“There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold…”, what can we learn about success from an absolute classic rock song – Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven?
Creating a classic
Originally released in 1971 on the band’s untitled fourth studio album, it wasn’t released as a single in its own right until 1973.
The songs emergence in 1971 was the end point of quite along creative process originally driven by Jimmy Page, the groups lead guitarist (for anyone who isn’t as old as me!).
It’s a complex song that evolves over a period of 8 minutes and starts with what Page described as a fragile, exposed acoustic guitar. There is an initial folk rock feel that became almost mediaeval after John Paul Jones added the recorders. The music then continues to unfold with a slow electric middle section leading to a, now legendary, long guitar solo. The final section is delivered in a fast hard rock style.
The entire song was a deliberate construction – even John Bonham’s late entry on drums was intended to increase the impact of the percussion.
A difficult composition
Page described the difficulty he had writing the song as they didn’t have any lyrics whilst they were composing the music. However, the first time they played it through in the studio for Robert Plant he simply leaned against the wall and listened, before immediately writing 90% of the lyrics in pencil on handy bits of paper.
There is a bit of doubt about if this was in the studio or when Page first played Stairway to Robert Plant the groups singer. What isn’t in doubt is that a large part of the lyrics were written ‘on the spot’.
So far so ‘normal’ it’s not an unusual story in the song creation process apart from one thing. Page was a session guitarist in his early days. The cardinal rule was:
“…you didn’t speed up in songs!”
With Stairway he deliberately set out to break the rule by creating complex four section song that got progressively faster and faster as it progressed. The result was a song that has been held up as one of the greates anthemic rocks songs of all time. It has certainly transcended the decades – simply look at Ann and Nancy Wilson (Heart) covering the song in a 2012 tribute to the band in Houston, Texas) complete with choir!
Where does the road to success come in?
Whilst the success of Stairway is entirely down to audience mores, the song was carefully planned and crafted. Often we rush into things and whilst we get lucky, most success stories are down to deliberation rather than randomness. Any musician will tell you that what you hear on the album, or see in the live show is often the result of hundreds of hours of development and practice.
Whilst Page was the principal writer, the song wouldn’t have been the same (no pun intended for Zeppelin aficionados) without the contribution of the other band members. We get better results when we collaborate and success is often down to the team rather than the individual.
We have a choice – do you create a masterpiece like Stairway by deliberately breaking the rules or do you simply follow…. Success often involves some degree of (calculated) risk taking. If you want to get ahead, you sometimes have to go somewhere uncomfortable.
Finally, Page, when interviewed by the BBC in 2014 stated that one of the elements that has made the song endure was the honesty and conviction of the bands playing. Maybe that is another lesson, you’ll never achieve extraordinary results without conviction…
If you feel you are playing things too safely or need to rediscover your conviction, why not give us a call…? Never too late to #StartSomething or #ChangeSomething.
If you want to see the BBC interview with Jimmy Page, its on YouTube and is an interesting insight into the amount of creative effort it can take to write a musical masterpiece…
Link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDo4CA13LbY