I give you…Stairway to Heaven. It’s considered a rock classic. I remember the first time my brother played it for me. Like so many others, I liked it immediately. But what was it that I liked about it? It just seemed so “epic”…almost like a symphony or opera. Yeah, that’s it…it seemed to have “movements”, just like in a symphony.
I don’t know why I was amazed by that. One of the first people in pop music to take that kind of approach was Brian Wilson with his classic “Good Vibrations”. He refered to it as a “pocket symphony”…the song started with a theme, did a few variations on the theme, then returned to the main theme at the end…and he did that in about 3 and a half minutes!
I personally believe that most artists have what I refer to as their own “Stairway to Heaven”. Maybe they were heavily influenced by the Zeppelin classic, or maybe they just came up with it on their own. For instance, let’s take a look at the Beatles. I would consider “A Day in the Life” as their “stairway”. It’s an epic track that, basically, combined two songs, one by Lennon (I read the news today) and McCartney (woke up, fell out of bed), thereby creating two “movements” if you will, and coming back to the beginning theme. I believe McCartney did it again with “Band on the Run”, especially if you listen to the album version, and not the single version.
Need more proof? I would put Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” in that category, along with “Green Grass and High Tides” by the Outlaws. I would also submit “Closer to Home (I’m Your Captain)” by Grand Funk Railroad, although the ones I just mentioned didn’t get back to the original theme. However, they did feature “movements”.
Did Motown get in on the act? You bet, and herein lies the main reason for this entry. On my way home last night from my daughter’s basketball game, we were listening to the Jackson 5 on my IPod, mainly because she is singing two J5 songs for an upcoming music contest. She asked what MY favorite Jackson 5 tune is, and at first I responded with “The Love You Save”, but then quickly said, “Wait…that’s my second favorite. My first favorite is ‘I Am Love’.” She said she had never heard that song, and without thinking I said, “It’s kind of their ‘Stairway to Heaven’.” Even though I kept my eyes on the road, I could tell that she had a quizzical look on her face. I went on to explain kind of what I’m trying to explain here…you know, the “movements” thing. Again, “I Am Love” doesn’t go back to the original theme, but it builds by movements, much like “Stairway”. And since this was recorded later in the ‘5’s career, it was most likely done after Motown moved to California and started using most of the LA session musicians that played on countless other hits. In my opinion, it rocks every bit as much as “Stairway”, especially since my favorite Jackson, Jermaine, is doing the lead vocals. But I’ll let you be the judge of that.
By the way, I’m posting the full version, but you should also check out the short version of them performing it on the “Cher” show. The afros are killer!
I give you…the Jackson 5’s “Stairway to Heaven”…”I Am Love”.