This Day In Music, May 19: Pete Townshend, "Stairway to Heaven"

By , Contributor

May 19

Happy birthday to guitarist, vocalist and songwriter with The Who, Pete Townshend, born today in 1945 in Chiswick, London. 

After repeatedly watching the 1956 film Rock Around the Clock, 12 year-old Townshend was given his first guitar by his grandmother and discovered the sounds of Link Wray, John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley and Hank Marvin of The Shadows. 

The first seeds of The Who were sown when Pete formed the Dixieland duet The Confederates, featuring himself on banjo and John Entwistle on horns. From this beginning they moved on to become The Detours, a skiffle/rock and roll band fronted by singer Roger Daltrey, another former schoolmate. Renaming themselves The Who, drummer Keith Moon completed the classic Who line-up. 

Early hits in the 60's including "I Can't Explain", "Pictures of Lily", "Substitute", and "My Generation" set them on the path to greater things. With the guitarist as the primary songwriter for The Who, Pete has written well over one hundred songs for the band's eleven studio albums, including concept albums and the rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia. 

Townshend became known for his eccentric stage style during the band's early days, swinging his right arm against the guitar strings in his signature move; a windmill style, often smashing guitars on stage, and often repeatedly throwing his guitars into his amplifiers and speaker cabinets. 

Add to this a drummer who was using pyrotechnics to blow up his drum kit and you had one hell of a show! Some would say, the greatest live band ever. 


"Stairway To Heaven" was named the UK's favorite rock song in a survey by listeners to radio station Absolute Classic Rock.  

Despite never having been released as a single, Led Zeppelin's 1971 track "Stairway to Heaven" is the most requested song ever at FM radio in the US.  

Some "STH" facts: 

In 1982 The California State Assembly consumer-protection-committee heard testimony from "experts" who claimed that when "Stairway To Heaven" was played backward, contained the words: "I sing because I live with Satan. The Lord turns me off, there's no escaping it. Here's to my sweet Satan, whose power is Satan. He will give you 666. I live for Satan". 

In 1990 a Florida radio station kicked off its all-Led Zeppelin format by playing "Stairway to Heaven" for 24 hours straight. 

It is also the biggest-selling single piece of sheet music in rock history, clocking up an average of 15,000 copies yearly. In total, over one million copies have been sold. 

On the 20th anniversary of the original release of the song, it was announced that the song had logged up an estimated 2,874,000 radio plays in the US alone, which back-to-back, would run for 44 solid years. As of 2000, the song had been broadcast on radio over three million times. 

For guitarists everywhere, Jimmy Page's solo was recorded on his 1959 Fender Telecaster (a gift from Jeff Beck) plugged into a Supro amplifier. In 2009, Guitar magazine rated the solo Number 1 in its list of "Greatest Guitar Solos In Rock n Roll History". 

And if you are a budding guitarist, never play the intro to the song in your local guitar shop. Its been banned in music shops everywhere! 

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A former musician, Neil was in the 80's group The Cheaters who were once signed to EMI's Parlophone label, and released three albums. He was also a radio presenter and is still a regular music pundit on various BBC stations. Neil is the founder of the award winning web site This Day in Music which is…

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