[guest post by Dana]
Remember when the heirs of Randy California, guitarist, singer and songwriter for the band Spirit, filed a complaint against Led Zeppelin for allegedly stealing the introduction to their classic anthem “Stairway To Heaven” from California’s instrumental song “Taurus”? (Unless you have lived under a rock for the past 40+ years, it’s impossible to not recognize Stairway’s iconic guitar arpeggio (yeah, that’s six years of classical piano lessons talking there…see Mom, they didn’t go to waste…) at the beginning of the 8 minute song that every high school boy in America has annoyingly tried to master on an out-of-tune guitar believing they were destined to become the world’s next greatest rock ‘n roll guitarist. Oh my God, what high school girls have to endure…)
Last week, Led Zeppelin responded to the complaint, and not surprisingly, they denied the allegations. Well, except for one on which they most heartily agreed with…
From Paragraph 11 of the complaint:
11. Led Zeppelin is undeniably one of the greatest bands in history, and their musical talent is boundless. However, what happened to Randy California and Spirit is wrong. Led Zeppelin needs to do the right thing and give credit where credit is due. Randy California deserves writing credit for “Stairway to Heaven” and to take his place as an author of Rock’s greatest song.
“Answering paragraph 11 of the First Amended Complaint, including the First Amended Complaint’s footnote 1, Defendants admit that Led Zeppelin has been called one of the greatest bands in history and its members were and are exceptionally talented,” the group’s answer reads, “but otherwise deny each and every allegation contained in paragraph 11 of the First Amended Complaint.”
Here is the complaint with its humorous use of the classic “Kashmir” font.
When I was young, I saw Led Zeppelin and Spirit in concert a number of times. They were both thrilling to see perform live. Great bands. Hot guys. Ah, youth.
Here are a couple of classics:
UPDATE BY PATTERICO: The acoustic arpeggios are clearly lifted from Taurus; astute readers will remember that I noted the striking similarity back in 2013, before the lawsuit was ever filed. Zeppelin opened for Spirit before “Stairway” was written, and Spirit played Taurus during that tour. No sensible person could deny that Taurus was the germ of “Stairway.”
But I also think Led Zeppelin — although they are notorious music thieves — transformed the song into something different. As I said in 2014 after the suit was filed:
I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, if you listen to the piece, it’s pretty clear they ripped off part of California’s piece — and the fact that they were touring with Spirit at the time just solidifies the conclusion that you would have come to anyway regarding the similarities. It would have been nice for them to credit California and give him a piece of the royalties. And, as I say, I pointed out the similarities last year, long before the lawsuit — so it’s clearly not a made-up claim. (Do any of the lawyers read this blog?)
That being said, California himself never filed suit. And in “Stairway to Heaven,” while Zeppelin took some of California’s music, the more famous band also transformed the germ of that idea into something quite different, taken as a whole. Patterico reluctantly hereby enters judgment for defendant in the court of public opinion, but awards no costs — and encourages Led Zeppelin to give California his writing credit anyway.
I was front row for a Spirit concert at the West End Marketplace in Dallas many moons ago, back when Randy California and Ed Cassidy were still around. It was one of the greatest rock shows I have seen; very memorable.