Led Zeppelin, the original rock and roll gods, have been under fire for awhile now. They stood accused of stealing their most famous song, Stairway to Heaven, from the band Spirit, a prog-rock band that gained prominence around the same time. The claim was that the intro guitar notes and chord progression was too similar to Spirit’s instrumental “Taurus.” Forty-five years after the release of the song, we now have a verdict, and it is: Not Guilty.
The jury gave the decision after a week of testimony and arguments having heard statements from Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, as well as Michael Skidmore (The trustee of Randy Wolfe’s estate), other members of Spirit, and music experts. Discussion topics such as if Led Zeppelin had previously heard “Taurus,” and whether or not the songs were significantly similar were at the crux of the argument. If you scroll down to the bottom, you can hear the parts in question side by side.
As for whether or not Zeppelin had heard the song before writing “Stairway,” Both Plant and Page denied having heard “Taurus” before writing it. However that’s also not as clear cut either, as they had in fact toured with and opened for Spirit in 1968. Either way, I’m glad that I was not on that jury, although that is not the only time they’ve been accused of plagiarizing tunes. The jury of eight California residents had determined that Led Zeppelin had heard the song prior to writing “Stairway to Heaven,” but the two were not significantly similar enough to call it plagiarism. While it will always be difficult to determine where “inspired by” ends and “stolen from” begins, the recent”Blurred Lines” decision has given a little bit of leeway in the ways of how much your inspirations can play into your music.
Randy Wolfe, the original writer of “Taurus,” had never pursued legal action during his lifetime, and in interviews had never expressed concern about it. It was not until after his death in 1997 that Skidmore decided to pursue the band in what comes off as a pretty blatant cash grab at the legacy of one of the biggest and best rock and roll bands to ever exist. That the original songwriter never filed suit and that a suit was filed over 40 years later suggests that if the band were found guilty, it would’ve opened up the doors for countless other plagiarism suits.
Following the decision Page and Plant released a joint statement, obviously pleased with the outcome stating: “We are grateful for the jury’s conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favor, putting to rest questions about the origins of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and confirming what we have known for 45 years. We appreciate our fans’ support, and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us.”
Their label Warner Music Group also weighed in about the happiness with the decision: “At Warner Music Group, supporting our artists and protecting their creative freedom is paramount. We are pleased that the jury found in favor of Led Zeppelin, re-affirming the true origins of ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ Led Zeppelin is one of the greatest bands in history, and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are peerless songwriters who created many of rock’s most influential and enduring songs.”