While Led Zeppelin admitted to pinching some old blues tracks and claiming them as their own, no one ever questioned the fact that they came up with “Stairway to Heaven.” Or did they?
The story thus far: an attorney acting for the late Randy California (real name: Randy Wolfe) of the band Spirit contends that the opening bits of “Stairway” were nicked from a 1967 Spirit song called “Taurus.” Let’s have a listen.
The lawyer, one Michael Skidmore, says that Jimmy Page’s opening arpeggios of “Stairway” may have been inspired by watching Spirit play “Taurus” when the two bands toured together in 1967-68. He took the matter to court and a judge decided that the first two minutes of each song are similar enough to warrant a plagiarism trial by jury.
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. What remains is a subjective assessment of the ‘concept and feel’ of two works…a task no more suitable for a judge than for a jury.
When the estate of Marvin Gaye won a judgement against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams because “Blurred Lines” felt too much like “Got to Give It Up,” I made a prediction that we’d eventually see more high profile trials whereby an older artist will challenge the provenance of a hit song that came later. Here we go.
The trial is set for May 10. This is one jury of which I’d LOVE to be part. More here.