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Stop Buying That Stairway

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Led Zeppelin nostalgia is at a fever pitch, with rock heir Jason Bonham leading a tribute tour and biographer Stephen Davis revisiting the subject matter that made his “Hammer of the Gods” tell-all so scandalous. Today, our single-song edition of the Tuesday debate throws down the gauntlet on the band's controversial classic, “Stairway to Heaven:” arena anthem or eight minutes too long? Guests include Emily Rems, managing editor of Bust Magazine, and Phil Freeman, writer of the Headbang metal blog for MSN Music.

Tell us: When you hear "Stairway to Heaven," do you raise your hammer in solidarity or throw it at the speakers? Please leave a comment below.


Phil Freeman and Emily Rems

Comments [58]

vh from Long Island

Just finished listening to the podcast from yesterday's smackdown. Just wanted to contribute my two cents about the best Led Zeppelin extended song. For me, that would have to be "In My Time of Dying." Loved the discussion. Keep up the good work! =)

Nov. 10 2010 11:08 PM

Not a dance song? Are you kidding? Then I guess my 8th grade modern dance teacher didn't stage Stairway to Heaven during a junior high school assembly. Our inspired, if not fevered, performance lives on in the hearts and mind of many still, even though we just turned 30. It is almost exclusively a dance song.

Nov. 10 2010 10:18 PM

My fluteplaying sister pointed out that the presence of that instrument differentiates Stairway from other LZ songs, making it 'magical & mysterious.'

Which got me thinking: Since it was released in 1971, many rock bands have integrated non-traditional rock instruments into songs, but at the time it was a radical fusion of the folk genre and the hard rock genre.

Perhaps the strong identification of generations of teenagers to this song is owed to this transition—which parallels both:

The development of the adolescent from a idyllic childhood age—which society expects them to be—into a the thrashing, overtly sexual, chaotic young adults—who they have become.

And more generally, the development of western social culture from the political idealism of the 60's to the disillusionment of the 70s.

Nov. 10 2010 10:46 AM
David Pinkard from Brooklyn

The argument that it's not a song you can dance to just doesn't hold up - it was never written to be a dance tune, isn't that obvious? It's an 8 minute absurdist rock opera!

Nov. 09 2010 10:28 PM
sky2fall from NJ

If rock and roll were the Roman Empire, the late 70s would be lihe the crazy emperor period. All the good stuff that came before is lost is a Caligula haze of sitars, mystic rhythems and englishmen singing reggae. Stairway is just another horse that got made senator.

Nov. 09 2010 10:17 PM

The answer is obvious!!! This song is one of the greatest ever to be heard. Even though Page himself admitted it was not Led Zeps true and greatest song, you will catch yourself listening to this one at some point. It's your choice if you want to smash your radio, but I know I'll just be cranking the volume up, and always will be.

Nov. 09 2010 08:33 PM
rem from brooklyn

i listened to most of the smackdown and shook my head: "kashmir"! KASHMIR!! c'mon! why would anybody listen to the rather bloated, pretenciousness over stairway, when far and away, the best zep song of all time is on the on the other side of IV, and it's name is WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS!

Nov. 09 2010 06:53 PM
lakerman62 from PDX from LA

Is the song overplayed or one of the greatest rock songs of all time? Both! Say what you will about the excess that spewed from the mighty Zep, the pilfered lyrics, the loudness (FY Clapton), the sometimes brilliant, sometimes not so good concerts, nobody ever rocked harder!!!!!! saw them front row LA forum (check out my pics on by Paul Dahbour) 77 tour night 5, thin k it was 6/27/77 or 6/26/77 & it was freekin the best. All made possible by the magus, Jimmy Page, who hasn't done sheet since....Go Lakers

Nov. 09 2010 06:10 PM
Olya from basking ridge NJ

Every time that song comes on your mind flips back to the 70s, no matter where you are...back to the days of great Rock and music. Its an iconic piece, with a special place in the music of that era. A bygone era of great creativity, imagination and the smell of change in the air.

Nov. 09 2010 03:48 PM
Sari from Brooklyn

I think it's righteous. I love it and I listen to it, but I keep it in perspective.

Many bands of the era wanted to write "classical" pieces, yet stay within the rock genre. Stairway does this particularly well, although the lyrics are pure nonsense. Actually, the lyrics are probably drug-inspired, but I won't make the effort to prove it.

In any event, I think Stairway bridges the gap between "classic" rock and "classical" rock and is eminently worth hearing.

Nov. 09 2010 02:34 PM
paul from hoboken

White Room or White Rabbit?

Nov. 09 2010 02:31 PM
Darren from W. Paterson

It's ridiculous, but gorgeous. Jeff Buckley had a comment about the bombastic, narcissistic Led Zeppelin that applies here. He said, "They were such clods, but they made such great art."

Also, I heard an interview with Robert Plant about his whole rationale for the "Do you remember laughter?" comment. He actually meant it! He thought everybody had lost their sense of humor in those Rock God worship, self analytical days.

Nov. 09 2010 02:30 PM
a g from n j

emily:there is cheeze whiz and there is gouda. STH, is at the very least, sliced swiss.........

Nov. 09 2010 02:30 PM
GW from New City

Righteous, in it's time. As was Day in a Life and White Room. We who lived through those times have glued our memories to these iconic songs and they cannot be taken apart. The times made the songs more important than they really were and visa versa.

Nov. 09 2010 02:28 PM
dboy from nyc

Is it just me or is this a really dumb discussion???

Nov. 09 2010 02:28 PM
boomer1950 from Manhattan

BUT most of my friends ignored the lyrics as stupid. The music was the thing.

Nov. 09 2010 02:28 PM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

STH won way too many listener polls. So no doubt it is loved but there can be too much of a good thing.

Boring, boring, boring...rarely listen to it past the first minute.

Nov. 09 2010 02:27 PM
bob from bayridge

from where i come from, playing songs like "stairways to heaven or "everybody wants to be a cat" version by hellanbach were to shake the disco floor, to tell kids do something weird, to pay attention (or not). they were not for dancing.

Nov. 09 2010 02:26 PM
bob from bayridge

from where i come from, playing songs like "stairways to heaven or "everybody wants to be a cat" version by hellanbach were to shake the disco floor, to tell kids do something weird, to pay attention (or not). they were not for dancing.

Nov. 09 2010 02:25 PM
landless from Brooklyn

Songs like Stairway to Heaven precipitated punk. Such pretentious tripe. I hated that song in high school and I still hate it. Whenever I hear that song, I think of self-absorbed teen age boys go on about metaphysics.

Nov. 09 2010 02:24 PM
bob from bayridge

from where i come from, playing songs like "stairways to heaven or "everybody wants to be a cat" version by hellanbach were to shake the disco floor, to tell kids do something weird, to pay attention (or not). they were not for dancing.

Nov. 09 2010 02:24 PM
Gary from Upper Left Side

"Stairway" is not a dance song, you silly fools. You smoke dope to it.

Nov. 09 2010 02:24 PM
Darren from W. Paterson

Ridiculous? Righteous? Both, but it doesn't matter. The song is a Juggernaut that will live on long after we all have perished.

Nov. 09 2010 02:23 PM

Please please please someone else host Soundcheck.

Jonathan Schaefer is a treasure, and WNYC won't find anyone else who can do classical, as well as New Sounds, as well as Soundcheck as he can. He is a great asset to the station.

But the blather he puts on these "Smackdowns" is testament to the fact that he is overworked. WHO CARES?!?!?!

Can you dance to Stairway? Was Stax or Motown a better label? WHO CARES?!?!? This is drivel in an otherwise terrific lineup.

Please let Jonathan go read a book or otherwise come up with interesting things to talk about.

Nov. 09 2010 02:20 PM
dboy from nyc

No stairway:

Dumb... real dumb.

Nov. 09 2010 02:19 PM
dboy from nyc

mark from the hedgerow:

Right on, bra!

Nov. 09 2010 02:18 PM
Mary Ann from Tribeca

As a person who attended my share of 70's high school dances. Rule was, never accepted an invitation to slow dance to Stairway to Heaven. 8 minutes of awkward swaying. You might as well have married the guy. I ran for the girls room every time! Yeah and what the hell do the cashmere lyrics mean?

Nov. 09 2010 02:18 PM
John Davis

What about nearly every Beatles song excluding "I saw her standing there"--I love 'em but they were impossible to dance to. They were meant to LISTEN to.

Nov. 09 2010 02:17 PM
No stairway

Zepellin isn't just overrated, they are the kind of lowest common denominator pop trash responsible for the dumbing down of humanity. They weren't worth listening to 40 years go and we ceraintly dont need to be rehashing it now

Nov. 09 2010 02:17 PM
Carey from Carbondale Il

Stairway is forever. Led Zeppelin is forever. What other bands have ever written such an iconic song? I know people that have Led Zeppelin tattoos.
They didn't write Stairway for your high school prom, they wrote Stairway to be epic. This song is Drugs Sex and Rock N' Roll.

Nov. 09 2010 02:17 PM
Leah from Westchester

It is a classic for sure and deserves respect - BUT CONTEXT IS KEY! Driving in my minivan with my three kids in the back, I'm certainly not going to torture anybody with keeping the dial tunned in...but perhaps late at night, driving solo, if I haven't given it a full listen in say...A YEAR, I'll give in. One last thing, I did many stupid things in jr. high, but the one thing I can proudly say I had the wherewithall to do: say no to WHOMEVER asked me to dance to the last dance - which was ALWAYS "Stairway" everyone out there looked like dopes. I stood on the sidelines and kept my eighth grade dignity in tact. :)

Nov. 09 2010 02:16 PM
Robots Need to Party from NYC

In my day it was Stairway or Hotel California. I was on the Hotel California side. Now I am embarrassed to admit I've even heard Hotel California. You can't dance to either though.

Shout out to Joe!!! Woot...woot...

Nov. 09 2010 02:16 PM
mark from the hedgerow

Oh, puh-leeze.

This is like debating whether or not the ocean (the body of water, not the Led Zeppelin song) is a good thing.
STH is simply there, canonical, and, for good or ill, no amount of debate will change its place.

Find something else to smack about.

Nov. 09 2010 02:16 PM
cb in DC

When people say Stairway to Heaven, I automatically think of the O'Jays. I don't know if it's a generational thing (I'm maybe a few years too young for STH) or a regional thing or a racial thing but the song has been way off my radar.

Nov. 09 2010 02:16 PM
Antonio Becerril from Mexico City

It's one of those songs that you need to rest every once in a while, and I NEVER THOUGHT OF IT AS A SONG YOU CAN DANCE TO! However it's one of those greatest guitar riffs that can help you "show off" you can play the guitar. And I must say that, it's a great Wayne's World Gag "No Stairway". But to me, I still say "bring it on, we want some stairway".

Nov. 09 2010 02:13 PM
Paul from Hoboken

imho ST's "Big Bottom" beats STH hands down............

Nov. 09 2010 02:13 PM
dboy from nyc

Dude, this song wasn't meant to be danced to!!!

It's an EPIC not a dance song!

Get yourself a Cyndi Lauper single if you want to dance!

Never tire of this classic, as overplayed as it is!!!

Nov. 09 2010 02:12 PM

Emily Rems, you said it best - you can't dance to it! Counting to four does NOT stop you from looking like an awkward jerkhole/doofus. Oh yes, and the RenFair aspect of it all. (Emily! YOU are my hero, lady! Way to take on STH)

Nov. 09 2010 02:12 PM
Sam from Astoria


Nov. 09 2010 02:11 PM
Francisco from LA

I've heard this song so many times that I could care less about it. It's become part of the backdrop of americana.

Nov. 09 2010 02:09 PM
Tom from Toronto

Overplay can kill any song.

So how do you prevent an iconic or classic song from going stale on you?

Very simple - you have to limit the plays. Do not put it on your Ipod. When it comes on the Radio... turn the dial.

I do this with "Hotel California", and hence I save the airplay for only those special times... whatever I deem that to be . You have to be in control, not the radio station.

Nov. 09 2010 02:09 PM
Ed Leppin from NYC

Stairway is a rare classic in that it doesn't beat the listener over the head with a commercial sounding hook, or repeating chorus. It's anti pop tune in that sense, and for that I respect its composers.

Nov. 09 2010 02:09 PM
Heidi from Harlem

Stairway to Heaven, was my prom song (and that was in the 86!)

Something's are better left unspoken, and any discussion about this album should be. Let's go back the Dexi's Midnight Runners, now there's a topic.

Nov. 09 2010 02:09 PM
Heidi from Harlem

Stairway to Heaven, was my prom song (and that was in the 86!)

Something's are better left unspoken, and any discussion about this album should be. Let's go back the Dexi's Midnight Runners, now there's a topic.

Nov. 09 2010 02:08 PM
jeff from greenpoint


Nov. 09 2010 02:08 PM
Alexandra from Queens

Stairway to Heaven, no many how many times it's played, brings me a distinct sense of nostalgia and mystery for a time in Rock and Roll history that I missed by about 20 years! It's possibly because I didn't live through Led Zeppelin's hayday that the beauty and power of the song is, for me, undeniable.

Nov. 09 2010 02:07 PM
Frank from Downtown NY

I remember one evening listening to New York’s WNEW 102.7 and Alison Steele started her show with debuting STH for the first time. Man, am I old. Great song but radio killed it for me, the rest of the album is fantastic.

Nov. 09 2010 02:06 PM
Marthainmidtown from Midtown

Make fun of it all you like, but what songs of today will be debated 40 years from now?

Related: "bustle in your hedgerow" is genius.

Nov. 09 2010 02:05 PM
a g from n j

is this "the" jerry from queens riffing on my comments,oh my,i can talk to my grandchildren about one momentous day in the life.........excuse me, while i go out and get my computer keyboard bronzed.
[all in good jest jerry,this is not a dis' ,hidden or otherwise]

Nov. 09 2010 01:22 PM
Jerry from Queens

Stairway to heaven is a musical masterpiece, albeit overplayed on every rock station throughout the country.Anyone over the age of 45 has an intrinsic knowledge of this song, most i believe would say its overplayed, which is true, but is probably the biggest rock anthem of all time.(Not necessarily making it a good song, i.e Born in the USA)The song also captivates your attention with the various changes in power and speed..I rest my case.

Nov. 09 2010 12:22 PM
dave from Harlem

It's a 9th grade ritual to try to figure out how to keep up the slow dance once the drums kick in..

Nov. 09 2010 10:26 AM
Nat from Brooklyn

It seems that any look back at LZ's "Stairway to Heaven" should start with "Taurus," an instrumental ballad by the band Spirit (who LZ opened for in an early American tour), the melody of which appears to have inspired Jimmy Page for the opening to STH. To compare, go to:

Nov. 09 2010 10:00 AM
a g from n j

this was a great coming of age song for me. it came out in my mid teen years. i really was moved by it at the time. it's importance to me has somewhat diminished. overplay is partially to blame.
when a tune becomes a mass culture anthem,for some of us,i think it loses the quality of being unique and special as a personal emotional symbol. are the lyrics high art? probably not,but who really wanted to, or needed to scrutinize STH in such a manner anyway.........

Nov. 09 2010 09:48 AM
Judy from Brooklyn

As a student at an all girls Catholic high school in the early 1980s I took piano lessons from Sister Beth, who also led the school band. When I started lessons in freshman year I told her I didn't want to learn classical music or standards, but wanted to play pop and rock-n-roll. In senior year I brought in the sheet music for Stairway to Heaven. She liked it so much she arranged it for the band and they played it at the next school concert to an auditorium full of cheering girls. But that's not all, somehow I ended up doing the song in my final recital as a medley with...wait for it...George Benson's "On Broadway," with a bridge Sister Beth had written! Righteous or ridiculous? All I can say is that I was a hero in my school for liberating Sister Beth and the band with Led Zeppelin!

Nov. 09 2010 09:40 AM
Karen Taylor from Queens

I grew up with STH as the rock anthem that ended all junior high and high school dances. Bombastic, orchestral, and plaintative, it had all the elements of "deep" that adolescents desired. I was delighted that Bare Naked Ladies captured that moment in their song "This Is Me In Grade Nine, Baby:"

I've got a red leather tie and pair of rugger pants,
I put them on and I went to the high school dance.
Dad said I had to be home by eleven -
aw, man, I'm gonna miss Stairway to Heaven.

Nov. 09 2010 09:37 AM
Michael Kimmel from Brooklyn

You ask a false question: Is "Stairway to Heaven" righteous or ridiculous? It's both! How could it be otherwise? Of course it's a bombastic over-the-top self-absorbed effort to channel early English faux-balladry to the sonic boom of arena rock with lyrics so pretentious as to be instantly self-parodic. But isn't that the point? Look, rock music encompasses the orchestral pomposity of the Moody Blues "Ride My Seesaw" and the stripped down three-chord chargihng energy of Ramones "Blitzkrieg Bop." Led Zeppelin does it in the same song! The band was a brilliant oxymoron -- from name to sound. The impulse to operatic grandeur and herad rock blues were never better married. The song is utterly righteous and truly ridiculous. And it will outlive us all.

Nov. 09 2010 09:08 AM
Musical Mom

I certainly remember Stairway to Heaven as the ultimate '70s high school prom song. But ever since 2003, when I hear it I have to chuckle. That's when my six-year-old son learned to appreciate rock and roll. Stuck in the car on a long trip, the song came on the radio. Listening to the ballad portion, there was nothing but silent contemplation. But six minutes into the song, when those electric guitars really started to twang, a cheer rose up from the booster seat..."Oh, this really IS a good song." I agree.

Nov. 09 2010 05:56 AM
Seattle Guy from Seattle

Tiny Tim's version of the song I can stomach. Every other I can do without...

Nov. 08 2010 01:55 PM

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