Study Guide

Stairway to Heaven

Stairway to Heaven Introduction

In a Nutshell

This is it: the one song that has been played on FM radio more than any other. Ever.

Kind of surprising, considering "Stairway to Heaven" doesn't exactly fit the usual recipe for commercial radio success. It's eight minutes long. It has a musical structure closer to classical music than to your typical verse/chorus/verse pop song. It starts off with a slightly goofy Mellotron part that sounds a bit like what you'd hear from ye olde towne piper at the Renaissance Faire. And the lyrics talk about things like bustles in your hedgerows and spring cleans for your May Queens. 

(What?)

But this unlikely collection of elements somehow adds up to one of the most beloved songs of all time. You might even call it the Holy Grail of classic rock.

About the Song

ArtistLed Zeppelin
Year1971
LabelAtlantic Records
Writer(s)Jimmy Page, Robert Plant
Producer(s)Jimmy Page
Musician(s)Robert Plant (vocals), Jimmy Page (guitar), John Paul Jones (bass, Mellotron), John Bonham (drums)
Learn to playTablature
AlbumLed Zeppelin IV

Music Video

Influences on Led Zeppelin

Blue Oyster Cult
Chuck Berry
Cream
The Doors
Jeff Beck
Jimi Hendrix
Muddy Waters
The Rolling Stones
Tyrannosaurus Rex
The Who
The Yardbirds

Influenced by Led Zeppelin

All future rock acts
AC/DC
Aerosmith
The Black Crowes
Def Leppard
Guns N' Roses
KISS
Priestess
Queen

Stairway to Heaven Resources

Books

Stairway to Heaven (2004)
Photographer Neil Preston's insider shots of Led Zeppelin displayed in an interesting, though flawed book that is at the very least sold at a reasonable price.

Stairway to Heaven (2007)
Richard Cole, the "tour manager and maestro" of Led Zeppelin for 12 years, will take you through the experiences, accomplishments, and underworld of the "archetypal progenitors of all head-bangers" like few else are qualified to do.

Whole Lotta Led Zeppelin: The Illustrated History of the Heaviest Band of All Time (2008)
This is the must have. A saturated blast of photography, concert posters, and ads is married with retrospective commentary by rock's Joe Perry, Peter Frampton, and Ray Davies among others. Chances are you have only ever heard about what it's like to see Led Zeppelin live (probably from your dad), but this book gets you as close to seeing them live as you'll probably ever be.

In the Houses of the Holy: Led Zeppelin and the Power of Rock Music (2001)
Susan Fast gives us the musicologist's perspective on a handful of Zeppelin songs with an incredible eye to detail. This book is less for the casual music lover and more for those with some theory background.

Albums

Led Zeppelin IV (1971, remastered 1994)
One of the best, if not the best, of Led Zeppelin's albums, IV features "Black Dog" which, with its hard rock wailing and guitar playing, forever changed the face of rock n' roll in addition to "Rock n Roll," "When the Levee Breaks," "Misty Mountain Hop," and, of course, "Stairway to Heaven."

Physical Graffiti (1975, remastered 1994)
Physical Graffiti finds the band moving away from their blues-rock roots and into the orchestra pit. If self-indulgent grandeur is a common trend among successful musical acts--and it is--Physical Graffiti represents one of the best forays into the grandiose world where a tuba finds its way into a rock song. The sad thing is it really works. It really does work.

Led Zeppelin I (1960, remastered 1994)
Have you ever wondered when the phrase "let the Led out" was first uttered? Chances are it was right after this album's release. Led Zeppelin I is one of the best debut albums in rock history--no filler, just great music. The album is the collision of American blues-rock and British Invasion pop, to a frighteningly good effect.

Mothership (2007)
A compilation album of songs selected by former members Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and Jimmy Page. Includes a DVD of live footage.

Led Zeppelin on iTunes
All of their releases in one spot. Plus...ringtones!

Images

The artists now
Backstage before their famous reunion show at the O2 center in London in 2007. Left to right John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, the late John Bonham's son, Jason Bonham, and Jimmy Page.

Performing in 2007
At the O2 center in 2007 the band's reunion was the meeting of titans of rock.

"Led Zeppelin IV" cover
The album cover to "Led Zeppelin IV."

ZOSO
The band behind their familiar and totally obscure runic-symbols.

Movies & TV

Led Zeppelin (2003)
A Led Zeppelin concert in your home! Finally! This DVD is a labor of love, combining rare live footage from shows across Led Zep's career in a seamless, incredibly long concert experience.

Websites

Led Zeppelin's Official Site
A beautiful website with a lot of information, history, and video.

Jennifer Milner's Backmasking Site
Apparently Led Zeppelin aren't the only rockers who are secretly satanists! Boston, John Lennon, and whoever wrote the "Pokemon Rap" seem to have been enchanted by the devil himself. Surprise! Or, maybe not. See what lyrics you can come up with to the backward tracks on this site and then decide for yourself.

Video & Audio

"Satanic Message" in "Stairway to Heaven"
"Experts" in finding hidden messages in backwards-played records break down all the supposed devil-worship going on in "Stairway to Heaven." Is there really something evil going on here, or is it all the power of suggestion? (Do you hear anything until they tell you what to listen for?) Either way, we're pretty sure this is the most unintentionally hilarious clip you'll watch today.

Live "Stairway to Heaven," 1975
A performance from back in the day.