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November 8, 2013

A buddy of mine just shared this YouTube video from last year’s Kennedy Center Honors event in Washington, DC. It’s a must-see for any fan of Led Zeppelin and/or Heart. Actually, it’s a must-see for anyone who wants to understand the power and potential of live classic rock ‘n’ roll music.

Led Zeppelin is very much a part of my classic rock upbringing. They were the exciting, new band while I was in elementary school and was first tuning into rock music. They became superstars during my years in junior high, when I first discovered alternative rock on FM radio. And they became rock gods by the time I entered high school.

Thirty something years after the death of their drummer, John Bonham, which led to the immediate breakup of the band, Led Zeppelin’s music still holds up remarkably well.

Led Zeppelin’s fourth studio album, the one with no title and the memorable cover art of an old man slumped over under the weight of a oversized bundle of branches tied to his back, was the first album I ever bought. I’m pretty sure I wore out Side 1 of the record back in the day, and, in the process of testing its sound limits, permanently damaged my parent’s bookshelf speakers.

“Stairway to Heaven”, the most famous track on an album with lots of great ones, might just be the best rock tune of the 1970s. Maybe of all time. It, of course, depends on who you ask. All I know is that I probably have more memories of that eight-minute song than any other rock recording. Here are just a few of my flashbacks of “Stairway to Heaven”:

  • We’re in the Lyons family yard for one of those massive keggers put on by the upperclassmen. Anyone who’s anyone in high school is there. It’s 1973 and I’m one of the few freshman in attendance. “Stairway to Heaven” is playing when the party host finally acknowledges my presence and officially welcomes me to his party, the first one I ever go to where I was not officially invited.
  • We’re in the back of a school bus rattling down Hardscrabble Road. It’s 1976 and two extremely devoted Zep fans, whose names escape me, are seated across the way. They are busy breaking down the recently released rock film “The Song Remains the Same”. I’m interested in what they have to say, mainly because I know the new Led Zeppelin film contains a live version of “Stairway to Heaven”.  Their conclusion? Great song. Fantastic band. Lousy movie.
  • We’re in Mr. Gilson’s American history class. The topic is the strict religious doctrines the European immigrants brought with them to the New World. My attention span has reached its religious limits when, out of the blue, our feisty Irish teacher with a face that turns red when he makes a point, draws me back into his class with a surprising analogy. Mr. Gilson concludes that just like the opening lyrics to the rock song “Stairway to Heaven” the early settlers believed that getting into Heaven came with a price.

There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.

  • And, finally, we’re at one of my parents dinner parties. It’s probably 1978. During desert, and after a few drinks, the conversation gets louder, the laughter more sustained. From the den, I hear one of the guests state with authority, “Today’s music is too loud. It gives me such a headache.” But that’s when another guest confesses, “But I got to tell ya, I do like when my son puts on that song about going to heaven.”

For the Back Story of “Stairway to Heaven” and other songs featured in the Rocking Lyrics blog, click here.

Now it’s your turn. What do you think about “Stairway to Heaven” and Led Zeppelin’s rock legacy?


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