It’s hard to blame Robert Plant for having pretty ambivalent feelings toward “Stairway to Heaven.” It’s probably the most beloved song of his long career, but every time he plays a solo gig there’s some chucklehead screaming for it between every song. Classic rock radio has played it roughly 10 trillion times, and he’s beyond sick of it. “I’d break out in hives if I had to sing it every show,” he said in 1988. “I wrote those lyrics and found that song to be of some importance and consequence in 1971, but 17 years later, I don’t know. It’s just not for me . . . No more ‘Stairway to Heaven’ for me.”
He reunited with Jimmy Page in 1994 for an MTV Unplugged special and world tour. They broke out most every famous Led Zeppelin song, besides “Stairway to Heaven.” The closest they came was when Page played the opening notes to tease the audience at the end of “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.”
They made a single exception to the rule while promoting the Unplugged CD in Japan in November of 1994. Somehow or another, a talk show convinced them to play an acoustic, abbreviated rendition of the tune. Prior to YouTube, this is the kind of thing that would exist solely on fifth-generation VHS tape circulated through the mail by diehard Zeppelin nuts, but now you can find it in about four seconds.
Page and Plant returned to the road in 1998, but “Stairway to Heaven” remained firmly out of the set list. It seemed like the song was dead forever, but they did revive it one final time during Led Zeppelin’s one-off reunion concert in 2007. Odds are high that the phrase “bustle in your hedgerow” will never pass Plant’s lips again.