"Stairway to Heaven" is a song by the British rock group Led Zeppelin released in 1971 on their fourth studio album, Zoso, sometimes called Led Zeppelin IV. It is widely accepted as one of the greatest of all rock songs and is the most frequently requested song on FM radio stations in the United States, despite never being released as a single. It did, however, appear as a promotional disc in the United States, on an Australian acoustic EP, and in the 1990s as a 20th anniversary promo issue.
The band began to write
the song during the sessions for Led Zeppelin
III at Bron-Yr-Aur, Wales, but it was completed
at Headley Grange, Hampshire, and finally
recorded at Island Studios, London, in December
1970. It is not entirely clear whether a movie
title was an inspiration for the song or the
The first time the song was played live was during the recording of the Led Zeppelin BBC Sessions.
The song was first played live at Belfast's Ulster Hall on March 5, 1971 and it was performed at every subsequent Led Zeppelin concert from 1975 to 1980, usually as part of a final encore. "Stairway" was also played at Live Aid in 1985 and the 40th anniversary celebration of Atlantic Records in 1988, and by Jimmy Page as an instrumental version on his solo tours.
"Stairway to Heaven" is one of the biggest-selling sheet music publications in rock history. Since 1971, it has sold more than 1.2 million copies.
The lyrics, written by Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant next to an evening log fire, were inspired by his search for spiritual perfection. A seminal influence was the book Magic Arts in Celtic Britain by Lewis Spence, which Plant had recently read; it contained references to May Queens, pipers, and "bustling hedgerows."
Jimmy Page with his
double-necked guitarThe song is a multi-movement
suite. A quiet introduction featuring acoustic
guitar and recorder gradually moves into to a
slow electric middle section, before the faster
hard rock final section. This style is found in
many Zeppelin songs recorded after Stairway to
The guitar introduction is one of the most famous pieces ever played on the guitar, but was in fact borrowed from the song Taurus by Spirit, who were touring with Led Zeppelin at the time. They have been interviewed about this and apparently do not mind. It opens with an Am-Fmaj7 chord progression with a chromatic descending bassline A-G#-G-F#-F. John Paul Jones contributed overdubbed wooden bass recorders in the opening section (he used an organ, and later, a mellotron to synthesize this arrangement in live performances) and a Rhodes electric piano in the middle section. The extended Jimmy Page guitar solo in the song's final section was played for the recording on a 1958 Fender Telecaster plugged into a Supro amplifier. Three different solos were recorded with Page deciding to keep the one which he felt best suited the theme of the song. The other guitar parts were played using a Harmony acoustic guitar and Fender Electric XII (12-string); both can be heard on the left and right recording channels respectively. For later live versions Page switched to using a double-necked 6/12 1968 Gibson EDS-1275, which was custom-built by Roger Giffin of Gibson's West Coast Custom Shop.
Critics of rock and roll
songs (and of Led Zeppelin in particular) have
alleged that a backward message is recorded into
"Stairway to Heaven." If a portion of the song
is played backwards, then supposedly words
beginning with "Oh, here's to my sweet Satan"
can be heard . Christian fundamentalists and
others have interpreted different lyrics from
the allegedly-backmasked portion, which most
agree to be the lines beginning with "If there's
a bustle in your hedgerow...". The theory was
primarily advanced by Michael Mills, Jacob
Aranza, and Jeff Godwin, sometimes offering
detailed analyses of the hidden meanings of both
the "backwards" and actual lyrics.
Led Zeppelin has for the most part ignored such claims; for years the only comment came from Swan Song Records which issued the statement: "Our turntables only play in one direction—forwards". Robert Plant expressed frustration with the accusations in an interview : "To me it's very sad, because 'Stairway To Heaven' was written with every best intention, and as far as reversing tapes and putting messages on the end, that's not my idea of making music."