Rock Music Trivia: Led Zeppelin
inJanuary 24, 2013 - 11:30pm
It was a great trivia question and one I should have known the answer to. What super long Led Zeppelin song was the most requested song in the 1970s on FM radio stations in the United States but was never officially released as a single? All eyes at the table turned to me, the Oldies expert and record collector, but this was one I didn’t know.
At our local sports bar/wings joint four generations of our family gather each Thursday night to play team trivia. There are different family members on different weeks and our team’s size can vary from 2 to 10 members. Our team, which we call Generations, discussed it for a moment. My brother Joel, the drummer, was convinced immediately it was Kashmir. His own band had covered the full length version and he knew it was over 8 minutes long. He also had done his research—the band had played the song at nearly every live concert since the day they had written it and the writer, Robert Plant, had declared it to be Led Zeppelin’s definitive song.
My mom, not a music insider, but an avid disco dancer in the 70s, mentioned Stairway to Heaven. Surely it had been released as a single?! She remembered everyone knowing the song, playing the song, requesting the song, not understanding the song. For her generation it had to be THE Led Zeppelin anthem, but surely it had been released as a single so couldn’t qualify as the answer.
What about Whole Lotta Love? No, I said, couldn’t be that, that was their first US number one single and the song wasn’t that long. Okay time to turn in our answer, we went with Kashmir. Just as I arrived back at the table from turning in our answer Aunt Margaret came back from the pool table, “You answered Stairway to Heaven, right?” Nooooooo! Sure enough, it was indeed Stairway to Heaven.
My dad looked surprised—don’t you have that album on the wall? That’s when I realized I should have known the answer. It is one of the albums I don’t have hanging on the rec room wall—it is a rare album to find and when I do, it is at a premium price for the exact reason that it made this a perfect trivia question. Stairway to Heaven, at eight minutes and two seconds was too long to be released on a 45rpm single record. Atlantic records asked the band to trim it down a bit and they refused. A 33 1/3 promotional version was released for use by radio stations but a single for consumer purchase was not. It was only released on the band’s untitled fourth album, referred to by collectors as Led Zeppelin IV.
Interestingly, although it always appears on lists of the greatest rock songs of all time and had tremendous appeal to US audiences, Robert Plant was not enamored with the song and as early as 1977 began voicing his dislike of the song in interviews and seldom sang the song live after that time. In spite of the absence of the song at their live concerts, as of 2000 the song had been played on the radio over 3,000,000 times and it remains the #1 selling rock sheet music with 15,000 copies sold yearly.
Most of us don’t know the lyrics and it’s one of those songs that are easily sung with the wrong lyrics. But we all remember after the build up to full on rock ‘n roll that last crying whimper of Robert Plant “and she’s buying the stairway to heaven.” Fortunately for us that Thursday, our team’s win didn’t depend on that question. But I will be on the lookout for that album for my wall!