing multiple recorders and Page’s quiet acoustic guitar are the only instruments for nearly a minute. Then Page joins in as the song starts to build. After sitting out “Battle of Evermore,” Bonham doesn’t show up until more than halfway through “Stairway.” Yet as the song continued its steady build to an unforgettable climax, it allowed Bonham to channel some rage on his drum kit.
Page once told the BBC (via YouTube) that “Stairway to Heaven” endures as a classic because each of Led Zeppelin’s four members are in peak form and performing with sincerity:
“It was really an inspired period of time. It sort of shows the everlasting quality of this music over all these years is the fact that everyone is playing so honestly and with such conviction. It really shows.”Jimmy Page discusses “Stairway to Heaven”
Plant might disagree, but Page understands what the fans do — “Stairway to Heaven” is one of the best Led Zeppelin songs of all time.
The song never went on the charts, and ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ didn’t make it to No. 1
Page’s epic guitar solo — the best of three he improvised for the song — is the highlight of what might be Led Zeppelin’s signature track. (Though Plant would vote for another Zep epic).
Yet for all the song’s and the album’s success (Led Zeppelin IV sold 24 million copies, the most of any of their albums), chart-topping success eluded it.
The album was all about the music, and the band refused to shorten the eight-minute “Stairway to Heaven” to single length. Thus, it never made the Billboard singles charts. The album itself was nothing but a massive success, but timing kept it from reaching No. 1 on the album charts. Sly and the Family Stone and Carole King released albums that kept Led Zeppelin IV out of the top spot.
Chart success or not, Jimmy Page is right that “Stairway to Heaven” has an everlasting quality that appeals to every new generation of music fans who discover Led Zeppelin’s music.
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