4/29/11 - led zeppelin and stairway to heaven

In today's excerpt - Led Zeppelin was a band formed in 1968 by Jimmy Page and called the New Yardbirds—until The Who's, Keith Moon, and John Entwistle started kidding Page about starting a group with him, joking, "We've got a good name for it. Let's call it Lead Zeppelin, 'cause it'll go over like a lead balloon." Page took the name and dropped the "a" to avoid mispronunciation. Though reviled by critics (a Life Magazine writer reported upon meeting the group that she "got to smell the sh*t firsthand"), Led Zeppelin was already the highest-grossing band in the world and had released three chart-topping albums when lead singer Robert Plant stared into a mansion fireplace and tried to fashion lyrics to describe spiritual perfection:

"[As they worked on their fourth album], 'Misty Mountain Hop' was written at the Headley Grange [a mansion used as their recording studio]. So was 'The Battle of Evermore' and three others. And then there was 'Stairway to Heaven.' Robert improvised most of the lyrics for "Stairway" during the rehearsals as he sat in front of the roaring fireplace, looking for some way, he said, to describe spiritual perfection. Jimmy listened and was just blown away by what he heard.

"From the beginning, he felt that this song could be something special, that Robert had eclipsed everything that he had written before. Late at night by himself, Page worked on molding 'Stairway' into a cohesive unit, using the Telecaster and building guitar track upon guitar track until he had the powerful instrumental harmonies he wanted. He recorded three different guitar solos, none of them similar, and finally chose the one he thought was best after agonizing over them in the studio late one night. ...

"The recording of the fourth album was completed in February 1971. As it was being prepared for release, there was some talk of calling it Led Zeppelin IV. But Jimmy was against it. He was still pissed at the critics, and perhaps as a way of retaliating against or confusing them, he didn't want the album to have a title at all. He didn't even want Led Zeppelin's name or the album's catalog number anywhere on it.

" 'The music is what matters,' Jimmy argued. 'Let people buy it because they like the music. I don't want any writing on the cover! Period!'

"Executives at Atlantic Records were outraged at Jimmy's demand. 'An album without a title!' they exclaimed. 'An album without the artists' name on it! You guys are signing your own death warrant!'

"Still, the band wouldn't capitulate. As a last-ditch effort, Atlantic tried to convince them to at least put 'Led Zeppelin' on the spine of the album. Zeppelin refused. ...

"Throughout Europe, audiences responded almost deliriously to 'Stairway to Heaven.' When the band performed at KB-Hallen in Copenhagen, the fourth Zeppelin album was still months away from its release. But judging by the audience frenzy that night as Robert guided the crowd through 'Stairway's compelling journey, you might have thought that the song had been at the top of the charts for weeks. Word of mouth had obviously created a lot of enthusiasm about the tune. And when Plant introduced it as 'something of an epic' and Jimmy gave it a distinguished touch on his red Gibson SG double-neck guitar, the performance of this single song clearly turned into an event.

" 'I bet there are a hundred tape recorders out there tonight trying to get 'Stairway to Heaven' on tape,' band manager Peter Grant said backstage. 'The bootleggers are going to make a killing on this one.'

"At the end of the show, Jimmy just shook his head. 'We've got a real monster on our hands,' he said, intoxicated by the audience response to 'Stairway to Heaven.' 'It's one of those songs that is developing a life of its own,' he said. Pagey knew that every musician waits for a song like this. Zeppelin had finally created one."


Richard Cole and Richard Trubo


Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored


Harper Collins


Copyright 1992 and 2002 by Richard Cole and Richard Trubo


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