The lyrics, written by Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant next to an evening log fire, were inspired by his search for spiritual perfection. A seminal influence was the book Magic Arts in Celtic Britain by Lewis Spence, which Plant had recently read; it contained references to May Queens, pipers, and “bustling hedgerows.”
In 1982, a California State Assembly consumer-protection-committee hearing featured testimony from “experts” who claimed that “Stairway,” when played backward, contained the words: “I sing because I live with Satan. The Lord turns me off — there’s no escaping it. Here’s to my sweet Satan, whose power is Satan. He will give you 666. I live for Satan.” Evidence of a demonic message? Or was the backward-masking controversy started by a failing electronics firm as a ploy to get teenagers to ruin turntables by spinning them backward? Swan Song Records also issued the following statement at the time which said:“Our turntables only play in one direction—forwards.”
In 2003 it was named #31 in Rolling Stones ‘Top 500 Songs of All Time’ and #3 in VH1 in their 2000 awards for the ‘100 Greatest Rock Songs of All Time’ awards.
The tendency for many aspiring guitar players to learn to play the introduction to the song was spoofed in the 1992 Mike Myers movie Wayne’s World, when a “No Stairway to Heaven” regulation is enforced at a music store visited by the title character. The intro was replaced with a more generic, non-“Stairway” riff in later releases of the movie, making the joke incomprehensible. Plant himself referenced the scene’s “No Stairway? Denied!” line during a concert appearance with Page in 1995.
On January 23, 1991, John Sebastian, owner and general manager of KLSK FM in Albuquerque, New Mexico, played the song for twenty-four solid hours to inaugurate a format change to classic rock. It played more than two hundred times, eliciting hundreds of angry calls and letters. Police showed up with guns drawn, once after a listener reported that the deejay had apparently suffered a heart attack, later because of suspicion that — this being eight days into the Gulf War — the radio station had been taken hostage by terrorists dispatched by Zeppelin freak Saddam Hussein. Weirdest of all, lots of listeners didn’t move the dial. “Turns out a lot of people listened to see when we would finally stop playing it.”