Everything You Know Is A Lie: Led Zeppelin Accused Of Plagiarizing ‘Stairway to Heaven’

I stopped reading Rolling Stone many, many moons ago when every other issue was a magazine listicle ranking the “Best” song/album/guitar solo/artists of all time.  Led Zeppelin’s rock master opus  “Stairway to Heaven” was always hovering around the top of those lists, along with the gazillions of other “lists” declaring it one of the most important rock songs of all time. There’s no doubt that Jimmy Page’s opening riff is one of the most iconic in all of 20th century music.

But everything you know about “Stairway to Heaven” might be a lie. Allegations from musicheads have long floated around online that the opening riff was lifted without credit from the ’60s rock band Spirit’s 1968 song “Taurus.” To make matters worse, Spirit toured with Zeppelin in 1968 and 1969, opening for the band. Take a listen in this side-by-side comparison that’s existed on the Internet for, like, years:

Here’s where it gets interesting. This spring, a lawyer acting on behalf of Spirit’s founder, Randy Craig Wolfe, filed lawsuit against Led Zeppelin filed in a Pennsylvania court. Via Billboard:

Wolfe’s heirs sued Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and their music companies in June, asserting that the story Page has told over the years about holing himself up in a remote cottage in Wales in 1970 and creating the iconic song is false. The plaintiff alleges that the music really came from Spirit, which once toured with Led Zeppelin in the late 1960s.

In reaction to the lawsuit, the defendants challenged jurisdiction.

“The individual defendants are British citizens residing in England, own no property in Pennsylvania and have no contacts with Pennsylvania, let alone ties sufficient to render them essentially at home here,” stated a memorandum to dismiss.

In a motion to dismiss, Led Zeppelin said Pennsylvania has no jurisdiction in such a matter. A judge sided with Spirit and more or less refused to dismiss the case. Via Billboard:

In response, the plaintiff amended the lawsuit with some emphasis on why a Pennsylvania judge should oversee the case: “Defendants are subject to specific jurisdiction in this district because they make millions of dollars from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by directly targeting this district for the exploitation of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ through CD sales, digital downloading, radio and television play, advertising, marketing, concert performances, other performances, licensing, and otherwise targeting resident individuals and businesses to profit off the exploitation of ‘Stairway to Heaven.’”

U.S. District Court Judge Juan Sánchez has now denied the motion to dismiss or transfer without prejudice, meaning that the Zeppelin parties can still try again.

Here are the damages that Spirit is seeking, as named in the complaint. Via NME:

“What happened to Randy California and Spirit is wrong. Led Zeppelin needs to do the right thing and give credit where credit is due. Randy California deserves a writing credit for ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and to take his place as an author of rock’s greatest song,” said the plaintiffs in their complaint.

It’s obviously a dicey situation. There are plenty of hit songs that have been directly influenced by other hit songs. I.E.: Every single rap anthem ever made from a sample. Spirit’s accusations really just apply to the instantly recognizable opening riff of “Stairway to Heaven,” which obviously segues to something completely different from the rest of “Taurus.”

Should Zeppelin give Randy California (a power name if I’ve ever heard one) a writing credit here in The Greatest Rock Song Ever, even if it’s just for the opening riff? The similarities are differently pretty daunting. Discuss in the comments.

[H/T: Mic]

 

Brandon Wenerd avatar
BroBible's publisher and a founding partner, circa 2009. Brandon is based in Los Angeles, where he oversees BroBible's partnership team and other business development activities. He still loves to write and create content, including subjects related to internet culture, food, live music, Phish, the Grateful Dead, Philly sports, and adventures of all kinds. Email: brandon@brobible.com