Honestly, I wanted to start this post off with some amazing Led Zeppelin puns I’ve come up with, but I’ll save them for later in the post so be on the look out.
I’m a huge Led Zeppelin fan, I consider them one of my favorite bands of all time. So when I woke up this morning and heard that Led Zeppelin was facing a lawsuit over their famous hit, “Stairway to Heaven” I knew I had to blog about it.
Robert Plant and Jimmy Page are facing copyright infringement over one of their biggest hits by Michael Skidmore, the trustee for the late musician, Randy Wolfe of the band Spirit. He’s saying that the opening acoustic chords from Zeppelin’s 1971 hit are stolen from Spirit’s 1968 instrumental song, “Taurus” after hearing them play it while touring at festivals together. A judge has made the decision that the opening chords sound similar enough for the case to face a jury, which is exactly what will be happening in May. Skidmore will be fighting to get Randy Wolfe co-writing credits on the song.
There’s so many things about this entire situation that I want to discuss; from the previous cases to the real motive behind it to the fact that it’s been nearly 45 years since the release of the song. However, for the sake of keeping this somewhat short, I won’t ramble on. I want to talk about the criticism the band is receiving and how misspoken I believe some of it to be. You could almost call it a communication breakdown.
One author, Joey DeGroot, seems to have some negative comments and feelings towards the band. Yes, the band has been to known to leave out credit where credit has been due, but credit has later been given. He refers to Zeppelin’s credit issues as “stealing” which is a term that makes me think that they’re acting a bit bias towards the band.
He begins his post by saying that the recent news of the band’s “Stairway to Heaven” case, “came as no real surprise to anyone familiar with the history of Led Zeppelin” and proceed to list seven other songs that have been “stolen” by the band. A couple of the songs on that lists were covers, but they were not stolen. Some of those riffs and lyrics were borrowed and inspired by the originals, but they were not stolen. I believe that in writing this, Mr. DeGroot should’ve been a little more careful with his wording and little less bias.
He comes off as being against the band and everything they do, but for someone who seems to know so much about the band I’d think he’d at least be able to realize the massive impact that Led Zeppelin had on music. Some other authors at The Guardian would stand with me against DeGroot by stating, “they always turned their borrowings into something greater than the source,” and that’s exactly what DeGroot is failing to recognize. While the band has sampled from other artists, it’s the final, put-together product that has spoken to the band’s listeners for the past 40 years.
Since I’ve been loving the band I’ve been captured by their sound and lyrics; they bring a different vibe and feel of those songs than the original artists did. The bloggers at Turn Me On Dead Man do a great job of summarizing my view on this plagiarism argument. They explain the difference between borrowing and transforming, stating that Led Zeppelin “were certainly transformative artists,” which is especially true in this case.
The opening acoustic riff in “Stairway to Heaven” is one of the most famous ones in music. It’s a song that has gone on to speak to listeners everywhere; people have this song tattooed on their bodies and play it at their funerals because of how powerful it was to them. So while those first few chords may be borrowed from “Taurus,” it doesn’t change the fact that the song remains the same to Zeppelin’s fans. DeGroot can write all he wants about how Led Zeppelin “steals” songs, but the truth in the matter is that they made those songs into something else that their audience would enjoy for years to come.