Eight classic rock songs with problematic lyrics

Do these classic rock songs have great lyrics or not?
Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin
Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin / Michael Putland/GettyImages
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“Stairway to Heaven” - Led Zeppelin (1971)

“There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven”

May as well start at the top. It’s one of the most iconic songs in the body of classic rock. That opening line, which gives the song its title, was written by Robert Plant. At least, I assume it was. The song is credited to him and Jimmy Page, but I’m guessing Plant wrote those lyrics. Page just made up all the cool guitar parts. And, as a stand-alone opening piece of imagery, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s actually a very good opener.

The problem is that the song doesn’t do anything with the concept. A “stairway to heaven” was not new. Plant didn’t make it up. Neil Sedaka had written a song with the same title more than a decade earlier. The Archers (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) had made a very good fantasy film with that title in the ‘40s. (The American release of the film had that title. It had a different one in England.)

It has been used because it is a good concept. Finding a path toward righteousness – a stairway to heaven. Rather efficient, if you ask me. But the rest of the lyrics have nothing to do with finding a path toward righteousness. They have to do with … I don’t know … something bustling in your hedgerow. That renders the title pretentious in my book.

But, here’s a key point. The lyric’s pretentiousness does not ruin the song. Because it remains a dynamic piece of music. Defenders of the lyric claim that is all that matters. The words fit with the song. This is a point we will return to. It’s impossible to imagine this song with different lyrics but try for a moment. Could Plant have written more meaningful words and made the song even better? I’d like to believe so, but perhaps not.

Verdict: Hung jury

(Don’t worry, I’ll be more concise and more definitive the rest of the way.)