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Published: 2014/05/19

Plagiarism Claim May Jeopardize Led Zeppelin IV Reissue

Attorneys representing Randy California, the deceased guitarist for 60s/70s rock band Spirit, claim that Led Zeppelin stole the intro to their classic “Stairway to Heaven” from Spirit’s 1968 track “Taurus.” The lawyers would like to halt the release of the band’s upcoming reissue of Led Zeppelin IV in order to make sure that California is given a writing credit.

Rolling Stone reports that Led Zeppelin and Spirit played four shows together in 1968 and 1969. It also appears that the song in question—“Taurus”—was played during those performances. Additionally, it seems that Led Zeppelin worked a medley of songs that included Spirit’s “Fresh Garbage” into their repertoire during their first U.S. tour.

According to Rolling Stone, Listener magazine published an interview with California in 1997—the year he died—in which the guitarist called “Stairway to Heaven” a “rip-off” and stated that, “The guys made millions of bucks on it and never said ‘Thank you,’ never said, ‘Can we pay you some money for it?…. It’s kind of a sore point with me. Maybe someday their conscience will make them do something about it.”

California’s family claims that they waited until now to take legal action because they were unable to afford attorneys beforehand.

As previously reported, Led Zeppelin will release their highly anticipated reissues of Led Zeppelin I, Led Zeppelin II and Led Zeppelin III on June 3, with reissues of the band’s later album planned for the near future.

This is not the first time that Led Zeppelin has dealt with plagiarism charges. The band was famously forced to give Willie Dixon a writing credit for their hit “Whole Lotta Love” after settling a lawsuit with him out of court. Singer-songwriter Jake Holmes also sued Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement in 2010, claiming the band failed to provide credit or compensation for the use of his 1967 song “Dazed and Confused.” That case also appears to have been settled out of court.


There are 23 comments associated with this post

Voracious pteridactyl May 19, 2014, 16:08:02

Zeppelin definitely plagairized some of their work, but oddly, as a guitar player, I don’t think this is one of them. The riffs sound similar, but to be honest, if you do any fingerpicking, you’ll sort of stumble into things like that all on your own. I could see them noodling with it and coming up with the song, but they’re really only similar for a couple bars, and even then, it isn’t exactly similar.

THEY RIPPED OFFF A BUNCH OF PEOPLE!! May 19, 2014, 16:17:56

yup they werent the only ones!!

Tim May 19, 2014, 16:37:26

Its definitely more similar than the pteridactyl implies. Same progression, same general finger-picking pattern. Especially since they had definitely heard this song before the wrote Stairway.

Voracious pterydactyl May 19, 2014, 16:42:32

Similar, not same. They are similar, but Spirit didn’t come up with the progression either. That said, I can see the similarity, but music borrows from each other all the time in lots and lots of different ways. Zep’s has more going on. And they are known plagiarists so I’m not a Zep apologist, I just don’t think a few bars of similarity is enough to call Starway a stolen song. There are also lots of differences between them. Like I said, it sounds kinda like they might have been noodling with it and came up with their own song with a similar progression but different fingerwork.

Rondomatic May 19, 2014, 17:21:14

Question is, would Spirit be accused of copying Zep if it was the other way around? There is waaay more to stairway than just that riff….

Rondomatic May 19, 2014, 17:21:15

Question is, would Spirit be accused of copying Zep if it was the other way around? There is waaay more to stairway than just that riff….

dk70 May 19, 2014, 17:25:00

I call “Taurus Shit” on this claim vs the Mighty Zep.

Ron May 19, 2014, 17:36:18

I am really happy to see this finally making the news.
I knew about this for years. I hope that Randy’s family get what they deserve.
Best of luck guys, I am happy something was finally done about this.

Henry Cooper May 19, 2014, 17:53:32

Whatever the outcome of the lawsuit the fact remains that Randy California was an amazing and vastly underated guitar player. Check out his music with Spirit,his solo recordings and his cool Hendrix connection if not familiar with his music.

dwight May 19, 2014, 18:14:34

I’m a huge Zep fan and guitar player, and they definitely stole that riff. Hope the family get the credit and money owed to them.

Joshua Katt May 19, 2014, 18:26:03

Seriously? #1 – ain’t there a statute of limitations on everything but murder? 1970 was a long time ago. #2- If I didn’t own every Led Zep album already, couldn’t I just buy or download another copy already? What’s so special about a re-issue when I haven’t played the originals for the past 25 years? #3- Really, who cares except for lawyers drooling over legal fees?

MarZaPhiGar May 19, 2014, 18:53:00

Yeah, and Tolkein might want to have a word with them also.

Rob Stout May 19, 2014, 20:02:11

Seriously, after being familiar with these allegations is it just coincidence that the California estate is suing with the soon to be re-released fourth album later this year? You can just hear the cash registers ringing in the background. Listen to the two back-to-back. Page’s tuning is different, the overall chord progression backing the verse is different, not to mention to momentous change in tempo leading to a climax not heard on radio before. Any attorney would have a field day with this one. Did Zeppelin borrow from the delta blues artists? Yes, today it’s called “roots music” and sells millions of albums. Sorry that Zeppelin was the first to take the blues and turn up the volume and add some swagger. Hey, how about the Beatles and Stones. Same story, better attorneys.

s1212z May 19, 2014, 20:12:22

Clyde Stubblefield’s “Funky Drummer” , “Cold Sweat”...has been sampled over and over and over. This isn’t borrowing a vibe or alluding a progression. This is directly stealing his art and sampling it. HIS BREAKBEAT CREATED RAP. Greatest drum break ever. This guy is way too cool to litigate and had to depend on donations to over come bladder cancer. Every sample was a watered down version because everyone was trying to borrow his genius. James Brown never gave him copyrights or songwriting credit either.

ha May 20, 2014, 00:09:17

complete bullshit you get inspired by others

MarZaPhiGar May 20, 2014, 05:16:33

Until Miles came along, pretty much every single jazz composition was based on Gershwin’s ‘I got rhythm.’

jazzfester May 20, 2014, 09:49:30

Yeah, I am going to have to side with Jimmy Page on this one. Maybe the same tempo and rhythm; but, not close enough to call plagiarism.

Randy Floyd May 20, 2014, 09:50:01

“their’s is ‘do do do di di do do’, but mine is ‘do de do do di do do’” – Vanilla Ice

chad May 20, 2014, 11:33:08

Hey maybe if they loose this law suit they will have to get back together and go out on tour… well lets all wish anyway.

PDX May 20, 2014, 12:17:55

Aside from the first 3 notes, it’s all Jimmy’s song. The same notes and progression for the Spirit tune are also the same on Duane Allman’s guitar part in the Boz Scaggs tune “Loan Me A Dime”. The tempo is faster but they’re the same..Are they suing Boz as well?. Being a musician for the last 25 years, I’ve encountered numerous chord changes and progressions that are Used in many many other songs. Look at AC/DC, they’ve made millions using the same kinds of 3 chord riffs for dozens of songs. It’s not a bad thing, its just the way music works sometimes. “Stairway” is and has been the song to beat for decades..Someone seems to have convinced the family that there is $ to be made. 3 notes do not =” Stairway to Heaven”!!., JP, JPJ, JB, and RP= Stairway to Heaven”

dk70 May 21, 2014, 15:24:15

Golem wants $$$ from Ramble On for being name checked in the final verse.

MalcolmO May 22, 2014, 13:01:55

Black Mountain Side is note-for-note ripped off from a Bert Jansch piece. The 2 recordings are virtually identical. Nobody talks about that one. Well, they did well the album came out, which is when someone played me Bert’s record. Don’t expect LZ to tour again; they didn’t care about that music when they were making it and they just keep on getting big cheques in the mail. Why should they lift a finger?

Toad May 22, 2014, 20:07:25

Lol not the same at all. Picked differently and different keys, not to mention you can’t copyright chord progressions only lyrics with the melody. They won’t win, there are only a few chords there that are similar yet they are played differently. He’ll Let it Grow by Clapton should be sued as well as his chords are Identical to stairway. Give me a break lol.

Otto May 23, 2014, 13:19:29

There are only 12 notes. 12 12 12 12 12 12 12 12 12 12 12 12.
Western tonal music has only 7 notes in a major key. Minor keys have some deviation (maj or minor 7th etc), but still only 7.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Of course some things will sound similar, but that doesnt mean it was ripped off

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