There are still people who have not listened Stairway to Heaven, considered the most broadcast song of all time and the best-selling rock music score. There is a series of videos on YouTube where people (mostly young) are filming themselves listening to the classic Led Zeppelin for the first time. The first time! These videos are hypnotic. For example, that of a girl with long blond hair who calls herself Insane Blondie. While the piece is playing, he does not stop moving his head, he opens his clear eyes in the intense parts and floods the eight minutes of song with: “Wonder”, “I love that voice”, “I love it”, “What energy”, “Oh God, what a guitar solo ”… Moral: the song continues to move half a century later. Because we are talking about a work that began to be recorded in 1970 and that regularly returns to the present, either due to accusations of plagiarism, because another theory about its meaning arises, because one of the protagonists talks about it or because, simply, it is a pleasure to hear it.
At the end of last year, Robert Plant (West Bromwich, England, 71 years old), lead singer of Led Zeppelin and author of the lyrics, threw a jug of ice water on those who try to keep their rock fetishes pure. The author denied his most celebrated work, the lyrics of Stairway to Heaven. It was in an interview with announcer Uncle Joe Benson, on the show Ultimate Classic Rock Nights. First he used irony: “It’s a very good song. The construction is excellent. It’s one of those musical moments that could stand on its own without the need for anyone to sing it. In fact, right now I could succeed again with no one to sing it. I’m sure”. Sorry? Were you talking about a Stairway to Heaven instrumental? It was the preamble to the blow. “As for the lyrics, right now I don’t feel identified with it. I would not intend to write something like that abstract letter right now. Even vocally I’m not convinced ”, he added.
Let’s remember that Plant has been during the last decades the most refractory when talking about Led Zeppelin. If the group has been absent for so long (with fleeting appearances) it has been because of the commitment of the vocalist, who has endured pressure from all fronts: the fans, the managers, record labels and his living ex-companions (drummer John Bonham died in 1980 at age 32): Jimmy Page (Heston, England, 76) and John Paul Jones (Sidcup, England, 74), who would be delighted to return. Can you imagine a Led Zeppelin reunion tour? Calculate the amount of money it would generate. But Plant prefers to focus on an attractive solo career that brings him more pleasure and rave reviews.
Satanic, simplistic theories and other explanations
Let’s get to the nitty-gritty: what is Plant talking about, what is that letter about, saying that “there is a lady who is sure that all that glitters is gold; and you are buying a stairway to heaven; and when he gets there he knows that if all the stores are closed with one word he can get what he has gone looking for ”. Plant was never precise about the true meaning. He spoke of abstraction, of the listener drawing his own conclusion. Vagueness. Yes, he said he wrote it fast, that it was a stroke of inspiration. “For some reason I was pissed off, I picked up a pencil and started writing. The words began to come out, ”he assured. Was he in a bad mood? How does that irritation influence the message? The lyrics apparently speak of a cynical woman who gets everything she wants. Does Plant mean that he wrote about someone in particular whom he holds a grudge, hence the bad grape? An overly simplistic reading.
Much more fun is the satanic theory, very widespread (eye) among fans and specialists. You know: Jimmy Page was a follower of the occultist Aleister Crowley, he even bought his mansion. In the biography about the group, When the giants walked the earth, by Mick Wall (translated into Spanish in 2019 by Alianza Editorial), speaks Kenneth Anger, a disciple of Crowley and a friend of Page. “Stairway… is the most song Luciferian [sic] of the group. For anyone who knows of the occult, ‘the shadows higher than our souls’ and ‘my spirit that cries to leave’, suggest a desire to return to the lost world ”.
In an interview with the English magazine Q, Plant said, “All that satanic stuff is rubbish.” He even put into practice that theory that says that if you play the song backwards (how do you do that, by the way) it has a satanic message. “Here is my sweet Satan”, they assure that it is heard. Silly stuff? Yes, of course, but in 2004, at the V World Congress of Skeptics, the English psychologist Christopher French played the recordings and the 400 attendees came out convinced of those dark messages. In that interview in Q, Plant assured that he did the test and put the song backwards. “And there is nothing, it is all bullshit,” he said.
Ok: we still don’t know what he’s talking about Stairway to Heaven. Here comes another hypothesis. It is exposed by Chris Salewicz in Jimmy Page. The definitive biography (translated into Spanish in 2019 by Cúpula): “It’s about materialism, about those who believe that possessions can lead us to salvation. All personified in a woman who believes that all that glitters is gold and that it will help her buy a stairway to heaven. Curious theory this, knowing that the authors, Led Zeppelin, led a life of luxuries and exorbitant excesses.
More firewood. In 2012, Led Zeppelin received the Kennedy Center Honors, the highest award to an artist given by the United States. The president of the country at that time, Barack Obama, attends the great ceremony, held in Washington, who offers a laudatory speech towards the group. There are the three living members, Page, Plant and Jones. Before we begin, a journalist asks Page about Stairway to Heaven. In his dissertation, the guitarist reveals that he came up with the main idea that Plant later executed: “He told me [Plant] It felt blocked, so I had an idea: imagine that you are walking into a dark tunnel and that in the distance there is a light where you can see the exit. Darkness means empty feeling and light represents life. As soon as I proposed the idea to him, he wrote the song. People think it is a dark letter, but no. Robert metaphorized it and made it complicated, but it actually has a simple meaning: the search for hope. Feeling lost and finding life. That means the stairway to heaven ”. A pity that Plant has not confirmed this version.
Stairway to Heaven was recorded in December 1970 and was performed for the first time in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on March 5, 1971, eight months before the release of the album where it was included. (Led Zeppelin IV, November 1971). The public did not know the song and those almost ten minutes of rock liturgy received a “lukewarm” reaction, as Page has later recognized.
It was not published as single, but it was the only letter that was printed in a folder on the disc where neither the group name nor the title appeared. “He deserved it,” Page said of the publication of Plant’s text. Undoubtedly, those epic eight minutes and three seconds led to the sale of an album that is listed as the tenth best-selling album of all time, with 37 million units shipped. There are also accusations of plagiarism by the heirs of Randy California, author of Taurus, of his group Spirit, song from 1968. A complaint that led the band members to sit before a judge in 2016, who ruled that there was no copy. Just two weeks ago, a California court upheld the non-existence of plagiarism. These controversies further enhance his legend.
People say that Stairway to Heaven it has generated 500 million euros in copyright. A story and an impact too great to assimilate that the letter tells the story of a capricious woman …
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‘Stairway to Heaven’, by Led Zeppelin: what the lyrics are really about and why its author rejects it | Culture