'Stairway To Heaven' Plagiarized? - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

'Stairway To Heaven' Plagiarized?

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A lawyer for the guitarist of the band Spirit says Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin ripped off the opening riff to "Stairway to Heaven" A lawyer for the guitarist of the band Spirit says Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin ripped off the opening riff to "Stairway to Heaven"
KHQ.com - Was one of the greatest songs ever written plagiarized? A lawyer representing a dead guitarist Led Zeppelin used to hang out with says yes, it was. 

Remember the band Spirit? They had a fairly successful career in the late 60's to early 70's. In fact, Led Zeppelin opened for them on their 1969 tour. So, now is where we start seeing the "lawyer dots" connect.

Spirit's guitarist, Randy California, died back in 1997, but now a lawyer representing California is targeting Zeppelin for plagiarism, claiming the rock legends ripped off the intro of Spirit's "Taurus" when they wrote the iconic "Stairway the Heaven." 

Zeppelin were known as "borrowers." Many of the songs off of their first two albums were, shall we say, "adapted" from elder blues artists. Back in the 80's Zeppelin settled out of court with blues legend Willie Dixon for the song "Whole Lotta Love." You'll notice Dixon's name on the writing credits these days. Zeppelin's singer, the infamous Robert Plant, has said Jimmy Page's riff for the song was his own, but when Page brought to him, he didn't know what to sing. So being a fan of the blues, Plant started plugging in lines from Dixon's "You Need Love." The rest is history.

But back to Stairway to Heaven and the current lawsuit. Memorial Day weekend is coming up and anyone who listens to classic rock in Spokane is familiar with 98.9 KKZX's "Memorial Top 500," where they play the top 500 classic rock songs of all-time. I've certainly disagreed with the list in the past, but one thing is always certain, "Stairway to Heaven" usually tops it ("Freebird" is always a contender as well). And that is usually the consensus when you bring up "Stairway to Heaven." It is one of, if not the greatest rock n' roll songs ever written. But was it plagiarized? 

It's been no secret that many have felt the opening guitar riff of "Stairway to Heaven" came from Spirit's "Taurus." It is possible.The two bands toured together and were familiar with each other. Zeppelin used to play a version of Spirit's "Fresh Garbage" in their early live sets, including a show from right here in Spokane at Gonzaga on December 30, 1968. 

If you listen to the two songs side by side, you can clearly see, or hear in this case, what people are talking about. There are similarities in the two guitars. However, songs have sounded similar in the past. But there are only so many notes and so many chords, right? It is inevitable that some songs will sound similar.

A few examples that come to mind:
  • The Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Dani California" and Tom Petty's "Mary Jane's Last Dance." Tom Petty has said he doesn't really care about this, saying he didn't think there was any negative intent there. 
  • Neil Young's 9/11-inspired "Let's Roll" and Aerosmith's "Last Child." 
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Run Through The Jungle" and John Fogerty's "The Old Man Is Down The Road." Fogerty on paper sued himself for sounding too much like himself in this case. 
The point is, songs will sound the same. But does that make it plagiarism?

California said in an interview before he died he believed Zeppelin ripped him off, and he never got a dime, or even a thank you response. So why now? If the suspicions of plagiarism were there from the get go, all the way back in 1971, why wait until now to file a lawsuit? According to Rolling Stone, Spirit and California's family say they didn't have money to pay attorneys. California evidently played sitar at an Indian restaurant in exchange for food at the end of his life.

But the timing of the lawsuit could also have to do with the upcoming, highly anticipated reissues of Zeppelin's albums. The first three albums are due out June 3rd, and will no doubt fill the surviving members of Led Zeppelin's already overflowing pocketbooks, and lawyers may be looking to funnel some of that money to Spirit and California's family. Though right now, as part of the lawsuit, California's attorney wants to prevent the later reissue of Led Zeppelin IV, that is until California gets songwriting credit, and no doubt money, for his supposed part in writing the one of the most well-known riffs in music history. 

What do you think? Take a listen to both guitar intros on both songs and see what you think? Do you think there is a legitimate case for California and Spirit, or is it just one of those coincidences? 

Let us know what you think on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/KHQLocalNews
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