WMMS “Stairway to Heaven” controversies
“Stairway to Gilligan’s Island” – Little Roger & the Goosebumps
“Stairway to Heaven” – The Far Corporation
The hoopla surrounding last night’s Led Zeppelin’s reunion concert in the U.K. brought to mind two incidents that occurred at WMMS when we played other artists covering versions of “Stairway to Heaven.” The first one occurred in 1978 when we played a novelty song by a San Francisco duo, Little Roger and the Goosebumps, called “Stairway to Gilligan’s Island.” The song featured the lyrics of the Gilligan’s Island TV show theme done to the music of “Stairway to Heaven.” Half of our listeners loved it; the other half considered it blasphemy.
A few listeners threatened to never to listen to WMMS again if we continued to air it. A few weeks later Led Zeppelin’s management and publishing company sent us a terse “cease and desist,” forcing it off-the-air due to copyright violations (though Jeff and Flash did manage to sneak it on a couple of times after that though I didn’t hear nothin’!).
The second incident, in 1985, was the Far Corporation’s cover of “Stairway to Heaven.” It was a band was assembled by German producer Frank Farian. The original group included three members of Toto: vocalist Bobby Kimball, keyboardist David Paich and guitarist Steve Lukathur and was rounded out by German and U.K. session musicians. Their version of “Stairway to Heaven” was a top ten hit in the U.K. and other parts of Europe. We landed an import copy and decided to play it. One problem. This version of “Stairway to Heaven” had a slight dance beat – and to hard-core Led Zep fans – our airplay was pure sacrilege.
It made its WMMS debut on a Friday night when Dia was covering the 6 to 10 PM shift for Denny Sanders. Immediately after its first spin, she received a call from a listener threatening to blow up WMMS (“…and I’m not kidding!”) if we played it again. Like “Stairway to Gilligan’s Island,” response was mixed. We continued to play it (and no one blew us up) for a couple of months until its novelty wore off.
If the name Frank Farian sounds vaguely familiar it’s because three years later he put together and recorded the pre-fab act Milli Vanilli, which featured Charles Shaw, a former U.S. Army vet stationed in Germany and session singers John Davis, Brad Howell, and Jodie and Linda Rocco on record, and used European male models Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus, to perform as the group on stage by lip synching the original tracks. WGCL was long gone by then. Otherwise, Milli Vanilli would’ve been the perfect lip synching act for them to do a Party in the Park with.