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Stairway to Heaven: The Song Remains Pretty Similar

Did Led Zeppelin write the greatest song opening in rock history—or steal it?
Stairway to Heaven: The Song Remains Pretty Similar
Photograph by Heilemann/Camera Press/Redux

Weary from touring, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page retreated in 1970 to a stone cottage in Wales, called Bron-Yr-Aur, with no power or running water. Legend has it King Arthur fought his last battle nearby. Not far off is the mountain Cader Idris where, it’s said, those who spend a night at its summit are fated to die, go mad, or become poets. At Bron-Yr-Aur, by candlelight, Page constructed the bones of what may well be the most popular, and valuable, rock ’n’ roll song of all time, Stairway to Heaven. This included the introductory finger-picked section that launched a million guitar lessons.

Back in England that winter, Page laid out the budding epic for the band at another house, Headley Grange, where the magic continued around a fire fueled on one occasion by a section of stairway banister. As Page plucked, singer Robert Plant seemed to channel another world as he wrote the lyrics. To Page, who has referred to the song as “my baby,” it was Zeppelin’s crowning achievement. “Stairway crystallized the essence of the band,” he told then-teenage rock writer Cameron Crowe in a March 13, 1975, Rolling Stone interview. “It was a milestone for us. Every musician wants to do something of lasting quality, something which will hold up for a long time, and I guess we did it with Stairway.”