Why is Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven’ the greatest song ever?

At no other point in history that I am aware was there a song that drove so many people to learn to play music than when Led Zeppelin released Stairway to Heaven. Sure a song like ‘Smoke on the Water’ has probably been played more times but it’s a simple riff played mostly by those who take up guitar for 5 minutes.

If learning to play Stairway in the 70’s and 80’s was a disease we had a serious epidemic on our hands. Stairway was so popular that musical instrument shops had signs posted saying ‘NO STAIRWAY’. No doubt the store employees were irritated by the nonstop stream of guitar amateurs performing their half learnt renditions. There was even a whole album made with different versions of Stairway. At its height Stairway was basically considered a benchmark for guitarists. Those who could play Stairway could hold their heads high.

So what was it about this song that caused so many including myself to seriously take up guitar. To this day I cannot really say but perhaps its the seductive guitar intro. It sounds very simple because the tempo is slow and every note is clear but for a beginner bar chords are near impossible. When I first began learning Stairway at age 14 I was a complete beginner. Stairway seemed easy enough to my ear but yet remained out of my range of abilities for sometime. It was the fruit that seemed within reach but was actually higher than my arm could stretch.

It would take me a full 2 years before I was able to really play Stairway but here is the thing. I am quite convinced that it was my pursuit of Stairway that kept me going and ultimately led me to a lifetime of guitar. It really was a stairway to Heaven.

David Hart

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