Good post, thanks. I’ve heard about this one for years. Personally, the intro still sounds stolen to me. But who am into judge 😉Dave's Song of the Day
Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
Friday song of the day: Despite what your ears tell you, a court says that today’s song is totally not plagiarized.
Yesterday’s song was written by Randy California, and he and his band Spirit also figure into today’s classic song by a much more well-known group.
Guitarist Jimmy Page had been in the successful band The Yardbirds, and in July 1968 when that band broke up, he recruited singer Robert Plant, drummer John Bonham, and bassist John Paul Jones to form a band that he called The New Yardbirds (although at some early shows it was still referred to simply as The Yardbirds, with other former members authorizing Page’s new project to play some shows with that name in order to fulfill the original band’s contractual obligations.) The New Yardbirds name lasted only until October, when it was replaced by Led Zeppelin.
For some of their 1968 shows, Led Zeppelin opened for Spirit. On Spirit’s first album was an instrumental track written by Randy California called Taurus. It was never released as a single and was essentially filler on the album. A few years later in 1971, Led Zeppelin was now a huge band and included an epic song entitled Stairway to Heaven on their fourth studio album (Which was untitled except for some runic symbols, but is generally referred to by the unofficial title Led Zeppelin IV.)
Stairway to Heaven was not released as a single at the time, but it became the centerpiece of the album and Led Zeppelin’s live shows, as well as a classic rock radio staple. It is a long and complex song, but the intro includes an acoustic guitar part that sounds very much like Spirit’s Taurus. For years this went mostly uncommented upon, but later it became apparent that several Led Zeppelin songs used portions of other artists’ compositions without proper attribution or paying of royalties. For instance, among other well-documented examples of plagiarism, the band was successfully sued in the 1970s for The Lemon Song, which lifted portions of Howlin’ Wolf’s Killin’ Floor, and in 1985 for Whole Lotta Love using large parts of You Need Love by Willie Dixon. Thus, in 2014, the estate of the late Randy California (real name Randy Craig Wolfe) sued Led Zeppelin, claiming that Stairway to Heaven had stolen portions of Taurus. Considering the sales of Led Zeppelin IV and various compilations featuring Stairway to Heaven, the case was potentially worth millions of dollars.
In 2016 the case was decided in favor of Led Zeppelin, but two years later this ruling was overturned. The judge in the original case had given the jury several incorrect instructions, which necessarily led them to rule that no plagiarism had occurred. With the original ruling overturned, the case went back to court. This time the case was heard by a panel of eleven judges in the US Ninth District, and the ruling released in March 2020 decided that Stairway to Heaven did not infringe on the Taurus copyright. Lastly, in October 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear an appeal of the case, thus ending the possibility of further adjudication. Officially and legally, the intro to Stairway to Heaven is not stolen.
Listen and decide for yourself, however…
Led Zeppelin, Stairway to Heaven, 1971
Spirit, Taurus, 1968
Stairway to Heaven/Taurus comparison
Tomorrow: I got sunshine in a bag