Led Zeppelin to face trial over copyright claim

Jimmy Page with Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, in 1977
Jimmy Page with Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, in 1977

Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant (left) and Jimmy Page in 1977. Pic: Jim Summaria / Wikimedia Commons

A lawsuit alleges that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant copied chords from the band Spirit to write ‘Stairway To Heaven’

Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant have been ordered to appear in court over allegations that the opening chords of their 1971 classic Stairway To Heaven were lifted from another song written by Los Angeles psychedelic rock band, Spirit. The two groups toured together on their first American tour in 1968 and 1969.

In May 2014, Michael Skidmore – a trustee for Spirit guitarist and songwriter Randy Wolfe (aka Randy California) – claimed that Stairway To Heaven infringes their instrumental track Taurus that was released in 1968. The civil minutes of the lawsuit alleged copyright infringement and violation of the right of attribution, with United States district judge, Gary Klausner concluding that there were enough similarities between two songs to let a jury decide. The trial is scheduled to take place on 10 May 2016.

“While it is true that a descending chromatic four-chord progression is a common convention that abounds in the music industry, the similarities here transcend this core structure,” the judge declared. “For example, the descending bass line in both Taurus and Stairway To Heaven appears at the beginning of both songs, arguably the most recognisable and important segments.”

In the sleeve notes to the 1996 reissue of Spirit’s debut album, Randy California wrote: “People always ask me why Stairway To Heaven sounds exactly like Taurus, which was released two years earlier. I know Led Zeppelin also played Fresh Garbage in their live set.”

Stairway To Heaven appeared on Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth studio album and, although it only reached No 37 in the UK Singles Chart, it is often referred to as one of the greatest rock songs of all time. On the 20th anniversary of the original release, it was announced via US radio sources that the song had clocked up an estimated 2,874,000 radio plays, meaning that played back to back it would run for 44 years.

The video below by TJR gives a guitar demonstration of the musical differences and similarities between the two songs…

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