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Meaning Behind Iconic “Stairway To Heaven” By Led Zeppelin

Stairway To Heaven is one of the most iconic rock songs, and it’s one of the most popular Led Zeppelin tracks, but do you know what it’s all about? We’re going to tell you the meaning behind the iconic Stairway To Heaven song by Led Zeppelin below, so keep reading to learn what exactly this track means! 

The Origins 

Stairway to Heaven (Remaster)

Stairway To Heaven originated when both Robert Plant and Jimmy Page were in Wales staying at a cottage in December 1970. Page had written the music during their stay at Bron-Yr-Aur, and so the idea for this song came from him recording small sections of music on his cassette recorder. 

It was normal for him to carry around the cassette recorder just in case he was inspired, so the track itself originated from those pieces of music he had recorded over time. Plant said that when he was at Headley Grange by a fire, he improvised some lyrics spontaneously as Page was sitting there strumming away on the guitar. 

The recording of Stairway To Heaven happened in London at the studios located on Basing Street called Island Records. Once Plant had the lyrics altogether and recorded in early 1971, Page went back to the studio to finish what would become the iconic guitar solo for Stairway To Heaven. The track would then go on to be released in America on the album Led Zeppelin IV, which came out in November 1971.  

The Music Video 

The official music video on the Led Zeppelin YouTube channel is from a 1975 concert of the band performing the song Stairway To Heaven at Earls Court. It is not a real video, however, since it’s just still pictures of the concert. You can see from the pictures in the video that it’s very dark and meant to be more of a peaceful tune with a spiritual or calming ambiance. 

The Lyrics 

At the beginning of Stairway To Heaven, the lyrics go “There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold, And she’s buying a stairway to Heaven.” In this part of the track, the lady he is talking about is the Virgin Mary. This is sort of confirmed as the song progresses and you hear him mention “May queen” since the month of May is a tribute to Mary. 

The next part of the track, “There’s a feeling I get when I look to the West, And my spirit is crying for leaving,” and this is all about how everyone looked to the West for a sense of adventure. While there wasn’t purity within the West anymore, it was still a symbol of hope, love, and mystery.

“…those who stand looking” is all about people who don’t go on adventures and possibly are more conservative. “And it’s whispered that soon if we all call the tune, Then the piper will lead us to reason” means we all will need to become peaceful with each other. 

“It’s just a spring clean for the May queen” is in the next verse, which is what we talked about discussing how the lady in the song is the Virgin Mary. This verse is all about how you can choose other paths in life if you change yourself, such as making good decisions. 

The next verse, “The piper’s calling you to join him” is the call to action to get spiritually right. “Your stairway lies on the whispering wind?” has to do with it’s not something you can see, but you can move forward in your life through spirituality and believing in something higher than yourself. 

The last verse of Stairway To Heaven “And if you listen very hard, The tune will come to you at last” is saying you can still change and find peace or happiness if you’re willing to understand people around us and let faith or spirituality guide us. 

So…What’s It About?

The stairway to Heaven that is talked about in the song is found by all of us being loving to one another and finding a way to live together even with our differences. If we find a way to live in harmony, both with each other and the world around us, then we will be able to improve our world and society as a whole. 

This is supposed to be an uplifting track that talks about how harmony and living in solidarity with one another will bring us peace and make the world a better place for everyone. Instead of being dark, Stairway To Heaven tells us we have the power to change ourselves and each other, and in doing so, the power to rid our world of evil. 

Chart Performance 

Interestingly, Stairway To Heaven never charted because it was never a single, but it’s often rated as one of the best rock songs ever, if not the best. The radio stations did receive promotional singles, which is how the track became so popular before the album was released. Not having it released as a single even after it became an anthem was a strategy since it meant people would have to buy the entire Led Zeppelin IV album to hear this song. 

However, the track did make it onto the Digital Download chart, and between the years of 2007 to 2010, it hit 30 on the Billboard Digital Songs chart. It also went to 16 on the Billboard Hot Singles Recurrents chart. 

It was a hit on the Billboard Digital Download chart outside of America too, with it hitting five in Norway, eight in Portugal, 13 in New Zealand, 15 in Germany, and 17 in Canada.  

Interesting Facts

There are several interesting facts we thought we’d tell you about Stairway To Heaven that you might not know, such as: 

  • Stairway To Heaven is the only song on Led Zeppelin IV that has the lyrics written on the sleeve.
  • The band performed the track in Berlin in 1980 at their last concert—up until a 2007 concert—and played this song for almost 15 minutes, making it the longest version of the track ever, and it included a guitar solo of around 7 minutes. 
  • Led Zeppelin would perform this song live and stretch it out most of the time, often making it longer than 10 minutes. 
  • Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters mockingly covered this track, intentionally messing it up as a message that they didn’t think anyone should cover Stairway To Heaven. He is a huge fan of the band and did this horrible cover, which included asking audience members for the lyrics as a joke. 
  • There is no bass in Stairway To Heaven since John Paul Jones thought adding bass made it sound too much like folk music, so he used flutes, keyboards, wooden recorders, and strings instead. 
  • Plant said he was just holding a pen and paper in his hand one day when he was in a bad mood and his hand just started writing the lyrics without him thinking about it, and when he looked down at what he had just written, he was stunned. 
  • Bob Geldof organized Live Aid in 1985 and got Led Zeppelin’s remaining members together to perform this song, and this was the last track they performed together. 
  • There are two other tracks with the title Stairway To Heaven, which are different from the Led Zeppelin track. One of them was released by Neil Sedaka in 1960 and the other unrelated song was released in 1996 by Pure Soul featuring the O’Jays. 
  • Led Zeppelin has praised two specific covers of the song, with the biggest praise coming during the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors concert where Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart famously and masterfully covered the track. The other cover was the 2002 cover by Dolly Parton
  • When it was first released, a lot of people, especially music critics, were not fans of it and didn’t find it to be that good of a song.
  • The first time Stairway To Heaven was played in America in August 1971 before the album was even released, a sizable part of the crowd gave the band a standing ovation. That was what made the band know that this track would end up becoming a hit. 

Notable Covers 

While we just mentioned two of the biggest and most praised covers of Stairway To Heaven, other artists have covered this track through the years that are worth mentioning including: 

  • Foo Fighters 
  • Zakk Wylde
  • U2
  • Tiny Tim
  • Justin Hayward 
  • Sisters Of Mercy 
  • Dave Matthews Band
  • Frank Zappa 
  • Jimmy Castor 
  • Monte Montgomery 
  • Dixie Power Trio 
  • Great White 
  • White Flag
  • Stanley Jordan
  • Elkie Brooks
  • Jana
  • Leningrad Cowboys
  • Far Corporation 

Claims of Satan 

Oddly, Stairway To Heaven has been referenced as a song about Satan and was accused of having satanic references. The thought was the band engaged in backmasking, which is a hidden message that you can find in the track near the middle. 

Paul Crouch of Praise The Lord on the Trinity Broadcasting Network said that when “If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now” is played backward, it was a satanic message. According to him, this part of the song has a hidden meaning which would be “Here’s to my sweet Satan, the one whose little path would make me sad, whose power is Satan, he’ll give you, he’ll give you 666.” 

He wasn’t the only person who believed Stairway To Heaven was satanic and that hidden messages were within the lyrics. This was a claim that has been around since the track came out, and it’s something the band has denied but has never said too much about and mostly chosen to ignore. 

Legacy 

The legacy of Stairway To Heaven is that it’s thought of as one of the best rock songs ever, although it took two years after it was released for it to become a sensation or near-anthem status. 

Guitar World rated its guitar solo number one in 2006, while Rolling Stone named it 31 on their list of best songs of all time in 2004. In 2023, the Library of Congress put Stairway To Heaven in its National Recording Registry, which means that it’s of historical, cultural, or aesthetic importance. 

It has also been recognized by several companies and organizations as one of the top tracks to ever be recorded including VH1 listing it as three on their list of best rock songs of all time in 2000, while the RIAA listed it 53 on their list of best songs of the century in 2001. 

In 1999, Classic Rock in the UK dubbed Stairway To Heaven as number one on their list of the best tracks ever. Q had it at 47 on their list of songs that changed the world, and in 1994, the track was put into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

However, a lot of people today feel the song is overplayed, which may be accurate, but it doesn’t take away the fact that Stairway To Heaven is a masterpiece that deserves praise and will continue to be thought of as one of the best rock songs of all time.

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