“Stairway To Heaven” is perhaps Led Zeppelin‘s most iconic hit. It’s fitting, then, that the band with a reputation for lifting some of their best work might also have plagiarized that song’s opening riff.
The idea that the instantly recognizable (and deniable) riff from “Stairway” was jacked from a less-famous American rock band has floated around for several years. The song in question is “Taurus” by Spirit, whose descending guitar line at around 45 seconds will ring a few bells for anyone who listens to classic rock radio.
The track came out in 1968, a full three years before “Stairway,” and the idea that the members of Led Zeppelin might have heard it isn’t exactly far-fetched. Zep shared a bill with Spirit and Vanilla Fudge for their first concert in the United States. However, Zeppelin’s team denies ever interacting with or listening in on their fellow musicians at this show.
Michael Skidmore, a trustee of late Taurus guitarist Randy Wolfe, brought a lawsuit claiming copyright infringement and seeking songwriting credit as well as damages. And U.S. District Judge Gary Klausner of the Central District of California agreed that the songs sounded similar enough to warrant a jury trial.
In his opinion, released April 8 — which recommended a jury decide whether the songs sound alike, denied Led Zeppelin’s motion for summary judgement, and removed Warner Music Group and bassist John Paul Jones from the trial — Klausner said that ” a descending chromatic four-chord progression is a common convention that abounds in the music industry [but] the similarities here transcend this core structure.”
As an example, Klausner pointed out the songs’ similar bass lines:
“The descending bass line is played at the same pitch, repeated twice, and separated by a short bridge in both songs,” he said.
Skidmore’s lawyer Francis Malofiy was happy with the judge’s decision.
“This case, from our perspective, has always been about giving credit where credit was due, and now we get to right that wrong,” he said in an interview with Reuters.
Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin et al.. will be heard beginning May 10.
(Via Washington Post)