A Musical Question On a Thursday Evening

It is:

Can “Stairway to Heaven” ever be rescued from the “overplayed on classic rock radio for two full decades” musical purgatory in which it currently resides?

While you’re considering this weighty question:

Previously noted on Whatever: This, and also this.

50 Comments on “A Musical Question On a Thursday Evening”

  1. When “Stairway to Heaven” came out, our jr. high english teacher leaped at the opportunity to be cool and had us analyze the lyrics in class. That sort of took away the charm of the song for me. But I still like it.

  2. To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I heard Stairway on the radio. I do remember that it was the number one rock song during the 80’s and 90’s and was overplayed during that decade.

  3. Hells yeah. It already has for me because I stopped listening to crummy radio years ago. I can now play Led Zeppelin IV from start to finish and enjoy every song.

    Not listening to horrible rock radio will also allow Freebird to reborn once again into the beautiful anthem that it is.

  4. Y’know, teachers and professors have called me a ‘gifted musician’. I’ve been playing guitar since I was eight years old. I originally started college on a music performance scholarship. I’ve made good money as a professional musician. I’ve gotten a standing ovation at a music festival. And with that as background, I have this to say about that:

    Stanley Jordan? Obviously not human. Not even from this planet. That’s some kind of killer guitar-playing robot from space, sent here to teach the guitar players of the planet Earth some humility.

    And as a guitar player- …it’s WORKING.

  5. My husband decided to get his hands on as many covers of Stairway as he could manage. He stopped somewhere around 125, realizing it was getting obscene. The fact someone posted about 100 of them on a website facilitated this, mind you, so it was more of a short-term shiny thing project sparked by the Stairways to Heaven CD project that included Rolf Harris’ cover than an obsession.

  6. I like Dread Zeppelin’s Reggae/Elvis version. And “Stairway to Gilligan’s Island” is always a hoot.

  7. And Huey @ 15? Ye gods, you are right about Stanley Jordan. That is amazing work. He makes it SOAR.

  8. Stanley Jordan makes me want to dissect his brain. Actually, I just want to see some kind of scan done while he’s playing like that. I can only imagine in my layperson’s mind that his brain is working in some spectacularly unique ways.

  9. John’s second link surprisingly quotes a much abridged selection from the original “Stairways to Heaven” CD and VHS collection which had 22 covers, one of which was written and performed by a friend of mine.

    Those covers were taken from 15 years or more ago when the Australian TV show “The Money or the Gun” featured a different performance of the song at the end of every show. There were actually more than 22 covers done, but some disputes meant that the compilation wasn’t exhaustive. I still the VHS tape around.

    The link to the Rolf Harris cover was the show’s host Andrew Denton who also had a radio program where musical guests came in and covered a totally inappropriate song live on air (usually leaving guest, host and audience in fits of laughter before the song even finished).

  10. Oddly I don’t seem to get tired of listening to “Stairway to Heaven”. On the other hand, for “Freebird” (as someone else has mentioned) and say “Hotel California”, once a year may be too much.


  11. “Stairway…” will be rediscovered by kids watching whatever’s replaced Barney before they go to preschool. When they reach college age, they will not have been exposed to it being overplayed every hour on the hour day after day the way every American, Canadian, Irish, and Brit over the age of 35 has had to endure since about 1980.

    Kinda like Johnny Cash was rediscovered when he started doing his American recordings.

  12. It’s at the point now that it’ll be absorbed into the canon.

    I guess I’m lucky enough to have a good indie rock radio station in town that plays classics and modern up and coming stuff equally, where in the past couple of weeks I’ve heard Zeppelin (not “Stairway”, but it’s not unheard of) juxtaposed with Death Cab for Cutie. And, htom @1, The Association, although more probably “Wendy” than “Cherish”.

  13. Having been a DJ at a classic rock station (and having done some of the music programming), I’d rather hear “Stairway” a hundred times before I’d listen to “Hotel California”. Ugh. *shudder* In fact, I went out of my way to schedule “Hotel California” on somebody else’s shift as often as possible! :)

  14. What it really boils down to, is that Zep can’t write good songs that you want to sing.

    They’re ace performers, even on studio recordings — it’s the experience, not the song. So ultimately, it’ll probably be forgotten. It’s not a song I’ll put on my airline listening playlist.

    Now the real question is… why has nobody linked to Stairway to Gilligan’s Island?

  15. joelfinkle @29

    Now the real question is… why has nobody linked to Stairway to Gilligan’s Island?

    John did, indirectly, in his second link which was http://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2006/05/stairways_to_he.html.

    That was a complination of covers and parodies of “Stairway to Heaven” where the person doing it got tired after a hundred. I had save that link but forgot where I got it from. Now John made be remember.

    But the Gilligan’s Isle parody was referenced in this thread by Berry K @17.

    The link above also includes the Dolly Parton cover that was referenced in this thread. If you have a couple of hours, it is fun to go through a buch of the versions at this link.


  16. Following on dave @31’s post (and his linked blog entry), changing an overexposed song’s accustomed context really can help one appreciate it anew.

    Relevant to this particular instance: a few years ago I was brainstorming a series of CD mixes of notable (enduring, influential, or just historic) music from different years, and realized the last two songs from the 1971 volume had to be Don McLean’s “American Pie” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”, in that order.

    Subsequent listenings to the two songs, one directly following the other–two songs I’ve heard dozens if not hundreds of times over the last 30-odd years–confirmed the rightness of the selection, and though I never finished actually making the CD’s (awww…), both recordings have seemed so much more alive to me since then.

  17. “No ‘Stairway’? Denied!

    (The mere fact that you still get that reference proves that “Stairway” will never fade away. Or that Mike Myers is a loudmouth with a penchant for creating long-lived memes. Or both.)

  18. I am HUGE Zep fan, so I’ll never get tired of hearing Stairway (a few of their other songs maybe…).

    The only useful bit of information I ever got from any of the lousy local radio stations in Atlanta was during an interview with Robert Plant. He was asked what he was listening to these days (back in the 90s) and he said Dread Zeppelin, he loved them.

    Honestly I can admit that without his endorsement I would have never given them a chance. I mean a Reggae band with an Elvis impersonator for a lead signer doing Zeppelin covers? Sacrilege! But their first album was great, I can listen to it from end to end.

  19. Glen at #3’s was exceptionally beautiful; stairway performed by Rodrigo and Gabriela as an acoustic guitar duet. Check it out, and hang around at least until they cover Page’s solo.

    And to John’s larger question, I think old can be new again if their is some modern event to tie the song to. If a popular movie uses an old tired song, or some political movement takes it as their own, or something like that. But it can’t happen very often.

    Take Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Wayne’s World brought that back to life. But of course it never had the spins of a song like Stairway, so it wasn’t worn out in the same way.

    But if that is the best example I can come up with, I guess it happens quite rarely!

  20. I do recall a “Stairway to Gilligan’s Island”, and “Taking the Elevator to Menswear” …

  21. I *DO* listen to a classic rock station (having finally found one worthy of my time) and I have to say “Stairway to Heaven” isn’t their most over-played song; “Whole Lotta Love” is. 8 for 10, if they’re playing Zepplin, they’re playing that and I cannot STAND it. Ugh. (The only other Zepplin track they play is “Kashmir” which is right the way to the other extreme and I do rather wish they’d play THAT a little more!)

    That said, I do have to add that said classic rock station do a fantastic job of NOT over-playing anything too hard – it’s a rare day that I hear the same song more than once in an eight hour stretch and I can’t think of an occasion where I’ve heard the same song more than twice, EVER. They do recycle artists, but when you have the entire back catalogues of everyone from T-Rex to Bruce Springsteen to Billy Idol to Nickelback, there really is no need to repeat songs.

  22. Now that is an excellent use of the hammer-on technique.

    Stairway was one of those songs you had to know how to play to get into a band at my high school. Not that any of us played it at any gigs, but we damn sure had to know it (and extra points if you riff off of it, but you had to know it straight as well).

    For my money, though, Black Mountain Side still kicks ass (and it’s rarely played – must go to my iTunes now).

  23. 1. Stanley Jordan – Damn!
    2. IMHO, Stairway to Heaven has more staying power than Freebird.

  24. I gave up listening to classic rock radio in the early to mid 90s. By 2000 I could not only listen to Zep IV again, but also Dark Side of the Moon and Born to Run. There is a reason that some songs became classics but you need to take away the heavy rotation before you can appreciate them again.

    For the record, I am a huge Zep fan. And because I am very old, I actually got to witness the Beast in a smoky arena on the ill-fated ’77 tour but on a night when they were shit-hot. It was like spending 3 hours in front of an angry god. Stairway was still lightning at that time. Plant found whatever still mattered to him in the lyrics, Page and Jones rode the crescendo of thunder that Bonzo laid down. But that was still nothing compared to what Kashmir sounded like live. That was still the most devastating piece of rock I have ever heard live. It was a miracle the building was still standing.

  25. I have been told by someone who once was involved in radio that if you hear Stairway to Heaven and (something else long that I don’t recall) back to back late at night, it meant the DJ’s girlfriend or groupie was at the station and he was out back receiving their affection.

  26. No, but that’s fine because that’s its job. It’s that song. The one that we love to bitch about at the guitar shop when the next 12 year old comes in, picks something up, and starts playing it unironically. I don’t know what we’d do without that song

  27. Andrew @45, now that’s just foolish, when you have the “whole side of one LP” version of Dazed and Confused to play. Why bother with half measures?

    I must say I never stopped liking Stairway, but then I came to it late, and never did spend much time on classic rock radio stations. Now that I do listen to classic rock more often, it’s definitely “Sweet Home Alabama” that needs to spend a few decades wandering the desert.

  28. Andrew @ 45 – Bohemian Rhapsody? My old radio friends said they played it when they had to go to the bathroom.

  29. May I also suggest:


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