The Song Remains the Same?

Give me that riff or I’ll take it from you! (Led Zeppelin/Spotify)

Once again, it appears that the legendary rock group Led Zeppelin is under fire for musical plagiarism, a charge not uncommon for the quartet—especially for guitarist Jimmy Page, who many considered a craftsman when it came to “lifting riffs” from other artists and incorporating them into Zeppelin tunes.

This time, however, the charges involve arguably Zeppelin’s most notable—and most overplayed—hit song, “Stairway to Heaven.” More specifically, they involve the opening guitar riff, which blatantly rips off the 1968 Spirit song “Taurus.”

Listen for yourself by going HERE and then compare it to the famous Zeppelin song over HERE. The similarity is uncanny—mostly since the riffs are basically identical.

The band Spirit toured with Led Zeppelin in 1969—a year after releasing “Taurus” on their debut album—and could have sued after the release of “Stairway to Heaven” in 1970, but didn’t. Spirit guitarist Randy California went public with his claims in 1997, but again never sued… at least not until recently.

According to Francis Malofiy, an attorney representing a trust for California—who drowned in 1997 after saving his 12-year-old son from a rip current while swimming in the ocean—the lawsuit has been “a long time coming.” In fact, it may not have happened at all if Led Zeppelin wasn’t planning to issue remastered versions of their studio albums, including Led Zeppelin IV, where “Stairway” appears.

Randy California 1979

Randy California in 1979 (Fotos International/Rex Features)

“The idea behind this is to make sure that Randy California is given a writing credit on ‘Stairway to Heaven,’” Malofiy said recently. And since a 2008 estimate calculated that the hit song generated more than $562 million for Led Zeppelin, California’s trust is likely seeking some financial compensation, as well.

As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t the first time Led Zeppelin has been accused of stealing music and songs. A host of their hits allegedly “sample” other artists, including “Whole Lotta Love”—the lyrics of which come from the Willie Dixon blues song “You Need Love”—and “Dazed and Confused”—a song originally written for The Yardbirds by Jake Holmes.

Holmes sued Jimmy Page in 2010 for copyright infringement, but the case was dismissed, presumably because the parties settled out of court. I’m sure Zeppelin paid a hefty price for that one.

Granted, this may not seem like big news to people familiar with all the past allegations of plagiarism against Led Zeppelin, but it sure opened my eyes. And sadly, my opinion of one of my previously favorite bands of all time has forever changed… and not for the better, either. What a shame.

Posted on May 20, 2014, in Music, Perspectives and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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