VA Tech, Pritchard Dorms, Fall 1996:

I am envious of my roommate’s air guitar skills. I can match his intensity and showmanship. I know Led Zeppelin IV well enough to know when I have a split second to point at the imaginary groupie in the third row. (I motion for her to c’mere knowing my imaginary roadies will handle it.) My O-face during difficult riffs looks legit. I play pretend rock-star with the same fervor 3-year-old Bryce Harper already plays baseball. But when Scott (the long-haired roomie) plays air guitar, he’s playing the correct notes.

“I got blisters on me fingers,” Scott cracks as Misty Mountain Hop fades out. If that’s a joke, I don’t get it.

“Stairway?”

Scott shrugs. “Cool. I’m gonna go burn one. Call me in four minutes when it stops sucking and the song actually starts.”

2500 balding men shopping at Guitar Center burst into flames simultaneously. Windows at Tower Records blew out, showering glass on the last people to buy CDs at a retail store. Lions and penguins began torrid love affairs based 90% on sex. This is rock and roll blasphemy. To say anything negative about STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN is to say you are ignorant, uneducated, and probably a fan of Creed. It is the N-word of musical discussion.

Which is a damn shame, because Stairway‘s placement on a pedestal is ridiculous. It’s not even in Zep’s 10 best. It’s probably 5th best on an album with 8 songs. Scott’s “Emperor’s New Clothes” announcement enlightened me. His educated opinion is the result of listening to Zep’s entire catalogue about a thousand times before ever being told Stairway is the most important. Unvarnished, unpolluted ears.

Turns out Robert Plant hates performing the song too. “I’d break out in hives,” said Plant, “if I had to sing it in every show.” Plant’s voice is a goddam ferrari in the slow lane until 6:41. Here’s the breakdown with a link for those who haven’t heard it a thousand times. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcL—4xQYA

0- 4:17 Pansy recorder, pansy acoustic guitar from Jimmy. When discussing lousy music, “pansy” is my biggest criticism. It’s slow, barely pretty, level of difficulty= nil.

4:17 Now it’s an acceptable song. John Bonham has just been sitting there drinking this whole time.

5:55 Classic Page. Nuckin’ futs on the sweeping guitar. Still not a legendary song.

6:41-7:45 This is why this song is revered. Chills.

Here is why the damn song is legendary, and here is why Zep didn’t make a six-minute song that repeats the last nut-busting 2 minutes: Consumers love the crescendo. Even more than the power-ballad, amateur music listeners tend to prefer a wide sweep of emotion when choosing what makes the best rock. Crescendos make both the artist and listener feel an understanding of what it is like to be a human being. Free Bird, November Rain, Bohemian Rhapsody, Layla (which does this in reverse order– kickass > pansy) all do this and are often thought of as the artist’s greatest contribution. Like Dickens, it’s like they’re being paid by the word, hence content suffers.

Fuckin’ weak, dude. I gotta sit through >4 minutes of slow, easily playable whining before we get to the part that makes me feel good? HipHop doesn’t do this. I’d argue Hey Ya is the Stairway of hiphop except that Hey Ya is fast and furious in less than two seconds. Apparently, most of you like the long buildup (even the slow, unclever  guitar parts with sappy lyrics taken right out of a teenage goth poet’s diary) because record labels drool over the potential sales of another 8 minute crescendo hit.

I am not here to complain. I am here to save you from yourselves. I am hear to scream “the emperor’s balls are showing.” I am an expert urging you to skip to the good part.

There’s one thing I forgot. You can’t rank on rock’s paradigm without suggesting a new one so that others might deface my taste. Kickstart My Heart or Superstition should earn the stupid title of “greatest rock song ever.” I’m not insane when I say I considered, Eye of the Tiger.

Kickstart: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQMBz6HvSoM

Superstition: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5lVUaLeD14

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