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Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin IV CD (album) cover


Led Zeppelin


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4.41 | 1246 ratings

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The Rain Man
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Led Zeppelin IV is a great album. But 1 track that doesn't really fit in is 'Stairway to Heaven' because it is so superior to the rest of the album that it turns the other great songs into good songs. Since Stairway never came out as a single. I'm just going to review that song because the album is worth getting for that track alone.

To begin with: Why is this my favourite track of all time?

Answer: The length, the structure, the guitar solo, the lyrics.....or to summaries everything. At the time I was introduced to this song I had heard the intro to "Whole lotta Led" as it was the intro theme song to Top of the Pops. It wasn't until 6 years later when I got into the rest of Zep's back catalogue. I heard it once and put it on my mix tapes based on reputation alone. It became my favourite song on my favourite mix tape. I remember sitting on a bus and trying to time it, so when I got off the bus the guitar solo would kick in. I would then swagger along the street for 2 minutes to my work, cranking up the volume. I would open the door and slowly walk up the stairs as Plant's vocals came in "...and she's buying a stairway to heaven". I opened the door to the tea room with a big smile across my face as the song finishes and got me fired up for another day.

I did the same routine pretty much give or take for a whole summer. I even did it on the slightly longer walk to university where I would try and time the solo for walking though George Square. I don't know what it is about walking through the busy streets of Glasgow with a class bit of tunage blaring out my headphones. But I got a massive buzz out of it. Now years later I have rediscovered that magic along with Led Zeppelins other songs. But there is something about 'Stairway' which makes it stand head and shoulders above the rest. And I don't just mean above the rest of their songs; I mean all songs by anyone.

First of all let's look at the structure of the song. If you were to draw on a piece of paper what it would look like. The graph would gradually increase a step at a time before easing off right at the end. Was it deliberate that it would look like a stairway? I think so! Even back in the 70s it was common place to have song structures which go verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge then chorus or something like that. Well they were the types of song that do well in the charts because they are simple and easily accessible. So what did Led Zep do? In my opinion they have created a song that has no chorus or versus. It is almost different levels which build to a massive climax. People have tried to copy it to various degrees of success, but that is what they become ? imitations.

Another thing which makes this song run against the grain is its length. Most popular songs are four minutes or less in length. Ambitious 'Single' driven bands might stretch to five minute songs. Although there are thousands of bands who produce great songs which are 3 to 4 minutes in length; there are nowhere near as many bands making songs over 5 minutes. Some might say the charts dictate that songs must be less than x minutes or people just don't have the attention span for songs lasting more than 5 minutes. Alternatively is it something as simple as a label. Bands like Led Zeppelin who make songs longer than 5 minutes are categorised in the Prog rock category. Throughout the years Prog has been cool one minute, not cool the next then cool the next. Sometimes bands embrace the tag. Others look for any other tag just to avoid being labelled under that banner. The magical thing about 'Stairway' is that although I would file it right under the prog rock tag. It doesn't feel like a prog rock song. It feels like a journey that is over before it has even begun. Such is the songs magnitude. Only if you actually looked at the time on your CD/mp3 player would you notice how long the song was (8 minutes). It is really because the song is that good it feels like it's over so quickly.

Like any song, it is made out of different ingredients. Phase 1 is just an acoustic guitar with Plant's vocals whispering gentle vocals. He takes his vocals up a notch as he sings "There's a feeling I get, when I look to the West...". The song is now poised for the next level as he sings "and the forests will echo with laughter". Phase 2 kicks in with the drums being introduced. The journey at this point is gathering momentum. The stage is now set for the big guitar solo. That along with "November Rain" by Gun's and Roses and "Look On" by John Frusciante has to be the 3 greatest guitar solos that I have heard ? of all time. Where does it go after that? How about up a gear! Plant's let's off his best vocal screeches as the song goes into full blown rock and roll mode for the last minute. Before closing as the song begun with an acoustic guitar; then singing those immortal words "...and she's buying a stairway to heaven".

This song displays the phenomenal vocal range Plant possesses, the great guitar work of Page, the incredible drumming of Bonham and the baselines of Jones holding everything together. It is all very well being individually talented but it takes creativity and teamwork to create something this awesome. There might never be a song of this standard again. But you never know.

The Rain Man | 5/5 |


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