Led Zeppelin were an English rock band formed in 1968 by Jimmy Page (guitar), Robert Plant (vocals), John Paul Jones (bass guitar, keyboards) and John Bonham (drums). With their heavy, guitar-driven sound, Led Zeppelin are regarded as one of the first heavy metal bands. However, the band’s individualistic style draws from many sources and transcends any one genre. Their rock-infused interpretation of the blues and folk genres also incorporated rockabilly, reggae, soul, funk, classical, Celtic, Indian, Arabic, pop, Latin and country. The band did not release the popular songs from their albums as singles in the UK, as they preferred to develop the concept of album-oriented rock.
Close to 30 years after disbanding following Bonham’s death in 1980, the band continue to be held in high regard for their artistic achievements, commercial success and broad influence. The band have sold more than 300 million albums worldwide, including 111.5 million sales in the United States and they have had all of their original studio albums reach the U.S. Billboard Top 10, with six reaching the number one spot. Led Zeppelin are ranked No. 1 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. Rolling Stone magazine has described Led Zeppelin as “the heaviest band of all time” and “the biggest band of the 70s”.
The photo is of the first performance ever by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham in a small club outside of Copenhagen, the Gladsaxe Teen Club, had booked The Yardbirds a few months before but the Yardbirds broke up and Peter Grant and Jimmy Page came with other musicians to fulfil those commitments. They signed a contract for a small tour in Scandinavia. Jimmy recruited 3 other guys and they played all the clubs where The Yardbirds were supposed to play. The first of these clubs was the Gladsaxe Teen Club.
Gladsaxe Teen Club was really a gymnasium of a progressive school built in the 1960s and located in the area of Gladsaxe and they held concerts there almost every Saturday between September and March.
They Yardbirds didn’t become Led Zeppelin until after their return from Scandinavia. They took the name Led Zeppelin after Keith Moon, the drummer of The Who suggested that they would “go down like a lead balloon”.
Stairway to Heaven
The recording of “Stairway to Heaven” started in December 1970 at Island Records’ new Basing Street Studios in London.Â The song was completed by the addition of lyrics by Plant during the sessions for Led Zeppelin IV at Headley Grange, Hampshire, in 1971.Â Page then returned to Island Studios to record his guitar solo.
The song originated in 1970 when Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were spending time at Bron-Yr-Aur, a remote cottage in Wales, following Led Zeppelin’s fifth American concert tour. According to Page, the instrumentals were written by him “over a long period, the first part coming at Bron-Yr-Aur one night”.Page always kept a cassette recorder around, and the idea for “Stairway” came together from bits of taped music.
Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones explained that, following the song’s genesis at Bron-Yr-Aur, it was presented to him:
“Page and Plant would come back from the Welsh mountains with the guitar intro and verse. I literally heard it in front of a roaring fire in a country manor house! I picked up a bass recorder and played a run-down riff which gave us an intro, then I moved into a piano for the next section, dubbing on the guitars.”
In an interview he gave in 1977, Page elaborated:
“I do have the original tape that was running at the time we ran down “Stairway To Heaven” completely with the band. I’d worked it all out already the night before with John Paul Jones, written down the changes and things. All this time we were all living in a house and keeping pretty regular hours together, so the next day we started running it down. There was only one place where there was a slight rerun. For some unknown reason Bonzo couldn’t get the timing right on the twelve-string part before the solo. Other than that it flowed very quickly.”
The first attempts at lyrics, written by Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant next to an evening log fire at Headley Grange, were partly spontaneously improvised and Page claimed, “a huge percentage of the lyrics were written there and then”. Jimmy Page was strumming the chords and Robert Plant had a pencil and paper. Plant later said that suddenly,
“My hand was writing out the words, ‘There’s a lady is sure [sic], all that glitters is gold, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven’. I just sat there and looked at them and almost leapt out of my seat.” Plant’s own explanation of the lyrics was that it “was some cynical aside about a woman getting everything she wanted all the time without giving back any thought or consideration. The first line begins with that cynical sweep of the hand … and it softened up after that.”
The lyrics of the song reflected Plant’s current reading. The singer had been poring through the works of the British antiquarian Lewis Spence, and later cited Spence’s Magic Arts in Celtic Britain as one of the sources for the lyrics to the song.
In November 1970, Page dropped a hint of the new song’s existence to a music journalist in London:
“It’s an idea for a really long track…. You know how “Dazed and Confused” and songs like that were broken into sections? Well, we want to try something new with the organ and acoustic guitar building up and building up, and then the electric part starts…. It might be a fifteen-minute track.”
The complete studio recording was released on Led Zeppelin IV in November 1971. The band’s recording label, Atlantic Records was keen to issue this track as a single, but the band’s manager Peter Grant refused requests to do so in both 1972 and 1973. The upshot of that decision was that record buyers began to invest in the fourth album as if it were a single. A handful of rare original seven inch promos were pressed at the time, accompanied by a humorous in-house memo (Atlantic LZ3), which are now extremely sought-after collectors items.
There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for
Ooh, ooh, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven
There’s a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure
‘Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings
In a tree by the brook, there’s a songbird who sings
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven
Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, it makes me wonder
There’s a feeling I get when I look to the west
And my spirit is crying for leaving
In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees
And the voices of those who stand looking
and it makes me wonder
really makes me wonder
And it’s whispered that soon if we all call the tune
Then the piper will lead us to reason
And a new day will dawn for those who stand long
And the forest will echo with laughter
If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now,
It’s just a spring clean for the May Queen
Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on
Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, Ooh, it makes me wonder
Your head is humming and it won’t go, in case you don’t know
The piper’s calling you to join him
Dear lady, can’t you hear the wind blow, and did you know
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind
And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold
And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last
When all is one and one is all, yeah
To be a rock and not to roll.
And she’s buying the stairway to heaven
- Audio from the 1971 album, Led Zeppelin IV: