"Stairway to Heaven." Those three little words have come to mean so much. Led Zeppelin's eight-minute classic turns 40 this week, and it still sets the bar for headbanging chutzpah, if not sophisticated songcraft.
Robert Plant and Jimmy Page were woodshedding in Wales when they devised their faery-strewn folk-metal psychedelia masterwork. Bassist/arranger John Paul Jones added mood-setting recorders and drummer John Bonham brought his protean thwunk to the game. The song may or may not have borrowed key elements from an instrumental by the American band Spirit, with whom they once toured. But nobody but Zep could have molded those chord progressions into such a masterpiece of excess.
"Stairway to Heaven" set the template for the power ballad and made unwitting J.R.R. Tolkien experts out of listeners who merely intended to get their rocks off. Depending on your view, the song is the greatest achievement of one of history's most important groups ... or rock's ultimate nightmare, incessantly resurrected by awful cover bands, shrieking karaoke singers and your very drunk uncle who grabbed the microphone at your sister's wedding reception.