Stairway to Heaven
Writer(s): Jimmy Page, Robert Plant (see lyrics here)
Performed: November 8, 1971 (as an album cut)
First Charted: November 24, 2007
Peak: 30 US *, 1 CL, 37 UK, 17 CN *, 1 DF (* digital song chart) (Click for codes to charts.)
Sales (in millions): 1.7 US, 0.6 UK, 10.0 world (includes US + UK)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 3.0 radio, 166.0 video, 618.38 streaming
Stairway to Heaven
Performed: December 26, 2012
Peak: 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)
Sales (in millions): 1.2 (sheet music)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 85.0 video, -- streaming
Awards (Led Zeppelin):
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
“The ultimate heavy metal band rose out of the ashes of the Yardbirds” SS in the late ‘60s. Guitarist Jimmy Page was the last remnant of the at band and recruited singer Robert Plant, bassist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham to be what was intended to be the new Yardbirds. Instead, they forged a new identity as one of the most successful bands of all time.
The built a huge following as an album act and live band. “Dazed and Confused” was the centerpiece of Led Zeppelin’s early live performances SJ but when they tired of it, the group set about creating another anthem. Little did they know that they would birth the song against which “all epic anthems must measure themselves.” RS500 The song consistently tops classic rock radio best-of lists and no song has received more airplay in the history of FM radio. KN It has also sold over a million copies of sheet music, averaging 15,000 a year. WK Astonishingly, the song is “sturdy enough to withstand and rise above all the overexposure.” SS
“Stairway to Heaven” was arguably the pinnacle of rock album marketing. Rock albums had been collections of singles, B-sides, and fillers, but in the late ‘60s, groups like the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin, started marketing albums as a whole and promoting them with songs at radio that were never released as singles. It was “a brilliant marketing ploy” HL implying “their work was some how more durable and that their albums had to be taken as a creative whole.” HL It also meant record buyers had to buy entire albums instead of singles.
Atlantic Records certainly pushed for a single for “Stairway to Heaven,” but the band refused to edit the song down from its eight-minute running time. WK The only chart appearance for “Heaven” came in 2007 when it hit #37 on the UK charts, prompted by downloads of the song in conjunction with the release of the Led Zeppelin Mothership compilation. WK
The song kicks off with “an acoustic intro that sounds positively Elizabethan.” RS500 Plant then leads the listener through a “quasi-medieval story” TC drawing influence from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and “full of allusions that go nowhere.” TC She “seems to represent the ‘everyperson’ in search of truth, but distracted and tempted along the way be deceit and greed” SS although Plant says it is “about a woman who gets everything she wants without reciprocating.” TC It doesn’t matter much wat the song is about when it’s “couched in such a stately tune and performance.” TC Besides, “the song’s enigma is part of its charm.” TC
Plant largely improvised the lyrics sitting in front of a roaring fireplace SS while Page taught Bonham his drum part. HL Page says the song “crystallized the essence of the band…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.’” RS500
In 2012, Led Zeppelin were celebrated with the Kennedy Center Honors. The band Heart gave a notable performance, complete with a full-fledged choir, of “Stairway to Heaven” that had Jimmy Page grinning ear to ear and a very subdued Robert Plant wiping away a tear.
Last updated 4/14/2023.