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article imageOp-Ed: Zeppelin accused of plagiarizing Stairway to Heaven

By Paul Wallis     May 20, 2014 in Entertainment
Los Angeles - The allegation that Led Zeppelin plagiarized Stairway to Heaven has developed some traction. Randy California, lead guitarist of American band Spirit, said some years before his death that the guitar on his 1968 song Taurus was "ripped off".
If you listen to the song, you can hear the similarity easily, a few bars which don't need to be introduced.
USA Today:
California did not appear to complain publicly about Stairway for decades. But he made a comment to Listener magazine in 1997 that he believed the song was "a ripoff," according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
California had told the magazine: "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."
Zeppelin have been accused of plagiarism before, notably on YouTube, where a long list of songs, mainly by bluesmen, is cited as being “stolen” by the band.
There’s a sort of myth in the rock guitar world that “everybody steals”, which makes it OK to swipe licks- If you’re a jerk or a talentless moron incapable of writing your own songs, presumably. You’d think these guys could afford to buy a life by now.
The law, and the facts, are somewhat different to this smug view of musical rights. Copyright law in music is neither friendly nor glitzy. It’s vicious. People can be sued for “sounds like” music, as well as direct breaches of copyright using pieces of other songs.
One of the most bizarre, and arguably most futile, accusations of plagiarism was an allegation that John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater revival “stole” his own sound. It took years for Fogerty to clear up the mess. He was actually sued “for sounding like myself”, according to Fogerty, by CCR’s old label, Fantasy.
The Led Zeppelin case is much less neurotic. Spirit’s song Taurus isn’t exactly a distant relative of Stairway to Heaven, on first hearing.
To put this in perspective:
It’s the same note values, in an almost identical order.
It’s the same key.
The bars are in the same place.
The Spirit song, in fact, is very short, and the keynote guitar is very very close to Stairway. You’d have to be deaf not to hear the similarity.
Spirit were a very popular acid rock band. They weren’t superstars. An American friend of mine said that when she met them, they emptied out her fridge. A great band, but underappreciated commercially.
Randy California was also no trivial guitarist. He was a particularly strong lead guitarist, and many 70s fans will instantly remember the legendary 12 Dreams of Doctor Sardonicus and the song “Fresh Garbage”, even if they’ve forgotten who did the songs.
This isn’t the only case. The stench that is and was rock and roll plagiarism could claim many more bigheaded scalps, if music “journalists” could be bothered doing their jobs and finding out some things which were common knowledge, even back in the 70s.
Ah well, maybe one day…
Meanwhile, listen to a guitarist who can stand up to Page any day, real acid music from the home of California Sunshine:
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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