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Led Zeppelin’s famous hit, Stairway to Heaven, has led to the band being accused, once again, of plagiarism, this time from the song Taurus, released in 1968 by the band Spirit. This controversy has led to a lawsuit, which is now being filed by the remaining members of Spirit and the estate of Randy California, the band’s singer/guitarist. While this is the most recent case of a famous Zeppelin song being revealed as plagiarism, there are many others that have come before it.
Bert Jansch’s song, Blackwaterside, a reworking of a traditional Irish tune that was released in 1966, was also taken and recorded without credit by the band in their first eponymous album, Led Zeppelin, though the name was changed slightly to Black Mountain Side. When compared side-by-side, these songs are almost exactly the same, down to the notes of the tune. Jansch reportedly wanted to file a lawsuit about this copyright issue, but did not possess the necessary funds to do so.
Whole Lotta Love, the opening song off of Zeppelin’s 1969 album Led Zeppelin II, was the subject of a lawsuit in 1985 filed by Willie Dixon, who argued that his song, You Need Love, released in 1962 by Muddy Waters, had an unsettling resemblance to the Zeppelin hit. Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin’s lead singer, admitted to this fact in a later interview, stating that he “nicked” the lyrics off of the song, feeling that the song was far enough in the past that the connections between the two would not be noticed. However, Dixon did notice the similarities, and Led Zeppelin was accused of plagiarism once again.
Dazed and Confused, another song released on the the first Zeppelin album, has been the subject of a plagiarism controversy. Jake Holmes, a folk singer who had played several shows with the Yardbirds, the former band of Led Zeppelin’s guitarist Jimmy Page, released his song Dazed and Confused in 1967, two years before Zeppelin released their first album. This song was played by Holmes on August 25th, 1967, at a concert that also featured Jimmy Page playing in The Yardbirds. After this show, Jimmy Page and The Yardbirds reworked a version of this song and began performing it live. After Page’s departure from the band, he brought this song with him to Led Zeppelin.
Returning to Stairway to Heaven, Randy California has gone on the record as saying the the song is a “rip-off.” The acoustic melody found in both Stairway and Taurus is remarkably similar, but several different bands have also alleged concerns about this issue. Johnnt Rivers and Cartoone both have songs that have been compared to Stairway by fans, and Jimmy Page even played guitar on the one album that Cartoone released.
Led Zeppelin has a history of plagiarism within the musical community, so it is not outrageous that another band has accused them of copying their songs again. The controversy with Spirit and their song Taurus is one more occurrence in a long repertoire of Led Zeppelin’s copyright issues with other bands.
By Joseph Chisarick