Led Zeppelin took to the stage for the final time in 2007, a time when they graced London’s O2 Arena for a night that the 20,000 strong crowd in attendance would never forget. This would not only mark the last time that the band would seemingly play together but it would also be the last time that Robert Plant would sing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ which, for some unknown reason, he continues to shy away from performing when he’s playing solo.
The band reunited for a one-off set as the headline act at The Ahmet Ertegün Tribute Concert was a benefit concert held in memory of music executive Ahmet Ertegün which took place on December 10th, 2007. Ertegün, who was the co-founder and president of Atlantic Records, was a character that helped define music as we know it today and was a pivotal player in the advent of the career of Led Zeppelin who also served as the chairman of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 2009’s Guinness World Records stated that at the time the concert holds the world record for the ‘Highest Demand for Tickets for One Music Concert’ as 20 million requests for the reunion show were rendered online.
The track, released in late 1971, was created by Plant and his bandmate Jimmy Page for Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth studio album and is considered by many as one of the greatest rock songs of all time but, since then, Plant has turned his back on the song but when sharing the stage with his old bandmates it would be criminal not to play the classic rock anthem.
It’s hard not to fall head over heels in love with ‘Stairway’, after all, its eight minutes of pure songwriting brilliance. The song manages to encapsulate into one song what made Led Zep such a dynamic, loveable group who managed to take music to a whole new dimension. The lyrics are deliberately abstract which make the pairing alongside Plant’s heartfelt vocals a true thing of beauty.
Plant had millions fall weak at the knees for his gravel toned screech of the band’s early efforts. However, on ‘Stairway’, he returns to a vulnerable and tender sound that showed the world he was capable of far more than he offered in Led Zeppelin—it truly his one of his finest ever performances that still sounded phenomenal live in London for this concert in 2007, even if John Bonham wasn’t on stage to marvel at his singing.
Last year, however, Plant spoke about how ‘Stairway To Heaven’ is a track that he can no longer relate to but did admit he can admire it, even if only from afar. While sitting down with UCR as part of their ‘Nights’ radio show, Plant said: “The construction of the song, the actual musical construction, is very good. It’s one of those moments that really can stand without a vocal and, in fact, it will stand again without a vocal, I’m sure, because it’s a fine piece of music.
“Lyrically, now, I can’t relate to it, because it was so long ago. I would have no intention ever to write along those abstract lines any more.”
He added: “I look at it and I tip my hat to it and I think there are parts of it that are incredible. The way Jimmy Page took the music through, and the way that the drums almost climaxed and then continued —it’s a very beautiful piece. But lyrically, now, and even vocally, I go, ‘I’m not sure about that.’”
The legendary rockers performed a 16 song set that December evening in London which saw them take to the stage for two encores after the crowd pined and pined for more, with Led Zep more than happy to cave to their demands.
“We were asked to play a forty-minute set,” Jimmy Page remarked during rehearsals. “And we soon realised we couldn’t. If we go out and play ‘No Quarter’, ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘Dazed and Confused’ with all the solos, you’re already talking over an hour. We’ve gone from seventy-five minutes to ninety, to the best part of two hours,” the guitar God added.
‘Stairway To Heaven’ was a spectacle of the finest calibre and even though Robert Plant may not be the world’s biggest fan of the track — you wouldn’t have guessed that from the following footage which captures Zeppelin lost in the moment, soaking up every second.