"Stairway To Heaven" was recorded at Island Records new Basing Street Studios in London. The song was completed by the addition of lyrics by Plant during the sessions for Led Zeppelin IV at Headley Grange, Hampshire, in 1971. Page then returned to Island Studios to record his guitar solo.
The song originated in 1970 when Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were spending time at Bron-Yr-Aur, a remote cottage in Wales, following Led Zeppelin's fifth American concert tour. According to Page, he wrote the music "over a long period, the first part coming at Bron-Yr-Aur one night". Page always kept a cassete recorder around, and the idea for "Stairway" came together from bits of taped music:
"I had these pieces, these guitar pieces, that I wanted to put together. I had a whole idea of a piece of music that I really wanted to try and present to everybody and try and come to terms with. Bit difficult really, because it started on acoustic, and as you know it goes through to the electric parts. But we had various run-throughs [at Headley Grange] where I was playing the acoustic guitar and jumping up and picking up the electric guitar. Robert was sitting in the corner, or rather leaning against the wall, and as I was routining the rest of the band with this idea and this piece, he was just writing. And all of a sudden he got up and started singing, along with another run-through, and he must have had 80% of the words there ... I had these sections, and I knew what order they were going to go in, but it was just a matter of getting everybody to feel comfortable with each gear shift that was going to be coming."
John Paul Jones recalled this presentation of the song to him following its genesis at Bron-Yr-Aur:
"Page and Plant would come back from the Welsh mountains with the guitar intro and verse. I literally heard it in front of a roaring fire in a country manor house! I picked up a bass recorder and played a run-down riff which gave us an intro, then I moved into a piano for the next section, dubbing on the guitars."
In an interview he gave in 1977, Page elaborated:
"I do have the original tape that was running at the time we ran down "Stairway To Heaven" completely with the band. I'd worked it all out already the night before with John Paul Jones, written down the changes and things. All this time we were all living in a house and keeping pretty regular hours together, so the next day we started running it down. There was only one place where there was a slight rerun. For some unknown reason Bonzo couldn't get the timing right on the twelve-string part before the solo. Other than that it flowed very quickly."
The beginning chords in Stairway have been rumored to rip off the song Taurus by the band Spirit. The fact that Spirit opened up for Led Zeppelin's First American Tour may support this rumor.
Stairway has received extremely high critical acclaim. The ending nine-line poem at the end of the song is used on many posters, kitchenware, and other items in the Zeppelin franchise. 15,000 music sheets for Stairway are sold to young guitarists every year, making it the highest selling music sheet.
Much dispute has been given over what song is the greatest rock song ever. Stairway is one of the contenders, alongside extremely popular songs such as Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry, Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan, and Blue Suade Shoes by Elvis Presley.