First off, major props to Ardis “Ace” Parshall, Mormon Detective and blogger at the always-excellent Keepapitchinin, for her fast and (as usual) outstanding research work. Those of you who are familiar with her work on the Great Mormon Marijuana Myth know just what historical investigation skills she can bring to bear. That said…
Back in 1967, the LDS Primary (children’s) organization sent out to LDS wards and branches everywhere the program and materials for that year’s annual Primary Sacrament meeting (thank you, Ace, for tracking this down). The theme was “Stairway to Lasting Joy”, and the materials included the sheet music for a children’s hymn by that same name, with lyrics by Mabel Gabbott and music by Robert Cundick (who was organist for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at the time). The hymn is interesting in that it’s written in a minor key and has a lyrical feeling to it; when the hymn was added to “Sing With Me”, the LDS Church’s hymnbook for the Primary organization, it included the notation “Moderately slow, smoothly (in the style of a folk song)”.
It really is beautiful; here’s a clip of a recent rendition by Brett Raymond, from his album “Primarily for Adults”:
Last Sunday, my sweet wife Sandra and I arrived early for ward choir practice, and she sat down at the piano to practice some songs (she was substituting for Primary pianist later that day). She pulled out her copy of “Sing With Me”, and I asked her to play “Stairway to Lasting Joy”, since it’s one of my all-time favorite hymns. She did, and as she did, I thought to myself, “You know, there’s something kind of familiar about that song that reminds me of something else.”
So when I got home that evening (don’t ask — it was one of Those Church Days), I pulled up iTunes and played the following song:
OK, so “Stairway to Heaven” (written in 1970, released in 1971) is in 4/4 time (vs. 6/8 for “Stairway to Lasting Joy”), and it’s played slower, but still. In fact, you could sing “Stairway to Heaven” in 6/8 (or 3/4) time; try beating out the lyrics. In addition to the nearly-identical titles, both songs start with exactly the same words (“There’s a”). For that matter, “Stairway to Lasting Joy” contains a total of 69 unique words; of those words, 24 show up in the exact same form in “Stairway to Heaven”, while another 6 show up in variant word forms. That’s 30 out of 69 words; in other words, nearly half of the entire wordlist of “Stairway to Lasting Joy” shows up in “Stairway to Heaven”! And, of course, “Stairway to Heaven” came out just a few years after “Stairway to Lasting Joy”. That’s just too much to ask of coincidence.
My initial research has not yet established a connection between Jimmy Page and Robert Plant (the song’s composers) and the LDS Church (or, for that matter, Mabel Gabbott and Robert Cundick). There may well have been an LDS branch in Gwynedd, Wales back in 1970, while Page and Plant were staying at Bron-Yr-Aur (and where “Stairway to Heaven” was allegedly composed). Still, “Stairway to Lasting Joy” was included in the 1969 edition of “Sing With Me”, so that volume could well have been the source, especially given Led Zeppelin’s US tours during that time. Of course, there is the controvery as to whether “Stairway to Heaven” owes its melody to “Taurus”, but since “Taurus” was released in 1968 — after “Stairway to Lasting Joy” was sent to LDS congregations in the US and Canada — that fails to eliminate what could have been the original inspiration.
And, hey, if people are still peddling the Sidney Rigdon/Solomon Spaulding theory of the Book of Mormon’s origins, I figure this has just as much credibility, if not more. ..bruce..