Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published February 19th 2020
One song, countless variations
Not too long ago I wrote about one of the best rock albums ever released: Led Zeppelin IV. Probably the best-known song on that album is 'Stairway To Heaven', the bane of instrument store owners everywhere. Well, in my column on the Queen song 'Bohemian Rhapsody', I mentioned that I had over thirty versions of the song, which led to a few messages asking me to write about them.
I wasn't really sure. But then I was researching the theme for the TV show Gilligan's Island (don't ask – university is a weird thing at times), and found a version of the theme that made me consider this column a little more seriously.
And so here is a list of some of the best covers and parodies of Led Zeppelin's classic track 'Stairway To Heaven' (written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant).
Of course, we should start with the 1971 original. This is the frankly awesome live version from the concert film The Song Remains The Same. It is more than 10 minutes long but it is so wonderful it does not feel like that at all.
All right! To start, here's the parody version that led me to this strange diversion into the realms of awesomeness. Called 'Stairway To Gilligan's Island' by Little Roger and the Goosebumps (1978), it is basically the Gilligan's Island theme song sung to the music of 'Stairway To Heaven'. So cool.
That's actually the outright last parody I'm going to include here because the rest are either unfunny or based on religious themes or, most commonly, both. Of these, there is one called 'Stairway To 7-11' which is not only unfunny, but is also claimed to be by 'Weird Al' Yankovic. It's not by him. That is Internet doing what the Internet does unfortunately too often – portray rubbish as truth.
All right, cover versions! There are so many live versions out there! I own… way too many. Thus, to represent the whole live gamut, here, from the album The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life by Frank Zappa (an album I bought when they released Zappa's back catalogue in CD in the 90s) comes this odd version, a mash-up of music styles. But it's Zappa and it's cool.
Onto recorded in the studio versions. First up, we have Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich with their mashup of 'Stairway To Heaven and The Who's Pinball Wizard' (1984), a studio recording of a live favourite. No, seriously – it works!
In 1985 a group called Far Corporation released a version that troubled the charts and created such an outcry amongst purists it was as though they had recorded the song using a choir of the cast of the TV show Neighbours. Actually, it's a pretty straight forward cover with 80s effects. But… I didn't mind it. Not really.
In 2012, Richard Cheese and Lounge Against The Machine released a lounge version because why not?
While we're in relaxation mode, Rick Wakeman released a piano version in 2010 that is simply beautiful and shows how close to genuine classical music classic rock can sometimes be.
While we're on instrumental versions, here from the ARMS concert of 1983 is Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton rocking out.
To finish with, in the early 90s there was television show in Australia on the ABC called The Money Or The Gun, hosted by the incredible Andrew Denton, which looked at issues of the day in entertaining and very different ways. Further, each week they would have a version of 'Stairway To Heaven' done in a different style. In 1992, they released an album of them.
Yes, I do in fact own that CD. Yes, I do still listen to it. Yes, I admit it – I am sad. So here are some of my favourites from that album (because I'm not going to put all 22 versions here…).
To start with, John Paul Young, who covered the song in the style of his 1970s hits. Very reminiscent of his 'Love Is In The Air' but it's 'Stairway To Heaven'.
Next, where would music be without Elvis Presley, right? So, thanks to one of Australia's foremost Elvis impersonators, Neil Pepper, we know how "the King" would have sung it: brilliantly.
But Presley was taken over the Beatles, and thanks to Australia's The Beatnix, we also know how they would have tackled the song: just as brilliantly.
And, finally, to let you know that it is not just the music, but also the lyrics of this song, Leonard Teale recites it as all great songs should be recited – as a piece of classic poetry.
That's 12 versions of the one song. If you're reading this at work, make sure you let all your co-workers hear what you can hear because this should be shared!
I think what a list like this shows, with such a variety of styles of music and lengths of songs is that this song works in so many different ways. That is the mark of a truly incredible piece of writing. musically and lyrically (even if the lyrics don't make a whole lot of sense).
But I think this is a fun list, and I hope you have enjoyed the many stylistic versions of one of the greatest songs in the classic rock canon.