Lee Heidhues 11.8.2021
Who would have thought that the Wall Street Journal could publish such an entertaining and interesting piece on the 50th anniversary of Led Zeppelin IV with its classic song Stairway to Heaven.
It goes to show that even these arch capitalists have rock ‘n roll in their bones.
What were Liz and I doing on November 8, 1971?
Liz and I were in Algeciras, Spain enroute to Tangier, Morocco. That was our Stairway to Heaven as we were concluding a two year journey through Europe and the Mediterranean.
Shortly thereafter we made the fateful decision to return to Amerika. Big mistake.
Excerpted from Wall Street Journal – Andy Kessler – 11.8.2021
“It’s been a long time since” . . . 1971. Fifty years ago on Nov. 8, the album “Led Zeppelin IV” was released, which included the eight-minute classic “Stairway to Heaven.” It was a year of transition from turmoil to modernity, a songwriter’s paradise. And yes, I’m a sucker for anniversaries.
Back in 1971 we listened to music on LP records—for the uninitiated, 20 or so minutes of music pressed into vinyl, spun at 33 1/3 rpm and amplified from a scratchy needle to giant speakers. Without TikTok, my generation wasted time poring over album-cover art in search of hidden meaning and reading the liner notes printed on the album sleeves.
More legacy-defining albums were released in 1971 than in any other year by my count. As proof, let’s play a game: I name the album, you name the artist, and no googling. “Sticky Fingers,” “Who’s Next,” “L.A. Woman,” “Aqualung,” “Tapestry,” “What’s Going On,” “Fragile,” “Imagine,” “At Fillmore East,” “Madman across the Water,” “Pearl,” “Anticipation,” “Shaft,” “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” “The Concert for Bangladesh.” How many did you get? Now add the Grateful Dead’s first gold album, and of course “Led Zeppelin IV,” sometimes known as Zoso.
Nineteen seventy-one is still considered “the ’60s,” which started when JFK was assassinated and ended with Watergate. The antiwar Democratic Convention riots defined chaotic 1968. Woodstock embodied 1969. In 1970, the Beatles disbanded and Apollo 13 proved failure wasn’t an option. But what was it about 1971?
The sound of Vietnam protests and smell of tear gas still hung in the air, along with a hippy-dippy free-love ethos perfectly parodied by the TV show “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” which ran until 1973. Although Richard Nixon was in the White House, there were hints of modernity. U.S. astronauts landed on the moon six times between 1969 and 1972. Nineteen seventy-one was the perfect segue between past despair and future hope and dreams, which were sadly delayed by the inflation and smog-filled skies of the 1970s.
So what did “Stairway to Heaven” even mean? Trippy lyrics are usually over my head, but I’ve had 50 years to think about this song. “There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold.” The obvious interpretation is that you can’t buy your way into heaven, but that’s too easy. “Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven” captured the malaise of relatively immobile times. “There’s still time to change the road you’re on,” meant changing from Timothy Leary’s “Turn on, tune in, drop out” to “Plug in, turn out, ramp up.” And especially relevant given today’s dictionary hijackers: “ ’Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.”
The final bridge of the song ends with “When all are one and one is all . . . to be a rock and not to roll.” Maybe that is about the dreamy collectivism still percolating in 1971, not unlike today.
John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin performing in Hiroshima, Japan, Sept. 27, 1971.