Five years ago I posted a piece about one of my favourite songs, and what it – and music generally – means for me and so many other people. Given that I featured another of the band’s songs in this week’s Tuesday Tunes, the fact that this older post then came up in my Timehop feed seemed an appropriate and timely reminder. You’ll recognise a story I retold on Tuesday, too. I’ve edited the piece slightly – especially as neither of the original video links still worked – but it is still very much what I wrote back then, and is how I still feel about music. In case you ever wondered, this is why I post a lot of music – even before the current Tuesday Tunes series. The connection between music and mental health is a strong one for me, and this post reflects that:
I’ve been thinking a lot about music recently, and about how important it has been throughout my life, even before my parents first bought a record player. It was one of those ones which played vinyl and had a little arm which held up to six records so you didn’t have to keep getting up to change the track. I even tried this with albums, but that didn’t go well! I was 9 when the Beatles stormed onto the music scene, but can remember listening to pop music on the radio before that. My parents were a bit late in adding a music player to our home so I didn’t start building a collection for a while, though I can still remember the first record I ever bought: Eve Of Destruction by Barry McGuire. I must have had a rebellious streak when I was younger!
Fast forward a few years and you arrive at 1971, the year that one of my favourite songs of all time was released. This track has been played so much since then, and has appeared in countless lists of the top songs of all time, that it seems almost trite to be mentioning it, but for a rock song still to be so popular many years after it was released gives it, to my mind, a huge amount of credibility. That song is this:
This first appeared on the band’s fourth album, the one with no title which has, unsurprisingly, been known since then as Led Zeppelin 4, or ‘Four Symbols,’ after the symbols represented on the sleeve. I saw the band perform this live, when it was almost thrown away in his intro by Robert Plant as ‘here’s a song off our next album.’ This was on March 10 1971, at the University of Kent, in Canterbury. It was the fourth date on a spring tour of smaller venues in the UK and Ireland which was promoted as a tour to thank fans for helping to make Led Zep so successful. Or maybe I’m being cynical in suggesting it was a set of warm up gigs for their big tour of Europe and North America later that year? Either way, I got to see the biggest and best band in the world for the princely sum of 60 pence. That may not sound much now but it was about half of what this schoolkid earned each week from his Saturday job, so it was no small investment! Boy, was it worth it!
As I mentioned earlier, music is very important to me. I have, I think, a fairly wide taste in music, although I draw the line at hip hop and rap (which I think is missing the silent C as its first letter). This eclecticism has the benefit of giving me music to listen to whatever my frame of mind, and it has helped me through some dark times. It is no coincidence that music is used as a therapy in treating people with mental illness, as it can do so much to set the mood, the ambience if you like, and can help us relax into our thoughts (even if sometimes they are misgiven – sorry, Mr Plant!). Music can cheer us up, calm us down, motivate us: there are just so many ways it can do this. I don’t imagine that many football teams take to the field to the sound of Enya, but she is perfect late night listening when you’ve had a hard day. Try it, I dare you!
What prompted this post was watching many times over the past month a version of Stairway performed in 2012, at an event to celebrate Led Zep’s career. This version adds new dimensions to the song for me. Previously I had always thought of it as part of Robert Plant’s mystic period, but hearing – and seeing – this performance has made me realise that the song is much more than that. I know, it took 44 years but I’m a slow learner! Listen to the words and you will hear messages about following your dreams, about finding your inner strength, about taking choices and chances in our lives. Above all, the message is actually referenced by Robert Plant in his intro to the version of the song in my first video, that we should always have hope:
The way that builds to its crescendo is amazing. You can see the tears forming in Robert Plant’s eyes as his creation is taken to a higher plane, and the sheer joy shared by him and Jimmy Page as the various elements of the song unfold. In case you didn’t know, the drummer is Jason Bonham, son of the late John Bonham, the band’s original drummer – he had told the guys he couldn’t be with them as he was playing a gig that night! I have a number of friends, both in the real and virtual worlds, who are struggling at the moment. I hope that they, in particular, will watch this and feel a little hope returning to them as they do so. Whether or not you like Led Zep is irrelevant. This is music at its purest: as an emotional outpouring.
I hope it evokes similar feelings for you as it does for me. Music really can be good for you, if you allow it.
A final word on this from me today. The centrepiece of this post is a song about hope. In these very strange and dangerous times that we are experiencing it would be very easy to lose hope about our lives, about our futures. But without hope, what do we have left? If you’re in need of hope and support, please ask someone for help: music can be powerful but it can’t do everything! What we are suffering will end, even if we don’t yet know when that might be. Hang in there. Please.