Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Stairway to the Supreme Court

Here is an interesting bit of musical information, via Patterico, who blogs about a suit against Led Zeppelin by the estate of Randy California, for allegedly ripping off his song "Taurus" in the creation of "Stairway to Heaven":

You can hear it pretty clearly about 1 minutes in, where the main riff sounds a whole lot like the main riff in Stairway:

In May of this year, California’s estate filed suit, in anticipation of a monster re-released of the Zeppelin catalog.

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.
It's long been noted that Led Zeppelin is was a major recycler of blues licks and lyrics. All blues bands are.  The stories of stolen licks and lyrics are legion.  That particular descending line is rampant throughout blues and folk style music; for all I know it common in classical music too; I just wouldn't know because I don't listen enough. Led Zeppelin took a mediocre song and turned it into a true classic. I would imagine that California would have been ashamed of his estate trying to claim more credit than was due. He probably stole that lick from somewhere else, too.

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