Watch Robert Plant and Jimmy Page perform Stairway To Heaven as a duo for the only time

Robert Plant singing at ANB News in 1994
(Image credit: ANB News/YouTube)

It's fair to say that Robert Plant has a difficult relationship with Led Zeppelin's biggest song, Stairway To Heaven

“I’d break out in hives if I had to sing it every show,” Plant famously told the Los Angeles Times 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." 

The same year, he told Q magazine, "If you absolutely hated Stairway to Heaven, nobody can blame you for that because it was so… pompous.” 

Almost a quarter of a century later, Plant was still battling his feelings about the song. "I struggle with some of the lyrics from particular periods of time," he said at a press conference held to promote the Celebration Day film in 2012. "Maybe I was still trying to work out what I was talking about... every other fucker is."

First performed at Belfast's Ulster Hall in March 1971, Stairway became a staple of Led Zeppelin's live set thereafter, and was a regular set closer. It had been played at the Live Aid fiasco, and Jimmy Page had played instrumental versions at the ARMS Charity Concerts in 1983. Robert Plant? Not so keen. 

So when Page and Plant came together in 1994 for their Unledded show, it's perhaps no surprise that Stairway didn't feature on the setlist, or on No Quarter, the live album that followed. 

With a world tour booked, the pair embarked on a whistle-stop tour of the globe to promote the album. Amongst the stops were London, where they performed Gallows Pole, Wonderful One and Four Sticks on Later With Jools Holland. In Australia, they appeared on the Andrew Denton Show and played Zeppelin's Black Dog alongside an unlikely version of Rolf Harris's Sun Arise. 

What they didn't do was play Stairway To Heaven, and if they were to play the song for anyone, it would surely have been Denton. For Denton was one of the people behind Aussie comedy show The Money Or The Gun, which included a regular feature in which various musicians covered the Led Zep classic. John Paul Young had performed the song in the style of his biggest hit, Love Is In The Air. The Australian Doors Show gave it a When The Music's Over-style makeover. There was a version in the style of the B-52's. A funk version. A femme fatale take in the style of Jessica Rabbit.  

Page and Plant didn't play Stairway. But in Japan, after being interviewed on Tokyo's ANB News, they finally relented. 

Quite how this came to pass is a matter of some conjecture. Some say Plant lost a bet with Page, and that performing Stairway was the forfeit. Some say the pair's special relationship with Japan made the request something they were reluctant to refuse. But play it they did, albeit it in truncated form. And for the only time as a duo. 

When the tour got underway, it wasn't in the set. Page would play the opening chords as a tease at the climax of Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, but Plant, once again, kept the song at arm's length. As he has ever since. 

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 37 years in music industry, online for 24. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.