Sunday Serenade: Sheltering Strains With A Built-In ‘Stairway’

February 26, 2023

Of course, due to the hardcore musical fact Led Zeppelin’s 1971 “Stairway To Heaven” is so known, so overwhelmingly continuously common, the riff of all time can’t be played without a music-store employee going  “a little funny in the head” without the proper drugs to soothe the earworms. The song has withstood the test of time as probably one of the major shift-changing big tunes of the 1970s and set the course for how rock/prog/alternative and all other brands of pop-festered music would gravitate up to nowadays.

Beyond that notorious riff, ‘Stairway‘ is different mainly because of the drastic change-up in the flow of the song with Jimmy Page’s epic guitar solo blasting through the lyrics to command a surreal sweep in the musical form of ‘a lady we all know’ as she rocks without rolling — a spiritual sense, too.
Due to circumstances at the time, I didn’t fully hear ‘Stairway‘ until three/four years after it was released (included in Zeppelin’s fourth studio album — Led Zeppelin IVand never as a single and was not much played on the top-40 radio stations I listened to in them days). Still, when I caught it, I fell hard.
It was during this period, just about the time I graduated from the University of Florida (June 1974), I was asking friends why earphones weren’t considered drug paraphernalia. I hadn’t heard anything until ‘Stairway To Heaven‘ blasted out on earphones plugged into my stereo.

In keeping it simple and musically fun, this Sunday Serenade post (the last one here) is about songs — a scant few I can recall — built the same way, or near-about, as ‘Stairway,’ especially with a killer change of pace vibe, as the whole course of a tune can alter itself in mid-stream because the tempo or some increase in a particular sound creates added emotional life to the narrative.
There is probably a shitload of songs in this category, but my brain can’t offer them up because I’m too old to remember details, just broad swathes of memory without a lot of tiny details or features. Most of the songs presented here are from the last 30 years. (As an aside, I think the 90s was most likely the best decade of rock music in history — and that’s saying a freaking-f*cking lot).

And to get us charging head-long into the entrance hall and onto the muti-well ‘Stairway,’ the Led Zeppelin original:

Next up the musical steps is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird,” released in late 1974, and carried with it a way-heavy shift towards the end of the song with a power riff of a bird flying away at breakneck speeds — I really haven’t listened to this song in decades. However, I did spend a lot of time back in the day rocking with my earphones on playing along on my tennis racket stand-in as guitar. Life was more fantastical in those days.

Won’t you fly high, free bird, yeah:

Ongoing the sound, “Motorcycle Drive By,” off the debut album of Third Eye Blind (1997), the song carries the same ‘Stairway‘ pulse as it starts in a sad, depressed state, then unfolds into near hysteria over the romance gone bad with a sweeping all-band riff and finishes off with poetic sorrow:

I go home to the coast
It starts to rain I paddle out on the water alone
Taste the salt and taste the pain
I’m not thinking of you again
Summer dies and swells rise
The sun goes down in my eyes
See this rolling wave
Darkly coming to take me home

As another aside, my daughter Hannah won a local radio-station contest in late 1998 for free tickets to a Third Eye Blind concert at the Santa Barabra Bowl. She even got her picture taken with the group’s frontman, Stephen Jenkins, and still has the photos packed away somewhere.

Anyway, the album spawned a shitload of hits, “Semi-Charmed Life,” “Jumper,” “Graduate,” among others, but nothing in the class of ‘Motorcycle Drive By‘ — I consider it an all-time classic:

Still in the 1990s, another ‘Stairway‘ in a different direction — Live’s “Lightning Crashes,” which paints a kind of terrible wrinkle in life, with a full-throttle, emotional sound to convey the sense of tragedy.
Another favorite I haven’t listened to in a way-long time.
Here goes:

Next on the playlist, “Soma” by The Smashing Pumpkins, not one of my favorite bands nor song (never cared for the sound of Billy Corgan’s weird-ass voice), and doesn’t start to rock-stairway until halfway through a kind of sad, slow build — does pluck rough for a while, though:

After that whine, the wondrous Fleetwood Mac with “The Chain,” which squeals out after some poetic self-bashing:

There are probably a lot of songs similar in nature out there, but as I mentioned above, I can’t think of them. At least not right now — you might know of many more.

And to close out this serenade, Wayne’s background moves on a certain guitar:

Stairway‘ denied or not, once again here we are…

(Illustration out front: ‘Shelter in the Storm,” found here.)

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