December 4, 2007
Led Zeppelin reunites, faces prospect of playing "Stairway to Heaven"
[middle school slow dance photo from Asphalt Jungle]
Every time there's the tiniest bit of news or rumor related to Led Zeppelin's upcoming reunion concert in London, the world goes nuts. Some news has been genuinely exciting, like the potential tour next year with the Cult, a rumor that was started by Cult singer Ian Astbury himself, who said they were going to tour with a band that begins with "L" and has a "Z" in it. (Though maybe he meant Limp Bizkit.) Some news has been more mundane, like the coverage about Jimmy Page's broken pinky finger, which postponed the show originally scheduled for November.
I was glad to see that someone more knowledgeable than I am did some analysis of Jimmy Page's off-hand comment that they were planning to play a song that they had never played live before at the show, guessing that it might be "For Your Life" from their final album Presence. Which is not exactly the kind of song that compels music critics to call Led Zeppelin the greatest rock band of all time, but still, it's news like this that fans want to hear.
But the best article I've read lately is one on Slate today, that focuses entirely on the question of whether Led Zeppelin will play "Stairway to Heaven" at their reunion concert or not.
That is a great question. "Stairway to Heaven" is undoubtedly the Led Zep song that many people heard first, hear most often, and is the song that devoted classic rock radio listeners request the most and, consequently, that others least want to hear. It's the most radically overplayed of all overplayed songs. Anyone playing "Stairway to Heaven" runs the risk, as the Slate writer says, of "sounding like a lame cover band."
It also doesn't help that a lot of people will forever associate it with middle school dances and all the humiliation that goes along with trying to slow dance for the first half, then deal with the awkward segue into the fast part at the end. Just the association with any aspect of middle school makes it a song that's difficult to appreciate on its own merits.
Plus, it's a weird song. The author of the Slate article writes, "It was "Stairway" that branded Zeppelin as spaced-out mystics," with those hokey, pretend pagan, potentially-Satanic hedgerow-bustling faerie lyrics. It's not until the last third that it gets good and starts sounding like a song that nobody but Led Zeppelin could have made, and as hard as it is to listen to such a familiar song and really hear it, let's admit it: it rocks.
The band has already played it a billion times, and Robert Plant has basically disowned it, though they still played it at their earlier reunion concerts, Live Aid and an Atlantic Records anniversary concert in 1988--concerts that Jimmy Page admits sucked. So yeah, I bet they'll do "Stairway to Heaven", but Robert Plant will be rolling his eyes the whole time.
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