Legend has it that Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin wrote the 1971 rock classic Stairway to Heaven by candlelight at a cottage in Wales called Bron-Yr-Aur with no power or running water. Now, the band Spirit is alleging a different tune—that Page stole the music for Stairway to Heaven from Spirit’s song 1968 Taurus and that Randy California, the deceased Spirit guitarist, deserves a writing credit on Led Zeppelin’s signature song.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Francis Alexander Malofiy, the Philadelphia lawyer who is representing a trust for deceased songwriter and Spirit guitarist Randy California. He added, “The idea behind this is to make sure that Randy California is given a writing credit on Stairway to Heaven.”
Two years before Page wrote Stairway to Heaven in 1970, Led Zeppelin was touring the United States—as the opening act for Spirit. The two bands shared a stage and heard each other play, a sticking point for many members of Spirit who believe it was at these shows that Page heard Taurus and the guitar riff that would eventually become the beginning of Stairway to Heaven.
California did not talk publicly about the issue for decades until a 1997 interview with Listener magazine, when he said, “I’d say it was a ripoff. And the guys made millions of bucks on it and never said ‘Thank you,’ never said, ‘Can we pay you some money for it?’ It’s kind of a sore point with me. Maybe someday their conscience will make them do something about it.”
On January 2, 1997, California drowned while rescuing his 12-year-old son from a rip current in Hawaii.
As noted in a Bloomberg Businessweek article, songwriters that Led Zeppelin drew inspiration from have brought legal challenges against the group, oftentimes successfully. The band has altered the credits for songs and redirected royalties for some of its biggest hits, including Whole Lotta Love and Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.
To show infringement under U.S. copyright law, someone needs to show that an original work was copied to produce something substantially similar and that the copier had access to the original work.
Here are both songs through YouTube. Tell us what you think.
Image via Wikimedia Commons