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Forty one years to this day [March 5th], at a gig at the Ulster Hall in Belfast, Led Zeppelin aired what would go on to become one of the best loved rock tracks in the world ever, for the very first time. Four decades later, the brilliance of “Stairway To Heaven” refuses to fade away.

The statistics admittedly are mind-boggling. Aired on radio over 2,874,000 times, and regularly cited as one of the greatest rock songs of all time, Led Zeppelin’s epic – the astonishingly engaging “Stairway To Heaven,” is a definitive slice of rock & roll immortality. And yet, as with most instances of creativity that transcend the time frame they were created in, “Stairway To Heaven” took its time before setting the world on fire. It had to wait till popular imagination caught up with the avant-garde compositional brilliance that underscores every facet of the song.

According to Stephen Davis, author of Hammer Of The Gods, the official Led Zeppelin biography, “Stairway To Heaven” took almost two years from the time of its release in 1971, before acquiring anthemic status. A fact concurred by Zeppelin guitar god, Jimmy Page. “I knew it was good,” he once stated in an interview. “But I didn’t know it was going to be almost like an anthem.”

“Stairway To Heaven” is much more than just a good song. It is an encapsulation of an era and of a mindset that defined the Seventies. Social historian and culture critic Erik Davis nails it perfectly when he describes “Stairway To Heaven” as not just the greatest rock song of the 1970s but “the greatest spell of the 1970s.” He further goes on to state that the track “is not just number one. It is The One, the quintessence…”

Considering the monumental impact it has had across decades and over generations, “Stairway To Heaven” didn’t really take long to come together. The genesis point of the track was at the 18th century cottage Bron-Yr-Aur in Wales where Jimmy Page and Zeppelin powerhouse vocalist Robert Plant had gathered after a gruelling tour of America. Page had a lot of guitar pieces which he wanted to put together as a song and he was perennially armed with a cassette recorder which faithfully captured all the little bits and pieces that went on to make the classic.

The band subsequently relocated to Headley Grange in East Hampshire to work on IV, the album which would go onto to become one of the most abiding testimonials of Led Zeppelin’s illustrious legacy. It was during the writing sessions at the Grange that Plant came up with about 80% of the lyrics while sitting next to a log fire. It was pretty smooth sailing from that point onwards as all the sections – the quiet meditative intro, the 12-string power strum in the middle and the full-on rip-roaring rock crescendo that marks the grand finale – segued into the enduring classic we all know as “Stairway To Heaven.”

The epic proportions of the song and Plant’s lyrics about a lady “buying a stairway to heaven” and “a bustle in your hedgerow” which was actually a “spring clean for the May Queen” stirred up a veritable hornet’s nest of speculation. This ensured that “Stairway To Heaven” quickly entered that rarefied pantheon where creative compositions lend themselves to multiple interpretations and new meanings decades after they have been first made available for public consumption.

“Stairway crystallized the essence of the band,” says Page. “It had everything there and showed the band at its best. Over the passage of years people come to me with all manner of stories about what it meant to them at certain points of their lives. About how it’s got them through some really tragic circumstances … Because it’s an extremely positive song, it’s such a positive energy, and, you know, people have got married to the song.”

From: NME

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