Friday, July 27, 2007

And Speaking Of Stairway...

Enough has been written about Stairway To Heaven to fill several books.
But none of it by me. So here goes:

In addition to its guitar solo being voted the greatest of all time, polls and experts have also dubbed the song itself one of the greatest, if not the greatest, rock and roll song of all time. With good reason.

By what I'm about to write, some of you may get the idea that I don't like Jimmy Page's Stairway To Heaven guitar piece. But that would be wrong. I really do love it. This song's guitar work shows more than any other, save for the two or three songs mentioned on the immediately preceding post, why he is a virtuoso of his craft.

his idea I am going to propose is also probably going to get me called crazy again. But who cares? So here it is...

Stairway To Heaven is the song that it is, not because of the guitar powered ending, but because of John Bonham's drums.

Every time I hear that song, which builds from its mysterious woodwind-like and acoustic beginning, I begin waiting. I am waiting for that overpowering moment when this song suddenly switches gears, and abruptly transitions from a European folk song to an amazing piece of rock and roll.

I bet a lot of you, when you hear this song begin to build itself, layer upon layer, are also eagerly anticipating that moment that comes at about 4:18, when John Bonham enters the scene and completely changes the energy by a few beats on his snare, his tom, his bass and a crashing cymbal. The pace, caused completely by Bonham, overwhelmingly quickens to its climactic ending, which includes Page's famed "solo".

It is the drums, Bonzo's drums, that "make" this song.

Even during the guitar "solo", Bonham carries Page's guitar perfectly. In fact, what I hear during the last major section of Stairway is a well-timed and frenetically energized drum accompaniment which more than holds its own with Page's complex rendering.

In other words, I think Bonham makes Page's effort sound better, and without him, I think Stairway To Heaven wouldn't be the song it is. Still excellent, still in the top echelon of songs. But not at THE top.

Its drums make it what it is.

Anyway, the funny thing about having just said all of this, considering I am a Christian in the tradition of Martin Luther, is that the point where Bonham jumps into the song is exactly the point in which Fundamentalists and Evangelicals think the "evil Satanic messages" in Stairway To Heaven are to be found backmasked.

In other words, the point in the song that I personally love the most musically, is where, allegedly if you play the song backwards (who does this crap?), you will hear a Satanic message. And which allegedly was put there deliberately.

Well, thanks to the internet, and Wikipedia, we can now listen for ourselves. To all you Stairway To Heaven backmasking fools, listen to the segment forwards, and then listen to this. Please, please, convince me of your sanity and tell me what you hear backwards is nothing but gibberish and not some loving tribute to the devil. Do it without looking at what someone else has written about what you are supposed to hear. And then tell me you won't be so gullible next time.

It's incredible, but Stairway To Heaven-like claims of backmasking have been scientifically studied (I know, it's sad). And the scientific conclusion is- there is no Satanic message. People will hear what someone else tells them they should hear. And that's the Satanic message in a nutshell.

If someone tells you its a Satanic message, and you want to hear a Satanic message, then you hear a Satanic message. If someone tells you it says Scottius Maximus rocks, then you'll hear that. The mind is very open to suggestion. And because somebody once hated rock and roll, or Led Zeppelin, or this song (who knows?), then someone once "heard" a Satanic message when played backwards. And the legend started.

To which I can only say to all the kooks out there...stop playing songs backwards, stop listening to songs played backwards, stop looking for the devil everywhere (but DO do its converse- seek the Lord instead), stop hating on Led Zeppelin, and stop hating on one of my favorite songs.

One more have GOT to get a life.


  1. I can't believe I stared at the picture of the stairway for that long. I also need to get a life. I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure my kids couldn't see me.

    Good post, actually. I was getting ready to counter with my argument that Mr. Blue Sky was the greatest song ever, but I will allow Stairway to compete for that honor.

    Here's a good live version from the BBC Sessions There's still just a photo to stare at.

  2. TK!

    That picture is so lame. A black screen would have been much better. Sorry I linked to it, but a lot of the other clips had other stuff added. By the way, I love Wayne's "No Stairway...denied" line. Also one of my favorites.

    I'm not arguing that this is the best song ever, just that it has been dubbed that. No matter, I do like it very much.

    Mr. Blue Sky is my favorite ELO song. If you want to dub it greatest song ever, then that's okay with me. We all have our favorites.

    The BBC Sessions version sounds like an abbreviated version of the "Song Remains The Same" version. If that makes any sense. Thanks for finding it.