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December 05, 2007

Richard Florida

Stairway to ...

« Innovation Nations | Main | Walkability Index »


Over at Slate, Andrew Goodwin asks whether Led Zeppelin should play "Stairway to Heaven" live. I'm a huge Zeppelin fan. Their first two albums changed the way I heard music. I spent hours learning songs like Heartbreaker, Dazed and Confused and Livin' Lovin' Maid and playing them in various grade school bands.   And their "Houses of the Holy" is a landmark for the way it reshaped rock sounds infusing world music, multi-layered guitars and polyrythms. For the most part, I could never master that stuff. But Stairway to Heaven may be their absolute worst song.  I never did like it. And it was played to death at 70s and 80s proms.  There is a live version that I sorta like.  So I vote, no, they shouldn't play it.

Goodwin ends his piece by stating that a new Zeppelin album and tour "could seal their reputation as much bigger (and much more important) than the Rolling Stones." Now, I actually like Zeppelin more than the Stones. But hold on. A better and more important band. I don't think so. I spent several hours on the plane home from Australia listening to the Stone's Forty Licks.  Its range and breadth is outstanding. There's no comparison. In terms of overall influence on modern music, the Stones beat every single modern band, including the Beatles (and incidentally, I prefer the Stones to the Beatles as well, so you can guess my taste at least for rock leans towards the harder stuff).

And while we're on the subject of music, I'm in Atlanta and saw that John Fogerty is playing here tonite. His influence on modern music is in my view extremely under-rated. Credence Clearwater Revival had a huge effect on 60s music. In my estimation, leaving aside 50s icons like Chuck Berry, Elvis and others, and looking at 60s musical influences from America, I rank Fogerty in the top three alongside Dylan and Hendrix as America's most imporant artists of that era.

Oh and by the way, did I tell you dear readers, now that I'm putting Who's Your City to bed, I'm starting in on my much anticipated and long delayed (both by me) music project. So you can expect more music posting from now on.


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Dan Dickinson

I agree with you about Led Zep. One of my all-time favourite bands, even though they were defunct by the time I was out of diapers.

I disagree with you about Stairway...now. A few years ago I was sick of it too; you should make an effort to stay away from it for a while and then listen to it fresh, without anyone around who'll remind you that it sounds like a high school dance. It's a brilliant song, it really is. I didn't hear it for about five years and then I played it at home; it's like I've reclaimed something that bad DJs stole from me.

I also disagree with you about the Stones being more important, but that could come down to our definition of "important." I think Zeppelin was more influential than the Stones (which is a damn hard thing to debate; certainly those represent two of the most influential rock bands of all time) because of how well they fused so many styles of music, and pound-for-pound Zeppelin were certainly the more talented band musically. To me that means more important, but did they enter (and in some cases, become) the cultural zeitgeist like the Stones? No.

I also agree with you on Fogerty. Solo stuff aside, CCR was one of the best and, as you said, underrated pure rock bands of all time. Here's a good litmus test: "Fortunate Son" is just as powerful a song today as anything that Bob Dylan (who I also love) ever wrote.


Dan - Thanks for the comments. Yes, Zep has musical talent. Robert Plant is a virtuoso vocalist, just check out that new album with Alison Krause. Jimmy Page, one of the most oimportant guitarist of his generation and clearly amng the most innovative. Bonham, simply, the greatest drummer, alongside Keith Moon of his time. Zep and the Stones did different things, sort of. Jagger and Richards could write hits, poppy hits, and also do some serious music. Lyrically the Stones were far stronger. Zep lyrics (often) make me cringe. I agree that Zep fused more world music and prog rock styles, but Stones also fused lots of more blusey, R&B, rootsie styles. Zep faltered when they got too close to prog rock. The Stones faltered when the got too close to disco.

This of course begs the question: why in the heck were British bands so much better and long-lived that their American counterparts. Heck, even Hendrix leaned on two Brits, that is at least until Billy Cox and Miles Davis came around.

Perhaps its because they are better musicologists and have a deeper knowledge of history and musical styles than many of their American counterparts. Plant and Page had wide ranging knowledge of blues, R&B and world music - they were ethno-musicologists of sorts, searching out new styles and forms across the globe. So too were Jagger and Richards really digging back deep across American blues, country and roots music of all sorts.

Some Americans stand out in this regard. All of the early jazz greats. Dylan. Hendrix, who listened and studied everything. Springstein. And today Jack White, who has stripped back blues and rock to their two piece essence. But most simply are players. Could be something to that...

Gary Dee

On a radio concert of Jimmy Page and The Outriders in the mid-90's with Jason Bonham on drums, their encore was an instrumental of "Stairway" and it was amazing in its intensity and pretty short, unlike the only other live version that I know of (from the concert film "The Song Remains the Same").

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