Friday, September 11, 2009

Dolly Parton Covering Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven"

Yes, this actually happened and amazingly, somehow, someway, it was awesome. Go figure. Everybody and their mother knows all about Zep's "Stairway to Heaven" so what's the sense of writing about it. Here are two live versions of the song. The somewhat lackluster performance from their MSG concert film The Song Remains the Same, followed by the tremendous version from their most recent live album, How the West Was Won.

Led Zeppelin - Stairway to Heaven (from How the West Was Won)

Not many artists have ever dared to cover "Stairway to Heaven." Dolly Parton had just the right mix of ignorance and brilliance to pull off a very different, yet fascinating take on the song. Working with some top notch bluegrass musicians, Dolly pulled off the unimaginable and the results were surprisingly good. It was good enough for Robert Plant and Jimmy Page to approve of it, even letting Dolly add some of her own lyrics of her own at the end of it, as explained in this Entertainment Weekly article here. Here's Dolly describing why she covered the song on her 2002 album Halos & Horns.

Here's a live performance of the song, followed by an mp3 of the studio track:

Dolly Parton - Stairway to Heaven

Look for a post on The White Stripes covering one of Dolly's best songs very soon.

Download Dolly Parton's Halos & Horns from


  1. It's easy to see Dolly as her onstage persona, but after years of following her coverage, I think suggesting that there's even SOME naivete, let alone "ignorance", underlying the success of this cover underestimates Dolly Parton's business savvy and musical awareness significantly. In my experience, Dolly's coverage, especially in the bluegrass realm, generally brings out/reframes the spiritual significance of a song; it tends to be done lovingly, deliberately, and with a huge measure of success. That the choices she makes SEEM unorthodox at first, yet turn out to be revelatory, only underscores how smart and effective and aware a musician she is, playing her persona -- and us -- like a master's fiddle. See, for another example, her bluegrass cover of Collective Soul's pop radio hit Shine.

  2. it is not really meant as an insult. I would call it blissful ignorance. It is part of her charm. One I meant to say is I think the enormity of tampering with what many would say is this untouchable holy grail was completely lost on Dolly. Maybe, the right word is confidence, but to Dolly is just another great song that she felt she could do justice to by putting her own spin on it and her brilliance comes through in the way she hit this one out of a park. The woman is a legend and she definitely shows it here.

  3. I think we're consistent in our celebration and admiration here, David, but I also think we may have to agree to disagree on the point at hand -- as a cover blogger and a coverfan, I fundamentally disagree with the conceit of any song as an untouchable holy grail, and would suggest that Dolly's use of songs by others over time suggests that she may feel the same way. If others consider that ignorance, blissful or otherwise, then I would suggest that's a valid perspective for them, and an interesting commentary on the way some fans see music, but not an objectively accurate label for her.

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