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Stairway to Heaven: Is It a Ripoff?

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Led Zeppelin is back in an old familiar position. The band is in the middle of promoting a remastered catalog, but along comes a shocking accusation that brings back some nasty old memories.

Back in 1969, Led Zeppelin played a few gigs with the band Spirit, best known for their song “I Got a Line On You”. Spirit had recorded, and frequently played live, a song called “Taurus”. This was an instrumental, only about two and a half minutes long.

Two years later, Led Zeppelin releases their fourth album. Technically untitled, the album is commonly called Led Zeppelin IV. It is this album that contains “Stairway to Heaven”. Interestingly, the song was never released as a single, but is still the signature tune of the band.

Over the years, people have remarked about some similarities between the Spirit song “Taurus” and the Zeppelin song “Stairway to Heaven”. The point of concern for some is a short piece within “Taurus” where a series of three chords is arpeggiated (plucked). It does sound similar to a short segment of “Stairway”, but the similarities end there.

“Taurus” is a short instrumental piece, no vocals, no guitar solo. “Stairway” is eight minutes long, has instantly recognizable lyrics, and a world-famous guitar solo.

Nonetheless, the writer of “Taurus”, Spirit’s guitarist Randy California, has said in past interviews that he felt Led Zeppelin ripped him off. Still, no action was taken, and the matter became fodder for rock fans to argue about.

Randy California is no longer with us. He died tragically in a drowning accident, saving his son from a riptide current. But his former band members are now taking up the fight, over 40 years after the release of “Stairway”. The band has retained an attorney who is suing Led Zeppelin for plagiarism, saying they stole pieces of “Taurus” for “Stairway”.

This is not the first time Led Zeppelin has had this fight. They were once sued by blues legend Willie Dixon over their loose use of lyrics to his song “You Need Love”, re-titled “Whole Lotta Love”. Dixon won an out-of-court settlement, and his name now appears as a writer on the Zeppelin song.

Give “Taurus” a listen. What do you think?