Led Zeppelin’s classic album cut, “Stairway to Heaven”, is a staple in the band’s repertoire. It is one of the most easily-recognized songs in all of classic rock, and is nearly synonymous with the band itself. The opening A-minor arpeggio on acoustic guitar is so well-established that simple playing the first four notes brings either instant eye-rolls or instant smiles, depending on who is in the room with you.
But now someone is saying that Zeppelin stole it.
Members of the band Spirit are now saying that the song is a ripoff of their own tune “Taurus”. Their song is a short, airy instrumental that does bear a passing resemblance to “Stairway” in one part.
The whole affair is complicated by the fact that Spirit gigged with Led Zeppelin back in 1969, playing “Taurus” in their sets. “Stairway” was released on the Led Zeppelin IV album in late 1971. It was never released as a single, but was played from the LP by disc jockeys. It is about eight minutes long, has lyrics, and features a legendary guitar solo. Meanwhile, “Taurus” is only about two and a half minutes long, has no lyrics or solo.
Randy California, guitarist for Spirit and composer of “Taurus” once said that “Stairway” is a “ripoff” of “Taurus”. His bandmates are the ones making the accusations now. Randy California himself drowned in 1997.
Charges of plagiarism against Led Zeppelin are not a new phenomenon. They used to have a bad habit of taking old blues songs, maybe changing a few lyrics, and claiming them entirely as their own.
Blues legend Willie Dixon sued Led Zeppelin for stealing his tune “You Need Love”, which Muddy Waters had recorded, and calling it “Whole Lotta Love”, released on Led Zeppelin II.
The song was credited as written by “Page/Plant”. Dixon won an out of court settlement, and now the song credit includes his name.
Oddly enough, that song was also done by Small Faces and called “You Need Loving”. It was only credited to Small Faces members Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane. That version, especially Marriott’s vocal style, is often spoken of as the version Zeppelin ripped off. Small Faces never sued Zeppelin, and Willie Dixon never sued Small Faces.
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