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5 March 2011 5,614 views 12 Comments

40 years ago this evening, Jimmy Page strapped on a newly acquired Gibson double neck guitar and played the first chords of a new lengthy composition in front of an audience for the first time.

The occasion was Led Zeppelin’s opening date on their UK tour at the Ulster Hall Belfast. The historic photo below captures the moment…

The song was Stairway To Heaven

The rest is history….

As TBL contributor Rikky Rooksby observes in the introduction to a major feature on Stairway To Heaven to be published in the next Tight But Loose magazine:

‘’Lewis Spence helped inspire it. ‘Tangerine’ anticipated it. Belfast first heard it live. Atlantic wanted to ‘45’ it; two necks are needed to play it; musical instrument shops have banned it; a million guitarists have a version of it. John Paul Jones mellotroned it live and John Bonham’s on only half of it. The O2 Arena got it in G minor rather than A minor, a tone lower than the original. Far Corporation murdered it in 1985, the punks hated it, the Butthole Surfers spoonerized it, Rolf Harris spoofed it, there was an Australian album in 1993 with 22 cover versions of it, and generations to come have still the thrill of hearing it for the first time.  People have made love, got married and been buried to it. It is one of the most loathed rock songs … and most loved (though often in secret), because when talk gets round to favourite Led Zeppelin songs the cool answer tends to be ‘Kashmir’ or ‘Achilles Last Stand’. By 1991 the song had received 2,874,000 radio plays, and the album from which it came had sold 37 million copies by 2007.’’

Rikky’s lengthy feature on Stairway To Heaven is one of the highlights of the forthcoming Tight But Loose magazine (issue 29). Rikky dissects the composing and origins of the song and offers key observations about its content and the role it plays within its artistic and commercial success. It’s a fascinating study of Stairway To Heaven that will take you back to the song with fresh perspective.

Don’t miss out – TBL 29 is due out in late May and you can subscribe to the 2011 TBL magazines here Tight But Loose Subscriptions


Meanwhile, today we celebrate what is arguably their greatest song by announcing the results of the TBL Stairway To Heaven 40th Anniversary Poll

And the winner is….

Many thanks for the great response to the Stairway To Heaven At 40 Poll.

We can reveal that the fans choice for the greatest version live version of their greatest song is……..

Earls Court May 25th, 1975 – the DVD version

This is the version that was produced by Jimmy Page and can be seen and heard on the 2003 official Led Zeppelin DVD

In second place…

Madison Square Garden July, 1973 – the Song Remains The Same soundtrack version

Fans have displayed great loyalty for the official original live version as produced by Jimmy Page for The Song Remains The Same soundtrack album.

In third place…

Knebworth August 4th, 1979

More lasting affection for one of the most celebrated of Zep appearances.

In fourth place…

Long Beach June 27th 1972 – as produced by Jimmy Page for the How The West Was Won live album released in 2003.

In fifth place…

BBC Paris Theatre In Concert April 1st 1971 – officially released on the BBC Sessions album in 1997

Here is the complete Top 20 listing of the favourite live versions of Stairway To Heaven as voted by readers of the TBL website

1: Stairway To Heaven – Earls Court May 1975 DVD version

2: Stairway To Heaven – Madison Square Garden July 1973 –

From The Song Remains The Same soundtrack album

3: Stairway To Heaven – Knebworth August 4th 1979

4: Stairway To Heaven – Long Beach June 27th 1972 as released officially on

How the West Was One

5: Stairway To Heaven – BBC In Concert April 1st, 1971 – as released officially on the BBC Sessions set in 1997.

6: Stairway To Heaven – Earls Court May 24th, 1975

7: Stairway To Heaven – 02 Arena December 10th 2007

8: Stairway To Heaven – Berkeley September 14th 1971 – from the Going To California bootleg.

9: Stairway To Heaven – LA Forum June 23rd 1977 – from the For BadgeHolders Only bootleg

10: Stairway To Heaven – Berlin July 7th 1980

11: Stairway To Heaven – Knebworth August 11th 1979

12: Stairway To Heaven –Madison Square Garden February 12th 1975

13: Stairway To Heaven – Vienna March 16th 1973

14: Stairway To Heaven – Jimmy Page ARMS Royal Albert Hall September 1983

15: Sairway To Heaven – Seattle Kingdome July 17th 1977

16: Stairway To Heaven – Belfast Ulster Hall March 5th 1971

17: Stairway To Heaven – LA Forum June 3rd 1973 from the Three Days After bootleg

18: Stairway To Heaven – LA Forum June 21st 1977 from the Listen To This Eddie bootleg

19: Stairway To Heaven – Zurich June 29th 1980

20: Stairway To Heaven – Budokan Japan, September 23rd 1971

And here is the winning choice: Stairway To Heaven as performed by Led Zeppelin at Earls Court – May 25th 1975

We recommend you take 10 minutes and 27 seconds of your time to marvel in the glory of this astonishing performance:

Clock the genius at:

00.36: The camera pans on to Jonesy as he plays the plaintive keyboard opening.

At 3 minutes 18 – and Robert’s ‘’Baby baby’’ pleading.

At 4. 06 – Robert’s spontaneous ‘’Priceless’’ after the ‘’Do you remember laughter’’ line.

4.30 – Bonzo’s timely entry.

5.23 – the line ‘’You head is humming and it won’t go –in case you don’t know’’ accented by Bozo’s bass drum.

5.31 – Robert’s moving ‘’Dear PEOPLE can you hear the wind blow and did you know – OUR stairway lies on the whispering wind’.

5.48 – the first crescendo as Jimmy hoists the Gibson double neck high

and then on into what must be one of the finest pieces of live performance in their history.

6.14 – as Plant clusters around Jimmy as he switches necks for the scintillating solo.

7.22 – as the pictures crossfades to Robert banging the tambourine totally lost in the world of Led Zeppelin.

7.51 through to 8.59 as Page delivers a sublimely lyrical solo that again has Plant lost in the music and John Bonham…dear John, behind it all totally on the groove – this sequence brings a lump to my throat every time.

9.00 – the final glorious run in.

9.38 ‘’Never roll people …please don’t make me roll’’.

9.49 – the camera captures Jonesy in that Spanish jacket…

10.02 –   Robert’s sings the final line we all know so well and it echoes across the eerie wastes of Earls Court…and into eternity…

Led Zeppelin – Stairway to To Heaven  Earls Court

…And that is the greatest live performance  of a song that has been now been enthralling us for 40 years – as voted by TBL web readers.

Stairway To Heaven  – still the pure essence of Led Zeppelin

Long may it reign…

Dave Lewis –  March 5th 2011

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (2 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)


  • Thomas Huber said:

    What about a poll of the best live versions of…
    ..e.g. No Quarter!
    Here is my vote:
    1. LA June 23 1977
    2. New York June 7 1977
    3. Vancouver March 19 1975
    4. Knebworth August 4 1979
    5. Earls Court May 25 1975
    6. Vancouver March 19 1975
    7. The Song Remains The Same (Original LP Version from 1976, not the remasterred version from 2007)

  • Dave Weston said:

    I respectfully disagree for this as #1. I prefer older versions, such as the ones from BBC and How The West Was Won, when Robert tackled the full range of the ending vocals. On this track as well as the one on TSRTS, I was always a bit let down that he tightened the range and didn’t go after the high notes of the original track. They are all amazing in their own way.

  • Dave Lewis (author) said:

    Folks – Thanks for all that feedback. Fantastic comments to a fantastic milestone. After 40 years this band’s magic and that song still touches us all -they are totally inspirational -and that’s the way it is….DL

  • Shayne Smith said:

    I’m listening to the top voted version as I write this. EVERY time I hear it and see it, I am 11 years old again as I was in 1979 when I discovered them. In my opinion this is the best song of all time. There is NOTHING that compares. It doesnt matter what the punk rockers thought/think. It doesn’t matter what people say about the song being overplayed. It doesnt matter that it came out in 1971. It doesn’t matter. I have always loved Led Zeppelin and I always will. Thank you Dave Lewis for keeping the magic and the mystery of Led Zeppelin alive. All Zep fans owe you some gratitude. What a great way to celebrate the song.

  • Simon Cadman said:

    Had a rare bask in the Earls Court version to mark the 40th anniversary after a self-imposed No Stairway ban of some years (wife and children ridicule unbearable) – and what a pleasure it was. There may be technically/emotionally superior versions, but the combination of music with well shot visuals at such a significant run of UK shows makes the DVD rendition a very worthy winner. I wonder which is Jimmy’s favourite?

  • ledhed58 said:

    Very well done and fitting for a truly magical song and band…has any other band reached a creative epiphany in one song the way these four men did ? I think not. My personal fav is the Earls court version on the DVD as well as TSRTS version…God bless Pagey, Percy, Jonsey and Bonzo for a song for the ages..Peace…

  • Lorraine Robertson said:

    Magical…thank you Dave….xxx

  • Gary Davies said:

    7.51 through to 8.59 as Page delivers a sublimely lyrical solo that again has Plant lost in the music and John Bonham…dear John, behind it all totally on the groove – this sequence brings a lump to my throat every time.

    ^^I couldn’t agree more with those comments. That particular musical sequence on ‘DVD’ caught the very essence of the band in full flight. We’re so lucky that the cameras were rolling at that magical moment.

  • Ian Nicholson said:

    So pleased that the last night at Earls Court won the vote. I was there that night and it is forever in my memory. A truly superb version.

  • Michael said:

    Congratulations Dave on providing another well crafted and insightful piece. A great way to mark the milestone.

  • Gerard Sparaco said:

    Those are all great live versions. My personal favorite is June 10th, 1977 from Rock N Roll Circus on TDOLZ.

  • Jez said:

    Couldn’t agree more with the result and what a very moving tribute Dave.

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