Led Zeppelin are one of the most influential bands to have ever graced the world. Inspiring people from every walk of life, with an intergenerational appeal, the British quartet filled the hole that The Beatles left after their split in 1970, taking rock ‘n’ roll to the truly stratospheric levels in the process.
In 2012, the three surviving members of the band were awarded the Kennedy Centre Honours for their efforts in music. As a part of the celebrations, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Seattle legends Heart were enlisted to cover Zeppelin’s most iconic opus, ‘Stairway to Heaven’.
The cover was a resounding success, and it even brought tears to the eyes of Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant, someone who has been rather disparaging about the song at points over the years. Receiving a standing ovation, for the Wilson sisters and band, this ranked among their career highlights.
For Ann Wilson, the show was particularly significant. She cites Led Zeppelin IV as her favourite album of all time and the one that had the most significant impact on her creative development. Looking back on the event, she told Vulture in 2020: “That song is almost holy”.
At first, the Wilson sisters were unsure of what song they’d be performing. They expected it to be something “typical” like ‘Rock and Roll’ which Wilson told Vulture is “kind of like ‘Johnny B. Goode’ on steroids”. However, when they were told they were to undertake ‘Stairway to Heaven‘, Ann knew that the task was mammoth given just how impactful Led Zeppelin IV had been on her and how hallowed of a track ‘Stairway’ is.
“I knew from the first time I heard it that I had to reproduce that,” Wilson told Classic Rock in 2019. “‘This is a teaching album,’ I said to myself.” A life-changing experience, Ann also revealed how Led Zeppelin IV left an indelible imprint on her, something the records of The Beatles and Stones did not manage to do. “I would listen to The Beatles and listen to the Stones and Elton John and the other groups that I was listening to in my teens,” she added. “But (IV) really hit me where I lived”.
Although Plant has a complicated relationship with the song, Wilson ranks it and the rest of IV amongst his best works. “It had a lot to do with Robert Plant’s lyrics,” she told Classic Rock. “That’s the album when he really started to write in a more masterly way.” Aside from ‘Stairway to Heaven’, Heart have also covered ‘Going to California’ and ‘The Battle of Evermore’ numerous times over the years, showing just how big their Led Zeppelin IV fandom is.
It turns out that Plant’s influence on Ann Wilson has been so considerable that it extends far beyond the musical. “I credit Robert Plant for demonstrating to me that you could step outside the cultural norms of what a chick can sing and what a dude can sing,” she told Vulture. “He never paid attention to that.”
Wilson is just one of the thousands whose lives have been changed by Plant and his band. Musically and culturally, they helped to drag society into the future by ignoring mores and treading their own path. This defiant magic is instilled in the band’s music, which has helped to make them one of the most enduring bands of all time.
As Wilson stated, Led Zeppelin IV was the record where Led Zeppelin truly arrived, and there’s no surprise it is hailed as one of the most iconic albums of all time.
Watch Heart’s cover of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ below.