Stairway to Heaven Turns 40

Word comes from the music universe that classic rock’s pre-eminent ballad, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”, has turned 40. Bringing with it 8 minutes and two seconds of music that starts out as a haunting folk song, progresses through a bluesish mid-section, and then ends up with as a high octane arena rock shriek fest, the song was the fourth track on what would forever become Led Zeppelin’s defining album. In a way it enjoyed almost too much success eventually being famously banned in guitar shops because very would be picker in the universe would begin playing the opening riff upon picking up a guitar (I’ve been guilty of doing just that).

Alex Smith, writing in The Scoop, gets it about right when he writes:

Arguably classic rock’s preeminent ballad, “Stairway to Heaven” is a multi-tiered suite that segues from lilting acoustic delicacy into feral rock ‘n’ roll abandon and back again. It’s inspired legions of aspiring guitarists and spawned droves of ham-fisted imitations, but has never been equalled in its bombastic rock pageantry. Its lyrics are steeped in enigmatic allusions to the conflict between spirituality and earthly materialism, although a few of its verses have left even the most scholarly rock fans scratching their heads. “If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow don’t be alarmed now/It’s just a spring clean for the May queen” (which, when played backwards, delivers a very different message indeed to some ears) is just mysterious enough to sound deeply meaningful, even when sung by a quartet of tight-trousered hellions. (Read his entire excellent article.)

Here’s an HQ version of it from Youtube — brings back memories for sure:

I tried to play the song or years back when I was a folkhouse picker, and I did actually perform it well enough to get through it without too much embarrassment. The big challenge for me was the ending — that kind of anthem rock wasn’t my thing, but with the warmup the first 6 minutes provided, I was able to get through it.

Here’s to you, Led Zep….

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