What is the most famous rock song ever written? I think most people can agree that it is Stairway to Heaven, a genre-defining epic written by Led Zeppelin. It is their signature song that most everyone has heard of. It’s a song that benefits from multiple listens, and if you really read into the lyrics and get lost in the melody, this song can take you on an epic adventure transcending time and space.
Stairway to Heaven’s structure seems to resemble narrative storytelling more than a normal song. And that’s because both musically and lyrically It follows the classic hero’s journey, a story that has been told as long as humanity has existed. The cryptic lyrics of Stairway were impressively written in one inspired session by Robert Plant, and there’s many ways we can interpret it. A prophecy, journeying through strange lands, and an inevitable destiny.
“There’s a lady who’s sure, all that glitters is gold, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.”
Every story has a beginning. The beautiful melody from the guitar strings brings us to a faraway land a long time ago. This passage was inspired by renaissance era melodies, it conjures up an image in our minds of medieval knights and villages, misty mountains and unexpected adventures.
We have our hero looking at the horizon, longing for something more. The call to adventure leads our hero out into the world, searching for their destiny. Leaving the familiar and the ordinary behind is a scary thought, but taking that first step into the unknown will lead you into becoming a person you never thought possible.
Four minutes into the song (which is the length of most pop songs nowadays), the drums kick in, played by the legendary John Bonham. Our hero has taken their first steps out into the wide unfamiliar world.
“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.”
There’s an old saying “It’s the journey, not the destination.” This applies to this song as well as it does life. We meet new friends and even enemies, we go through conflict and challenges. We learn from good and bad things we experience, it slowly builds an understanding of who you really are inside.
“And as we wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our souls, there walks a lady we all know, who shines white light and wants to show how everything still turns to gold.”
In the end of our long journey comes the final battle, the ordeal in which our hero has to face overwhelming odds and find a way to triumph. The build up from our adventure explodes as the music swells into its climax, where Jimmy Page launches into one of the greatest and most iconic guitar solos ever written.
Stairway to Heaven definitely earned its place in music history as a masterpiece. To say it changed the world is not an exaggeration. The members of Led Zeppelin, each musical geniuses in their own right, have combined their talents and made a piece of art that inspired countless others, and will stay relevant as a musical and cultural milestone in many years to come.