Led Zeppelin – Rock And Roll

The title says it all with this song. It is one of the best Zeppelin pure rock and roll songs. As with most things with Zeppelin the drums made this song…John Bonham was the key element to their songs just as Keith Moon was to The Who. The two drummers helped shape the sound of their respective bands more than most.

This song came about when the band was working on “Four Sticks” at the Headley Grange mansion they had rented in Hampshire, England to record the album. With a pretty much unplayable drum pattern, John Bonham got frustrated with the session, and tensions rose. In a pique of anger, he started playing something completely different: a riff based on the intro to the 1957 Little Richard song “Keep a Knockin.'”

If you want more Led Zeppelin…yesterday Dave from A Sound Day had a post on their first album.

The band was not a singles band in any sense but this one peaked at #47 in the Billboard 100 and #38 in Canada in 1972. They didn’t release singles in the UK in the band’s lifetime.

The album did much better…it peaked at #1 in the Billboard 100, Canada, and the UK in 1971.

1971 was maybe the best year of rock albums ever. A few months before this one…The Who released Who’s Next, The Allman Brothers – At Fillmore East, David Bowie – Hunky Dory, The Stones – Sticky Fingers, Doors – L.A. Woman, Alice Cooper – Killer, and many more.

Jerry Lee Lewis did a cover of this song with Jimmy Page…I like the short opening raw riff Jimmy plays.

Jimmy Page: “We were recording something else when John Bonham started playing the drum intro to ‘Keep a Knockin’ by Little Richard and I immediately started playing the riff for ‘Rock And Roll.’ Instead of laughing it off and going back to the previous song, we kept going. ‘Rock And Roll’ was written in minutes and recorded within an hour.”

Robert Plant: “We just thought rock and roll needed to be taken on again,” “I was finally in a really successful band, and we felt it was time for actually kicking ass. It wasn’t an intellectual thing, ’cause we didn’t have time for that – we just wanted to let it all come flooding out. It was a very animal thing, a hellishly powerful thing, what we were doing.”

From Songfacts

As the title suggests, the song is based on one of the most popular structures in rock and roll; namely, the 12-bar blues progression (in A). The phrase “Rock and Roll” was a term blues musicians used, which meant sex.

Robert Plant wrote the lyrics, which were a response to critics who claimed their previous album, Led Zeppelin III, wasn’t really rock and roll. Led Zeppelin III had more of an acoustic folk sound, and Plant wanted to prove they could still rock out.

Infused with creative energy, they put “Four Sticks” aside and started working on this new song, which they called “It’s Been a Long Time.” Jimmy Page blasted out a guitar part, and the bones of the song were completed in about 30 minutes.

The band often used this either as an encore or to open live shows from 1971-1975.

Ian Stewart, known for his work with The Rolling Stones (he was almost a member of the group, but their manager didn’t think he looked the part), played piano on this track. Stewart was on hand because Led Zeppelin was using the Rolling Stones’ mobile recording unit to record the album, as the Headley Grange mansion didn’t have a studio. Stewart was sent as a technician to assist with recording, but he came in quite handy on “Rock And Roll” when they needed some serious boogie-woogie piano.

Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones played this at Live Aid in 1985. It was the first time they played together since the death of John Bonham in 1980. Tony Thompson and Phil Collins sat in for Bonham on drums, which didn’t go over well with Page and Plant. When the band reformed for a benefit show on December 10, 2007, it was with John Bonham’s son Jason on drums. This was the last song they played at the show, which raised money for the Ahmet Ertegun education fund.

Besides Live Aid, the remaining members of Led Zeppelin played this on two other occasions. When Robert Plant’s daughter Carmen turned 21 in 1989, they played it at her birthday party. They also played it at Jason Bonham’s wedding in 1990. Jason is John Bonham’s son, and he sat in on drums on both performances.

This has been covered by many other artists, including Def Leppard and Heart. In 2001, it was recorded by Double Trouble (Stevie Ray Vaughan’s backup band), for their 2001 album Been A Long Time. Susan Tedeschi sang lead on the track.

All four band members got writing credits for this. Many Zeppelin songs are credited only to Page and Plant.

This was the first Led Zeppelin song used in a commercial. Cadillac used it to kick off a new advertising campaign in 2002 with the tagline “Breakthrough.” The company was going for a hip, new image, since their audience was slowly dying off. The spots aired for the first time on the Super Bowl, and sales rose 16% the next year.

The lyric “It’s been a long time since the book of love” is a reference to the Monotones’ 1958 hit “Book Of Love,” which is also referenced in “American Pie.”

Since the death of his father, Jason Bonham has filled in behind the drum set for various Led Zeppelin reunion gigs. He told American Songwriter this is the hardest Zeppelin song to play as, “a lot of people out there try and play it, and really it’s a two-handed shuffle all the way through, playing the sixteenth notes, it’s not just boom bap-boom-bap-boom- bap, it’s boom-boom-bap-bap-boom-boom-bap-bap on the snare and the hi-hat. It’s a hard one to play properly.”

Stevie Nicks added this to her live set in 2001. 

Rock and Roll

It’s been a long time since I rock and rolled
It’s been a long time since I did the stroll
Ooh, let me get it back, let me get it back, let me get it back
Mmm, baby, where I come from

It’s been a long time, been a long time
Been a long, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time
Yes, it has

It’s been a long time since the book of love
I can’t count the tears of a life with no love
Carry me back, carry me back, carry me back
Mmm, baby, where I come from, whoa, whoa, oh

It’s been a long time, been a long time
Been a long, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time

Oh, oh, ahh, ahh

Oh, it seems so long since we walked in the moonlight
Making vows that just couldn’t work right
Ah, yeah, open your arms, open your arms, open your arms
Baby, let my love come running in, yeah

It’s been a long time, been a long time
Been a long, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time

Yeah, hey, yeah, hey
Yeah, hey, yeah, hey

Ooh, yeah, ooh, yeah
Ooh, yeah, ooh, yeah
It’s been a long time, been a long time
Been a long, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time

Led Zeppelin – Black Dog

The guitar intro is instantly recognizable and although I’ve heard it so many times I still like it.

Zeppelin bass player John Paul Jones got the idea for this song after hearing Muddy Waters’ 1968 album Electric Mud. He wanted to try to write electric blues with a rolling bass part.

The song was credited to Jones, Plant, and Page. the song was on what was known as their greatest album Led Zeppelin IV. It was recorded at Headley Grange a then run down country cottage. It was originally built in 1795 as a  three-storey stone structure which was originally used as a workhouse for the poor, infirm, and orphaned.

The album Led Zeppelin IV was a major success and peaked at #2 in the Billboard Album Charts, #1 in Canada, and #1 in the UK.

On a rough wall hangs a painting of an elderly man in a field with a large bundle of sticks tied to his back.

Jimmy Page on recording in Headley Grange: “The reason we went there in the first place, was to have a live-in situation where you’re writing and really living the music. We’d never really had that experience before as a group, apart from when Robert Plant and I had gone to Bron-Yr-Aur. But that was just me and Robert going down there and hanging out in the bosom of Wales and enjoying it. This was different. It was all of us really concentrating in a concentrated environment and the essence of what happened there manifested itself across three albums (IVHouses of the HolyPhysical Graffiti).”

It was unusual for a Zeppelin song because it was released as a single and peaked at #15 in the Billboard 100, #11 in Canada, and #10 in New Zealand. It was not issued as a single in the UK.

John Paul Jones: “I actually wrote it in rehearsal from Jimmy’s house on the train. My dad was a musician and he showed me a way of writing down notation on anything. And so I wrote the riff to ‘Black Dog’ on the back of a train ticket which I unfortunately don’t have.”

Andy Johns (Engineer): “It was more fun and more serious than for Led Zeppelin III. We mainly recorded it in Headley Grange – a haunted place – using the Rolling Stones mobile recording unit. The rest of the album was produced at Island studios, an old church. We recorded the main tracks for ‘Black Dog’ downstairs, in what used to be the crypt. The main tracks for ‘Stairway To Heaven’ were recorded in the big room upstairs.”

From Songfacts

The title does not appear in the lyrics, and has nothing to do with the song itself. The band worked up the song at Headley Grange, a mansion in Hampshire, England that is out in the country, surrounded by woods. A nameless black Labrador retriever would wander the grounds, and the band would feed it. When they needed a name for this track, which didn’t have an obvious title, they thought of the canine and went with “Black Dog.”

Jones rarely had completed songs together, but the bits and pieces he brought to Led Zeppelin’s writing sessions proved worthy. When they started putting the album together, Jones introduced this riff, the song started to form. The first version Jones played was comically complex. “It was originally all in 3/16 time, but no one could keep up with that,” he said.

When the mobile recording studio (owned by The Rolling Stones) showed up at the mansion, this song was ready to go and recorded there.

This is the first track on Led Zeppelin 4, which became the band’s best-selling album. A wide range of musical styles show up on the set, with “Black Dog” exemplifying the blues-rock that was the bedrock of the band’s sound.

The album itself is technically untitled, with symbols on the cover instead of words., but since it was their fourth album, it became known as Led Zeppelin 4. Some fans also referred to it as “ZoSo,” which is a rough translation Jimmy Page’s symbol.

In this song, Robert Plant is singing about a woman who appeals to his prurient interests, but is clearly no good for him – he tells himself he’d rather have a “steady rollin’ woman” come his way.

Robert Plant explained in an interview with Cameron Crowe: “Not all my stuff is meant to be scrutinized. Things like ‘Black Dog’ are blatant, let’s-do-it-in-the-bath type things, but they make their point just the same.”

The start-and-stop a cappella verses were inspired by Fleetwood Mac’s 1969 song “Oh Well.” Before Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined Fleetwood Mac in 1974, they were more of a Blues band led by guitarist Peter Green. Jimmy Page and The Black Crowes performed “Oh Well” on their 1999 tour and included it on the album Live At The Greek.

The lyrics never approached “Stairway To Heaven” level scrutiny, but were still subject to some interesting interpretations. Jimmy Page’s interest in the occultist Aleister Crowley, combined with the image of the Hermit (from the Tarot) in the album art and the band’s disappearance when they set off to Headley Grange to record, led some listeners to conclude that the titular dog was some kind of hellhound, and that the line, “Eyes that shine burning red, dreams of you all through my head,” had something to do with Satan.

The sounds at the beginning are Jimmy Page warming up his guitar. He called it “Waking up the army of guitars.”

Even by Led Zeppelin standards, this is a very complex song musically, with a chaotic blend of riffs and time signatures that make it very difficult to play and a testament to the band’s musicianship. When the drums and guitar kick in, they’re actually playing completely different patterns, which is something devised by John Paul Jones. The only real consistent element in the song are the vocal interludes. This is not a song you’d want to dance to.

The songwriting credits on this one read: John Paul Jones/Jimmy Page/Robert Plant. Some bands – like U2 and R.E.M. – would credit every member on their original songs, but Zeppelin decided amongst themselves who would get the credits (and associated royalties). Page and Plant were almost always listed (Plant handled lyrics), but whether Jones or Bonham showed up as a writer depended on their contributions. This track was one where Jones clearly deserved a credit; he is also listed on the album as a co-writer of “Rock And Roll,” “Misty Mountain Hop” and “When The Levee Breaks.”

Robert Plant’s vocal was recorded in just two takes, marking one of his most memorable performances. His vocal booth was the drawing room at the Headley Grange mansion, which engineer Andy Johns set up with egg crates covering the walls as a sound-soak.

The guitars are heavily layered. Four separate Jimmy Page guitar tracks were overdubbed. Page recorded the guitar directly into a 1176 limiter preamp (manufactured by Universal Audio), distorted the stages of it, and then sent that to a normally operating limiter. In other words, no guitar amplifier was used in the recording process. 

Plant sampled this on his solo hit “Tall Cool One.”

“Whole Lotta Love” made #4 on the US Hot 100, and “Black Dog” was their next highest-charting song. Most of their tracks were not released as singles, and fans of the band were far more likely buy the albums.

As Robert Plant sings every line after the music stops, you can faintly hear Bonham tapping his drumsticks together to keep the time. 

This was one of the few songs for which John Paul Jones used a pick to play his bass.

Robert Plant would sometimes improvise some of the lyrics in concert, substituting lines like, “I’ve got a girl that loves me so love me so sweet jelly roll.” >>

This isn’t the first famous rock song with a color-animal title that doesn’t appear in the lyric: Jefferson Airplane released “White Rabbit” in 1967. In 1977, Steely Dan gave us “Black Cow,” but that one does have the title in the lyric.

Apparently, Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas can knock out a killer version of this song. Slash from Guns N’ Roses told NME, March 22, 2010: “I first heard Fergie three years ago at a fundraiser in LA, where I was one of many guests with the Black-Eyed Peas. I was going to play during a rock medley, and in walks this little blonde girl from Orange County, and she sang ‘Black Dog‚’ better than any guy I’d ever heard.” 

Note the lyrics, “Baby, when you walk that way, watch your honey drip, can’t keep away.” In 1981, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page formed a group called The Honeydrippers, which scored a hit with a remake of “Sea of Love.”

Page and Plant performed an updated version of this song on their 1995 No Quarter tour. Starting in 2005, Plant added it to his setlist at solo performances. His solo renditions were more subdued vocally, but often rather intricate musically, with a range of world music elements incorporated into the song.

Led Zeppelin cover band Dread Zeppelin did a version of this mixed with Elvis’ “Hound Dog” called “You Ain’t Nuthin’ But A Black Dog.” Their lead singer is an Elvis impersonator.

In 2015, this was used in a commercial for the video game Destiny: The Taken King. Game action takes place as the song plays in the background.

Johns explained how “Black Dog” was recorded: “This one is interesting, because we trebled the guitars. On the stereo, there is one on the left, one on the right, and one in the middle. Each was recorded live. I wanted to try live recording, because I loved the sound that Bill Halverson had secured using this technique with Neil Young. Halverson had told me how he had done that, but I never achieved his results. One day, we were hanging around in the studio, and I told Page that I wanted to try something. For some reason, it worked. The guitars were very reliable.” 

Black Dog

Hey, hey mama said the way you move
Gon’ make you sweat, gon’ make you groove
Ah ah child way ya shake that thing
Gon’ make you burn, gon’ make you sting
Hey, hey baby when you walk that way
Watch your honey drip, I can’t keep away

Oh yeah, oh yeah ah, ah, ah ah
Oh yeah, oh yeah ah, ah, ah ah
Oh yeah, oh yeah ah, ah, ah ah
Oh yeah, oh yeah ah, ah, ah ah

I gotta roll I can’t stand still
Got a flamin’ heart can’t get my fill
With eyes that shine, burnin’ red
Dreams of you all through my head

Ah ah ah ah ah ah
Ah ah ah ah ah ah ah

Hey baby, whoa my baby, my pretty baby
Darlin’ makes ’em do it now
Hey baby, oh my baby, my pretty baby
Move the way you’re doin’ now

Didn’t take too long ‘fore I found out
What people mean by down and out
Spent my money, took my car
Started tellin’ her friends she gon’ be a star
I don’t know but I been told
A big legged woman ain’t got no soul

Oh yeah, oh yeah ah, ah, ah ah
Oh yeah, oh yeah ah, ah, ah ah
Oh yeah, oh yeah ah, ah, ah ah
Oh yeah, oh yeah ah, ah, yeah

All I ask for all I pray
Steady rollin’ woman gon’ come my way
Need a woman gonna hold my hand
Won’t tell me no lies, make me a happy man

Ah ah ah ah ah ah
Ah ah ah ah ah ah, ah

Oh yeah
Darlin’ makes ’em do it now
Yeah-yeah. yeah-yeah. yeah-yeah
Darlin’ makes ’em do it now
Babe! babe!
Wooh, keep doin’ it babe

(Busted) hey
(Busted) hey
(Busted) hey
(Busted) hey

(Busted) hey, yeah
(Busted) hey, yeah
(Busted) hey, yeah
Oh, yeah

Oh-ah
(Well done)

Darlin’ makes ’em do it now
Darlin’ makes ’em do it now

Led Zeppelin – Stairway To Heaven…Epic Rock Songs Week

Thank you to everyone who tuned in all week to read about these songs…I really appreciate it.

It’s possibly the most popular rock song of all time. Stairway To Heaven wasn’t a chart hit at the time because it was never released as a single to the general public. Radio stations did received promotional singles which quickly became collector’s items. Zeppelin refused to let it be edited down for a single release.

This song was the absolute peak of Led Zeppelin. It was the crown jewel in their catalog. They would have some great albums and songs after this but this is what they were all about. The light/heavy format is what they worked for…and Zeppelin reached it’s perfection with Stairway To Heaven.

The song gradually builds from a lonely guitar and organ to the full band and then explodes along with a perfect solo from Jimmy Page…then the song ends quietly with Robert. Although I’ve heard it many times I always look forward to one part…”If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow” and that is John Bonham’s cue to makes his entrance. That part is magical to me.

Robert Plant wrote the lyrics and he has said that he drew inspiration from the works of the Scottish writer Lewis Spence, notably from his book Magic Arts in Celtic Britain.

The song eventually picked up a lot of controversy through the years. In the 80s it was rumored that the band had hidden messages in the song. Someone decided to play it backwards and probably because of Pages infatuation with Aleister Crowley, found satanic messages. Who would even think of playing a record backwards?

The song was on their album Led Zeppelin IV and the album peaked at #2 in the Billboard Album Charts, #1 in Canada, and #1 in the UK.

Robert 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 hand was writing out the words, ‘There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold/And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.’ I just sat there and looked at the words and then I almost leapt out of my seat.”

Robert Plant (about the backward masking): “‘Stairway To Heaven’ was written with every best intention, and as far as reversing tapes and putting messages on the end, that’s not my idea of making music. It’s really sad. The first time I heard it was early in the morning when I was living at home, and I heard it on a news program. I was absolutely drained all day. I walked around, and I couldn’t actually believe, I couldn’t take people seriously who could come up with sketches like that. There are a lot of people who are making money there, and if that’s the way they need to do it, then do it without my lyrics. I cherish them far too much.” 

Jimmy Page: To me, I thought ‘Stairway’ crystallized the essence of the band. It had everything there and showed the band at its best… as a band, as a unit. Not talking about solos or anything, it had everything there. We were careful never to release it as a single. It was a milestone for us. Every musician wants to do something of lasting quality, something which will hold up for a long time and I guess we did it with ‘Stairway.’ Townshend probably thought that he got it with Tommy. I don’t know whether I have the ability to come up with more. I have to do a lot of hard work before I can get anywhere near those stages of consistent, total brilliance.”

Andy Johns (sound engineer): “This song arrived completed. The arrangements had been done before the band entered the studio. We recorded the main tracks upstairs, in Island, with Jimmy on acoustic guitar, John Paul on a Hohner electric upright piano, and Bonham behind his kit. I tried to have a left hand sound coming out of the Hohner piano, in order to have something to re-record afterwards. As soon as we added the bass parts and Page started recording the overdubs, we could already tell it would be awesome. I knew it was a really special track and I was proud to take part in it. I didn’t have the least idea, however, that it would become a f–king hymn for three generations of kids!” 

From Songfacts

On Tuesday November 13, 2007, Led Zeppelin’s entire back catalog was made available as legal digital downloads, making all of their tracks eligible for the UK singles chart. As a result, at the end of that week the original version of “Stairway To Heaven” arrived in the UK singles charts for the first time. Previously, three covers had charted: the multinational studio band Far Corporation reached #8 with their version in 1985, then reggae tribute act Dread Zeppelin crawled to #62 in 1991 and finally Rolf Harris’ reworking outdid the other two, peaking at #7 in 1993.

Robert Plant spent much of the ’70s answering questions about the lyrics he wrote for “Stairway.” When asked why the song was so popular, he said it could be its “abstraction,” adding, “Depending on what day it is, I still interpret the song a different way – and I wrote the lyrics.”

The lyrics take some pretty wild turns, but the beginning of the song is about a woman who accumulates money, only to find out the hard way her life had no meaning and will not get her into heaven. This is the only part Plant would really explain, as he said it was “a woman getting everything she wanted without giving anything back.”

Led Zeppelin started planning “Stairway” in early 1970 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 an 8-track studio he had installed in his boathouse, trying out different sections on guitar. By April, he was telling journalists that their new song might be 15-minutes long, and described it as something that would “build towards a climax” with John Bonham’s drums not coming in for some time. In October 1970, after about 18 months of near constant touring, the song took shape. Page and Plant explained that they started working on it at a 250-year-old Welsh cottage called Bron-yr-Aur, where they wrote the songs for Led Zeppelin III. Page sometimes told a story of the pair sitting by a fire at the cabin as they composed it, a tale that gives the song a mystical origin story, as there could have been spirits at play within those walls.

Page told a different story under oath: When he was called to the stand in 2016 as part of a plagiarism trial over this song, he said that he wrote the music on his own and first played it for his bandmates at Headley Grange in Liphook Road, Headley, Hampshire, where they recorded it using a mobile studio owned by The Rolling Stones. Plant corroborated the story in his testimony.

Headley Grange may not be as enchanting as Bron-yr-Aur, but the place had some character: It was a huge, old, dusty mansion with no electricity but great acoustics. Bands would go there to get some privacy and focus on songwriting, as the biggest distractions were the sheep and other wildlife.

This is rumored to contain backward satanic messages, as if Led Zeppelin sold their souls to the devil in exchange for “Stairway To Heaven.” Supporting this theory is the fact that Jimmy Page bought Aleister Crowley’s house in Scotland, known as Boleskine House. In his books, Crowley advocated that his followers learn to read and speak backwards.

This runs 8:03, but still became one of the most-played songs on American radio, proving that people wouldn’t tune out just because a song was long. It was a perfect fit for FM radio, which was a newer format challenging the established AM with better sound quality and more variety. “Stairway” fit nicely into what was called the “Album Oriented Rock” (AOR) format, and later became a staple of Classic Rock. By most measures, it is the most-played song in the history of American FM radio. It has also sold more sheet music than any other rock song – about 10,000 to 15,000 copies a year, and more than one million total.

Jimmy Page has a strong affinity for this song, and felt Robert Plant’s lyrics were his best yet. He had him write all of Zeppelin’s lyrics from then on.

This was the only song whose lyrics were printed on the album’s inner sleeve.

Many novice guitarists try to learn this song, and most end up messing it up. In the movie Wayne’s World, it is banned in the guitar shop where Wayne (Mike Myers) starts playing it. If you saw the movie in theaters, you heard Wayne play the first few notes of the song before being scolded and pointed to a sign that says “NO Stairway To Heaven” (Wayne: “No Stairway. Denied.”). Because of legal issues – apparently even a few notes of “Stairway To Heaven” have to be cleared, and good luck with that – the video and TV releases of the movie were changed so Wayne plays something incomprehensible. This novice guitar Stairway cliché later showed up on an episode of South Park when the character Towelie tries to play the song in a talent show and screws it up.

Zeppelin bass player John Paul Jones decided not to use a bass on this because it sounded like a folk song. Instead, he added a string section, keyboards and flutes. He also played wooden recorders that were used on the intro. Bonham’s drums do not come in until 4:18.

Robert Plant is a great admirer of all things mystic, the old English legends and lore and the writings of the Celts. He was immersed in the books Magic Arts in Celtic Britain by Lewis Spence and The Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. The Tolkien inspiration can be heard in the phrase, “In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees,” which could be a reference to the smoke rings blown by the wizard Gandalf. There is also a correlation between the lady in the song and the character from the book, Lady Galadriel, the Queen of Elves who lives in the golden forest of Lothlorien. In the book, all that glittered around her was in fact gold, as the leaves of the trees in the forest of Lothlorien were golden. 

Dolly Parton covered this on her 2002 album Halos and Horns – Robert Plant said he liked her version. Other artists to cover this include U2, Jimmy Castor, Frank Zappa, The Foo Fighters, Dave Matthews Band, Sisters of Mercy, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, Zakk Wylde, Elkie Brooks, Pardon Me Boys, White Flag, Jana, Great White, Stanley Jordan, Far Corporation, Dixie Power Trio, Justin Hayward, Leningrad Cowboys, Dread Zeppelin, Tiny Tim, piano virtuoso Richard Abel, and Monte Montgomery. Neil Sedaka had an unrelated Top 10 hit with the same title in 1960. 

Many critics trashed this song when it came out: Lester Bangs described it as “a thicket of misbegotten mush, and the British music magazine Sounds said it induced “first boredom and then catatonia.”

Led Zeppelin played this for the first time in Belfast on March 5, 1971 – Northern Ireland was a war zone at the time and there was rioting in nearby streets. John Paul Jones said in an audio documentary that when they played it, the audience was not that impressed. They wanted to hear something they knew – like “Whole Lotta Love.”

The song got a better reception when the band started the US leg of their tour. In an excerpt from Led Zeppelin; The Definitive Biography by Ritchie Yorke, Jimmy 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 this 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.” 

Jimmy Page considers this a masterpiece, but Robert Plant does not share his fondness for the song. Plant has referred to it as a “wedding song” and insists that his favorite Led Zeppelin song is “Kashmir.” After the band broke up, Plant refused to sing it except on rare occasions, including Live Aid.

Clarifying his position in a 2018 interview with Dan Rather, Plant said: “It belongs to a particular time. If I had been involved in the instrumentation I would feel that it’s a magnificent piece of music that has its own character and personality. It even speeds up in a similar way to some pieces of more highbrow music. But my contribution was to write lyrics and to sing a song about fate and something very British, almost abstract, but coming out of the mind of a 23-year-old guy. It landed in the years of the era of 23-year-old guys.”

This was the last song the remaining members of Led Zeppelin performed when they reunited for Live Aid in 1985. Bob Geldof organized the event, and did his best to get many famous bands to play even if they had broken up. Unlike The Who, Geldof had an easy time convincing Plant, Page, and Jones to play the show. They played the Philadelphia stage with Tony Thompson and Phil Collins sitting in on drums.

The acoustic, fingerpicking intro is very similar to the song “Taurus” from the band Spirit, who toured with Led Zeppelin when they first played the US. “Taurus” is a guitar instrumental written by the group’s guitarist, Randy California, and included on their debut album in 1968. It was part of the band’s set and Jimmy Page admitted that he owned the album.

Randy California never took any legal action against Led Zeppelin or sought compensation from them. A mercurial man who drowned in 1997 at age 45, he was described by his bandmate Mark Andes as “kind of a pathetic, tortured genius.”

The “Stairway” connection is just a small piece of the Spirit story. California was a guitar prodigy who at age 15 joined Jimi Hendrix in the group Jimmy James And The Blue Flames. Three months later, Hendrix went to England. He wanted to take California with him, but Randy’s age made it impossible.

Randy played with future Steely Dan founder Walter Becker in the Long Island band Tangerine Puppets, then moved to Los Angeles, where he formed Spirit with three friends and his stepfather, Ed Cassidy, who played drums. They got some gigs at the Whisky a Go Go, and Lou Adler signed them to his label, Ode Records. Their first album was a modest success that mustered one minor hit: “Mechanical World.” Written by band members Mark Andes and Jay Ferguson, it stalled at #123 US. California set out to write a hit for their second album, The Family That Plays Together (1969), and came up with “I Got A Line On You,” which made #25.

It would be their biggest hit. The band declined an invitation to Woodstock and fractured in 1972, with California’s already volatile mental health ravaged by drug use. The band reunited from time to time, but never got their due. By the time of California’s death, few remembered “Taurus” and its connection to “Stairway To Heaven,” but in 1999, Songfacts went online and the discussion was revived.

In 2002, a former music journalist named Michael Skidmore came into control of California’s estate, and 2014 he began proceedings against Led Zeppelin. In 2016, Jimmy Page testified in the case and said that the first time he heard of the controversy when a few years earlier when his son-in-law told him that a debate had been brewing online. Page insisted he had never heard “Taurus” before, and that it was “totally alien” to him.

The jury didn’t buy the argument that Page never heard “Taurus,” but still ruled in favor of Led Zeppelin, deciding that the chord progression in “Taurus” was common to many other songs dating back decades, and therefore, in the public domain. In 2018, the case was sent back to trial on appeal, but the ruling was upheld two years later. Here’s a timeline of the case.

Pat Boone released an unlikely cover on his album In a In a Metal Mood. Boone wanted to see how it would turn out as a jazz waltz, and opened and closed the song with soft flute playing. In a subtle reference to his Christian faith, Boone changed the line “All in one is all and all” to “Three in one is all and all” – a reference to the Christian Trinity (the Father, Son, Holy Spirit).

Before recording the song, he scanned it for devilish references. “I kept looking for allusions to witchcraft or drugs,” he said in a Songfacts interview. “And even though there were strange images, like ‘in the hedgerows’ and all these things, there were no specific mentions of Jimmy Page’s involvement in witchcraft or anything like that.”

Another notable cover was by an Australian performer called Rolf Harris, who used a wobbleboard (piece of quite floppy wood, held at both sides, arched slightly and wobbled so the arch would continually invert) and changed the line “And it makes me wonder” to “Does it make you wonder.” 

In the ’90s, Australian TV host Andrew Denton had a show on which various artists were asked to perform their version of this song. Their versions were released on an album called The Money or the Gun: Stairways to Heaven. Artists performing it included Australian Doors Show, The Beatnix, Kate Ceberano and the Ministry of Fun, Robyne Dunn, Etcetera Theatre Company, The Fargone Beauties, Sandra Hahn and Michael Turkic, Rolf Harris, Pardon Me Boys, Neil Pepper, The Rock Lobsters, Leonard Teale, Toys Went Berserk, Vegimite Reggae, The Whipper Snappers, and John Paul Young. In reply to Rolf Harris’ version, Page and Plant performed his song “Sun Arise” at the end of another Denton TV show. 

In January 1990, this song was added to the Muzak playlist in a solo harp version. Unlike the original, the Muzak version, arranged and recorded to provide an “uplifting, productive atmosphere” and “counteract the worker-fatigue curve in the office environment,” did not do so well, as even this sanitized version drew a lot of attention to the song, thus undermining the intention of the Muzak programming. 

The band performed this at the Atlantic Records 40th anniversary concert in 1988 with Jason Bonham sitting in on drums for his late father. Plant did not want to play it, but was convinced at the last minute. It was sloppy and Plant forgot some of the words. This was not the case when Jason joined them again in 2007 for a benefit show to raise money for the Ahmet Ertegun education fund. They performed this song and 15 others, earning rave reviews from fans and critics.

Zeppelin’s longest ever performance of this song was their last gig in Berlin in 1980. It clocked in around 15 minutes long. 

Gordon Roy of Wishaw, Scotland had all of the lyrics to this song tattooed on his back. He did it as a tribute to a friend who died in a car accident.

In the late ’90s, the radio trade magazine Monday Morning Replay reported that “Stairway” was still played 4,203 times a year by the 67 largest AOR (album-oriented rock) radio stations in the US. ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, refuses to release exact figures on how many times it has been played since its release, but figure that on each AOR station in America, the song was played five times a day during its first three months of existence; twice a day for the next nine months; once a day for the next four years; and two to three times a week for the next 15 years. There are roughly 600 AOR and Classic Rock stations in the US, which means that “Stairway” has been broadcast 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.

On January 23, 1991, under the direction of owner and general manager John Sebastian, the radio station KLSK (104.1 FM) in Albuquerque, New Mexico played this song over and over for 24 hours, confounding listeners who weren’t used to hearing Led Zeppelin on the station. The song played over 200 times, with many listeners tuning in to find out when it would end. It turned out to be publicity stunt, as the station was switching to a Classic Rock format.

Explaining his guitar setup for the solo, Jimmy Page told Guitar Player magazine in 1977: “I was using the Supro amp for the first album, and I still use it. The ‘Stairway to Heaven’ solo was done when I pulled out the Telecaster, which I hadn’t used for a long time, plugged it into the Supro, and away it went again. That’s a different sound entirely from the rest of the first album. It was a good, versatile setup.”

The Foo Fighters did a mock cover of this song, and their version was to say that nobody should try to cover the song because they will screw it up. Dave Grohl intentionally carried the intro on way too long, asked his drummer and audience for lyrics, and when it came time for the guitar solo, he sang Jimmy Page’s part. This was done purely as a joke, and to tell people not to cover the song, as Grohl is a huge Zeppelin fan, and lists Zeppelin’s John Bonham as a major influence. 

Rolling Stone magazine asked Jimmy Page how much of the guitar solo was composed before he recorded it. He replied: “It wasn’t structured at all [laughs]. I had a start. I knew where and how I was going to begin. And I just did it. There was an amplifier [in the studio] that I was trying out. It sounded good, so I thought, “OK, take a deep breath, and play.” I did three takes and chose one of them. They were all different. The solo sounds constructed – and it is, sort of, but purely of the moment. For me, a solo is something where you just fly, but within the context of the song.”

Mary J. Blige recorded this in 2010 backed by Travis Barker, Randy Jackson, Steve Vai and Orianthi. Blige told MTV: “Once you get lost in the rock-and-roll moment of it, all you can do is scream to the top of your lungs or go as low as you need to go. It’s not a head thing – it’s a spirit thing.” She added: “I am a Led Zeppelin fan. I’ve listened to their music since I was a child, and it’s always moved me, especially ‘Stairway To Heaven.’ I make songs my own by going deep inside myself and translating them to ‘what would Mary do.'” The song is included as a bonus track on the UK re-issue of her album Stronger With Each Tear and made available for download. Blige performed the song on the April 21, 2010 episode of American Idol. 

In solo work or with other groups, Jimmy Page would not let anyone but Robert Plant sing this, but he did play it as an instrumental on occasion.

The ending of this song is distinctive in that is closes out with just Robert Plant’s voice. According to Jimmy Page, he wrote a guitar part to end the song, but decided to leave it off since the vocal at the end had such an impact.

Jimmy Page often called “In The Light” from Physical Graffiti a follow-up to this song.

Regarding the composition of the track, Jimmy Page told Rolling Stone: “I was trying things at home, shunting this piece up with that piece. I had the idea of the verses, the link into the solo and the last part. It was this idea of something that would keep building and building.”

Stairway To Heaven

There’s a lady who’s sure
All that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven
When she gets there she knows
If the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for
Oh oh oh oh and she’s buying a stairway to heaven

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 of our thoughts are misgiving

Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, it makes me wonder

There’s 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 trees
And the voices of those who standing looking

Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, it really makes me wonder

And it’s 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 forests will echo with laughter

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’s still time to change the road you’re on
And it makes me wonder

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
Your 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
And she’s buying the stairway to heaven

Ranking Led Zeppelin Albums #1 – #5

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5. Led Zeppelin III – 1970

This album was a disappointment to some fans when it was released because it wasn’t as hard as the previous album. This record leaned heavy on acoustic and mixed with hard that Led Zeppelin IV would have to perfection. My favorite songs off this album are Tangerine, Immigrant Song and Since I’ve Been Loving You.

Tracklist

Immigrant Song
Friends
Celebration Day
Since I’ve Been Loving You
Out On The Tiles
Gallows Pole
Tangerine
That’s The Way
Bron-Y-Aur Stomp
Hats Off To (Roy) Harper

 

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4. Houses of the Holy – 1973

The band was determined not to repeat themselves after the success of IV. This album is diverse with songs Over The Hills and Far Away, The Ocean, The Rain Song and the funk of The Crunge. This album was a perfect gateway into their next album.

Tracklist

The Song Remains The Same
The Rain Song
Over The Hills And Far Away
The Crunge
Dancing Days
D’yer Mak’er
No Quarter
The Ocean

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3. Physical Graffiti – 1975

It’s big, bloated, self indulgent…and great. This album had a big variety with the classic rock Kasmir (possibly their best song), the funky Trampled Under Foot and a song that would have fit on a Stones album…Night Flight.

Tracklist
Custard Pie
The Rover
In My Time Of Dying
Houses Of The Holy
Trampled Under Foot
Kashmir
In The Light
Bron-Yr-Aur
Down By The Seaside
Ten Years Gone
Night Flight
The Wanton Song
Boogie With Stu
Black Country Woman
Sick Again

 

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2. Led Zeppelin II – 1969

Nicknamed the “Brown Bomber” this album is explosive. The album was recorded in sections while on tour. It has a live feel to it. Classic songs such as Heartbreaker, Whole Lotta Love, Livin’ Lovin’ Maid, and the album never lets up. After this album, the band starts to change into more of their famous light heavy feel.

 

Tracklist

Whole Lotta Love
What Is And What Should Never Be
The Lemon Song
Thank You
Heartbreaker
Livin’ Lovin’ Maid (She’s Just A Woman)
Ramble On
Moby Dick
Bring It On Home

 

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1. Led Zeppelin IV – 1971

No suspense here. This album is nearly perfect. The light and heavy were perfectly balanced. If I never hear Stairway to Heaven again I’ll be happy but I could listen to just the drums to When The Levee Breaks… all day. A Great album at the peak of their career.

Tracklist 

Black Dog
Rock And Roll
The Battle Of Evermore
Stairway To Heaven
Misty Mountain Hop
Four Sticks
Going To California
When The Levee Breaks