OPINION: Mary J. Blige records Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” for new album

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(photograph by Andrew McLeod)

When I read this article from the Los Angeles Times, I cringed somewhat. A part of me wants to hold to the goofy “sacred cows” of rock’n’roll, but a part of me is also thinking cool, someone is trying something different from their norm, but I have a few mixed feelings about this.

The article by Shirley Halperin states that as Mary J. Blige was in Los Angeles to record the updated version of “We Are The World” to raise relief funds for Haiti, she was recording music for her forthcoming album. In this case it was a recording session that featured guitarists Steve Vai and Orianthi, drummer Travis Barker, and bassist Randy Jackson, all handled by producer Ron Fair. The song is Led Zeppelin‘s “Stairway To Heaven”.

Pause.

I’m a huge Led Zeppelin fan and I respect the power of that song. I grew up with it, loved it, understand the Wayne’s World joke, and now it’s a classic rock staple, the staple of all staples to where if it’s on the radio, I turn it off. I’ll listen to it every few months, but that’s it. When people talk about Led Zeppelin, it eventually leads to discussion of “Stairway To Heaven”, it is their epic song from one of the biggest selling hard rock albums of all time.

However, as someone who calls herself a longtime rock’n’roll fan, it just seems so cliche to do that song. I can already see it: the hard rock/heavy metal kids will hate it. Some of Mary’s fans will say “oh no, she’s gone off the deep end now”. Blige was criticized years ago for working with Elton John and George Michael, that’s fairly tame compared to what this song will do because there are people who still feel Led Zeppelin are monarchs of hell, with Satan found in their music, artwork, and mysterious demonic symbols on the cover with the band carrying a bundle of sticks. There will no doubt be some minster who will reverse the Blige version and say “now listen, the evil shared by England’s Led Zeppelin has been modernized to talk about gang warfare, crack cocaine, the Talbian, and Lil’ Wayne”. Blige will become the new Satan, and it will be interesting to see what happens.

Personally, it would have been cooler to hear Blige cover something not-so-obvious:

King Crimson‘s “Epitaph”
Whitesnake‘s “Slow And Easy”
Y&T‘s “Eyes Of A Stranger”
Queensryche “I Don’t Believe In Love”
Aerosmith‘s “Nobody’s Fault”
Metallica‘s “The Things That Should Not Be”
Kiss‘ “Do You Love Me”
Black Sabbath‘s “Solitude” or “Children Of The Grave”
Metal Church‘s “Watch The Children Pray”
Mudhoney‘s “This Gift”
Tad‘s “Stumblin’ Man”

Since I’m mentioning Mudhoney and Tad, imagine if you will, a Mary J. Blige cover of Mercyful Fate‘s “Gypsy”:

If “Stairway To Heaven” will turn Blige to Satan for some people, I can’t imagine what would happen if Blige was open enough to cover something sung by the almighty King Diamond.

I don’t know, I would not mind hearing Blige cover more rock and pop, no harm in that. Yet out of all the songs to do, “Stairway To Heaven”? I’m sure some of the people involved are thinking “fuck a sacred cow” but… how about “Thank You”, “The Rain Song”, “That’s The Way”, “In The Light”, or “Since I’ve Been Loving You”? The choice of “Stairway To Heaven” is similar to saying “I love rock, but only what I heard on the radio. What are the big rock hits?”

We’ll have to wait a few more months to see what will happen. If this moves Keri Hilson to cover Black Sabbath‘s “Sign Of The Southern Cross”, I’ll throw up my devil horns. In truth, hard rock and heavy metal has always been a means of debate between those who have seen the music and creators as evil, and fans who know of the music as a means of escape and dealing with the realities of the world. A lot of hard rock and heavy metal have “heavy” subject matter, but we all know countless bands, especially the ugly ones (you know who I’m talking about), have done songs on everything from love, loss, fears, and hopes. Could be a Maxwell or Raphael Saadiq album. Maybe next time, when a soul/R&B vocalist covers a rock song, I hope it’s one that challenges them, the original song, and the fans.

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