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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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This Month in
Led Zeppelin History

March 17, 1969 - A four-song performance is filmed for TV Byen in Denmark (aired on May 19, 1969)
March 21, 1969 - Zeppelin’s debut TV appearance on "How It Is"
March 25, 1969 - Filming session for the Supershow
March xx, 1970 - The band turns down many TV offers worth large sums
March 05, 1971 - Led Zeppelin started a 12-date "Thank You" tour for British fans, appearing at the clubs from their early days and charging the same admission prices as in 1968. The first show was at Ulster Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland where they played songs from their upcoming fourth album, including the first public performances of Black Dog, Stairway To Heaven, Going To California and Rock And Roll.
March 12, 1972 - Page and Plant rehearse some songs with the Bombay Orchestra
March 25, 1973 - Led Zeppelin finally release Houses of the Holy after production issues with the album cover
March 28, 1973 - Led Zeppelin released Houses Of The Holy in the UK. The album title was a dedication by the band to their fans who appeared at venues they dubbed "houses of the holy". Houses Of The Holy has now been certified 11 times Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for US sales in excess of 11 million copies.
March xx, 1974 - The band decide to release a double album due to the amount of left over studio material
March 29, 1975 - Led Zeppelin saw all six of their albums in the US Top 100 chart in the same week, alongside their latest album Physical Graffiti at No.1. Physical Graffiti has now been certified 16 times Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for US sales in excess of 16 million copies.
March 15, 1975 - Tickets for the Earls Court shows sellout within four hours
March xx, 1976 - Jimmy speaks with reporters mentioning the new album due out called Presence
March 31, 1976 - Presence is released
March 28, 1977 - Zeppelin arrive in Dallas, Texas to rehearse before opening the eleventh tour of the US
March xx, 1978 - Robert and John spend some time hanging around the Midlands
March 26, 1979 - Robert takes lead vocal at a Bad Company gig in Birmingham
March 04, 1980 - John Bonham makes a TV appearance on "Alright Now" with Bill Connolly
March 26, 2006 - Readers of Total Guitar magazine voted the guitar solo by Jimmy Page in Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven as the greatest guitar solo of all time. The 1971 track was voted ahead of tracks by Van Halen, Queen, Jimi Hendrix and The Eagles. On the 20th anniversary of the original release of the song, it was announced via US radio sources that the song had logged up an estimated 2,874,000 radio plays - back to back, that would run for 44 years solid.
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