Classic Rock Radio (Dot CO Dot UK)
13 April 2016
Stairway to the Courthouse
Opinion Piece by: Gary “Uncle G” Brown
American Correspondent for ClassicRockRadio.co.uk
Note: This is a Gary “Uncle G” Brown opinion piece. His views may not reflect that of the station, the staff, or for that fact any other human being on the planet. You been warned!
While reading the news and drinking coffee this morning, I saw headlines on several websites mention that members of Led Zeppelin, will soon have to go to court. And then it dawned on me why. Over what is said to be similarities in music between a song by an oldies rock band called Spirit, and one of the biggest selling hits the mega popular hard rock band, Led Zeppelin, ever had; Stairway To Heaven.
The subject of plagiarism is a very serious one. Ruins reputations, and flat out empties bank accounts. By definition, it’s the stealing of someone else’s work, and taking credit for it. Especially bad when done so for profit. There are serious laws in place that try to prevent this. And here is what Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, are having to face. The credited songwriters of, Stairway To Heaven. Lawyer-ed up I imagine, and in a federal courtroom this coming May 10th. The proceedings will be heard in a federal court, located in Los Angeles, California. Would luv to have a press pass for this. Main reason is because I believe Mr. Plant and Mr. Page will be exonerated of any and all wrongdoing. And here’s why.
Exhibit A as found on YouTube; Spirit – Taurus. Released in 1968.
Exhibit B as found on YouTube; Led Zeppelin – Stairway To Heaven. Released in 1971.
Uncle G’s Analyst
I know the Led Zeppelin song ‘Stairway To Heaven’ so well, that it only took one listen to it, so I could be refreshed. For the record, it isn’t something I listen to everyday. That was a few decades ago. I enjoyed playing / hearing the studio recording, as well as the live version from the band’s album, The Song Remains The Same (1976), many many times. The live performance rocks more towards the end. Jimmy’s guitar work is absolutely amazing throughout. Saying all that helps me establish that I know the song very well. Enough so to check for similarities.
My first impression when hearing the first forty four seconds of the Spirit song, Taurus, is that it’s totally different from, Stairway To Heaven. So far the Zeppelin guys are safe. What’s in question happens when you hear a guitar at the forty five second mark. The next eight seconds after that. Played twice then, and twice another time. I broke up the descending guitar sound as a eight second bit, instead of connecting for sixteen. More convincing. Coming in at two minutes and forty seconds, the notes / chord progression I just pointed out, in my opinion is what motivates the lawsuit. Nothing else matters, or should be in question. In my mind, the accusations, or what we can call the bread and butter of this going to court, sprout from this. Eight seconds of guitar playing, and nothing more.
Let’s FIGHT! If I was a lawyer, I’d want to make damn sure that the Spirit song ‘Taurus’ was indeed played live, and was a part of the band’s set list, when Led Zeppelin was around them. Said to be written in November of 1967. Released the next year. For this is what Mr. Page and Mr. Plant of Led Zeppelin is said to have copied / ripped off. The opportunity given was when they both worked the same shows, in what would be referred to regularly by rock n’ roll writers like myself, as Led Zeppelin’s early days.
One thing I want to get established is just how under the influence, Mr. Page or Mr. Plant was supposed to be, regarding their exposure to the under three minute song. Did Jimmy or Robert together or apart, hear it once, or so often they knew it better than their own material? I might even ask Mr. Page when being questioned, if he owned the record. And if so, I’d ask if he recalls about how many times he played it. And here’s why. Only hearing the Spirit song ‘Taurus’ a limited questionable amount of time(s) if proven, and then not even owning the record, could be helpful information to the jury to take into consideration. Remember, all information no matter how big or how small, needs to be taken into account, to be properly judged by your peers. Being found liable as I already touched on, could prove to be disastrous for reputations, and future sales. For now, innocent till proven guilty. That’s how it works here, in America. The band Spirit and those associated already state the Led Zeppelin rockers are guilty. We’ll see.
Still thinking about this, I wonder if Led Zeppelin even found a group like Spirit relevant. Sure they were a little popular, but The Beatles they were not. Being from the UK, and Spirit from the States, was the band members in Led Zeppelin, that up on them? Were they friends? Attended each other shows? Back stage every night sharing a bottle of Jack Daniels? Did the Zeppelin guys know other songs in the Spirit catalog, besides Taurus? I ask because information can be forthcoming, saying that the Zeppelin guys didn’t like, and or pay any attention to Spirit. Sound believable?
Was the song ‘Taurus’ that BIG a hit song for Spirit? Played on FM radio a lot? Both answers are; NO. Besides being a wise ass, why ask those questions? Point being it’s hard to rip off what you barely know, or just plain don’t realize, exists.
Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven is 8:02 minutes long (studio version). Song writing credit goes to Jimmy Page, and Robert Plant.
Spirit’s Taurus is 2:36 (studio version). Written by Spirit guitarist, Randy Wolfe (deceased). Randy Wolfe aka Randy California (Feb 20, 1951 – Jan 02, 1997)
It’s said Spirit and Led Zeppelin played at the same gigs, but never shared the same stage. That’s an important piece of information. Makes it’s possible that Spirit may have indeed played the song ‘Taurus’, while Led Zeppelin was on the same grounds. That being so makes me question the distance from the stage Spirit played on, to where the location of the stage Led Zeppelin appeared on? For sure if I was the attorney for Spirit, I’d want to make doubly sure Mr. Plant and Mr. Page was within earshot. Why you ask? Because from what I gather, it’s being automatically assumed that Robert Plant and Jimmy Page learned / knew of the song based on them performing at the same shows.
Question; “Was any or all of the Zeppelin men, even paying attention To Spirit?” Weren’t they playing their own shows? Having to do whatever was required of them, to enable them to perform. I imagine so. Touring and playing live in concert, is a lot of work. I heard recollections from many a professional musician who toured and was accompanied by other bands, saying they never had the opportunity to check out the opening band we’ll say, because of being so busy having to do other pre-show activities; bathroom break, prayers-meditation, pot smoking, press, meet & greets, more pot smoking, etc. Just saying. Might pertain, might not? Seriously so, all information needs to be considered. Millions and millions of dollars are at stake here.
Another Question: Was the Spirit song ‘Taurus’ played exactly the way it appears on the studio recording, or was it altered any when played in concert? I have a hard time imagining it being part of a working set list. To me, the instrumental is kind of on the low key side. Even a bit artsy-fartsy.
The main focus is on the eight seconds. This would be Mr. Page on guitar, playing a series of notes, whereas it should be known, that there is only so many. Where Mr. Page might start off with a note sounding close to what one can hear in the Spirit song, anything familiar sounding to their tune ‘Taurus’ stops very quickly after it’s heard.
Uncle G Concludes
I say to Spirit; I got a line on you. Lawsuit is bogus. Wishful thinking. This is a money grab. I hope to God as I am sitting here now, that it don’t work. Eight seconds of music. Page and Plant must be fucking genius’ to come up with what is one of the most popular songs ever created, out of just eight seconds of guitar playing that any first year guitar player could have probably dreamed up. Accounts for 32 seconds of music. And I repeat it’s not thirty two seconds of original music, but eight seconds worth, heard four times throughout the recording. Eight seconds of material, and not in my mind, the building blocks of what is one of rock n’ roll’s all time greatest hit songs, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven. Am sure the trustee of late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe, will not be happy reading that. Grasping for straws defense. The attempt to grab the brass ring, should fail.
It’s NOT May 10th. Nothing has gone to trial yet. My calendar is reading the 13th of April. Fact is, no matter how wrong I think it is, the ruling could come in the trustee’s favor. Personally, I’d be disappointed to hear it. The notes played on a guitar are not limitless, as I have already stated. Eight seconds do not make a 8:02 masterpiece of modern rock n’ roll music. The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame musicians either ripped off the estate of Randy Wolfe, or they didn’t. It’s yes or no, and I think not. My opinion. Will be interesting to find out the legal outcome. Good luck Mr. Page and Mr. Plant. Hope this all plays out to YOUR favor. Regarding Stairway To Heaven … GREAT song!
Source: Daily Mail Dot Com