“Stairway to Heaven” is the fourth track from English rock band Led Zeppelin and their fourth studio album, which was released in November 1971 through Atlantic Records.
The hard rock song is one of the group’s most well-loved, well-known and most commercially successful tracks, and is widely regarded as one of the best rock tracks to ever exist. The song was written by band members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, with Page also solely producing the song.
Page had started writing the music for the song in May 1970, with Plant writing 80% of the lyrics a few weeks after. It was recorded in London, at Island Studios, where recording began in December 1970 and finished one month later.
In a 2012 interview with Rolling Stone, Page revealed that the song held the utmost importance to the group, defining the core of the band and who they were:
“[The song] crystallized the essence of the band. It had everything there and showed us at our best. It was a milestone. Every musician wants to do something of lasting quality, something which will hold up for a long time. We did it with ‘Stairway.’”
Page also addressed the song’s iconic guitar riff which he wrote, and how it began it’s journey on an acoustic guitar:
“…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. I didn’t have any of Robert’s lyrics, only a sort of melody that related to the guitar parts I had. […] Originally, there was another guitar part that I had done for the ending. It was like the opening, a bit different. But I never tagged it on. The statement was there.”
The song is broken down into three parts, with each part increasing in tempo and intensity. Lyrically, the song details a woman who is picturing a promising future, but also intertwines the concept of greed and not knowing what you have right in front of you. However, the lyrics are quite abstract, and this was confirmed by one of the writers Robert Plant, who spoke about the song in 2018 on Australian talk show The Project. Plant stated that the speculation around the song’s meaning was “hysterical”, as the song itself is conceptual, adding: “I didn’t think anything was going to be that big”.
Plant also revealed that he could never remember the lyrics for the 8 minute and 2 second song, so the band’s manager would hold up cue cards with the lyrics to the track during the band’s performances:
“I know it’s a long song, okay? I also know I had a little bit of trouble remembering lyrics, back in ’72, ’73. Our manager, who was quite a formidable personality…He’d come to the front of the stage in the middle of it all and he’d have the lyrics just going…Anyway, it was very funny. I can’t remember what verse goes where. I know there’s something about ‘bustle in the hedgerow’ and then all that stuff.”
“Stairway to Heaven” has received many accolades across the globe:
- In 1994, the track made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as part of the list of “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll”.
- In 1999, the song ranked at #1 on Classic Rock’s list of “Ten of the Best Songs Ever!”.
- In 2000, it was ranked at #3 on VH1‘s list of “The 100 Greatest Rock Songs of All Time”.
- In 2001, the RIAA ranked the song at #53 on their “Songs of The Century” list.
- In 2003, the track won a Grammy Awards “Grammy Hall of Fame Award”. In the same year, Q ranked the track at #47 on their list of “100 Songs That Changed the World”.
- In 2004, Rolling Stone placed the track at #31 on their “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list.
- In 2005, Australian music journalist and pop culture writer Toby Creswell listed the track as part of his “1001 Songs: the Great Songs of All Time” piece.
- In 2007, Q ranked the song at #8 on their “100 Greatest Songs of All Time” list, as well as Guitar World placed the song at #1 on their “100 Greatest Guitar Solos” list.
- In 2008, Rolling Stone placed the song at #8 on their “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time” list.
- In 2021, Rolling Stone placed the track at #61 on the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list.
The song has received 2x Platinum certification in Italy and Platinum in Denmark and the UK.
The official audio video on YouTube was uploaded via Led Zeppelin’s official channel on the 4th July 2018. As of the 13th June 2023, the video had a total of 100.1 million views”.
Read the lyrics to “Stairway to Heaven” here.
*All information accurate at the time of publishing.