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Led Zeppelin being sued by surviving member of Spirit over 'Stairway to Heaven'


Led Zeppelin is being sued for copyright infringement over 'Stairway to Heaven,' perhaps the most well-known song in the legendary rock band's vast music catalog. The suit is being brought by the founding bassist of Spirit, an obscure 1960s band that Led Zeppelin toured the U.S. with back in 1968 and 1969. Bloomberg Businessweek was the first to report the news of the lawsuit, which brings with it the potential to have a seismic impact on the history of rock and roll.

At the heart of the lawsuit is a claim that the iconic opening notes of 'Stairway to Heaven' were lifted by guitarist Jimmy Page from 'Taurus,' a relatively unknown folk song Spirit often played in concert, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Lawyers for Spirit say that Randy California, the original composer of 'Taurus,' wrote the song back in 1968. They argue that Page had the opportunity to hear the song while the two bands played several shows together, and that Page then used those notes to write the beginning of Stairway to Heaven, which in 1971 appeared on Led Zeppelin's untitled fourth studio album known as 'Led Zeppelin IV' or 'Runes.' The rest was history as 'Stairway to Heaven' went on to become one of the most celebrated rock and roll songs ever, claiming such sensational titles as 'the most requested song on the radio' and simply the 'greatest song of all-time.' In 2000, it ranked No. 3 on a VH1 list of all-time greatest rock songs, and it placed 31st on Rolling Stone's list of the '500 Greatest Songs.'

Randy California (or Randy Wolfe, as his parents named him) died in 1997, but Bloomberg Businessweek reports that just before his death, he finally spoke out to a journalist about having always felt that the opening of 'Stairway' was stolen from his work.

California told journalist Jeff McLaughlin in the winter 1997 issue of Listener magazine that Led Zeppelin had filched his song. "I'd say it was a ripoff," California said. "And the guys made millions of bucks on it and never said 'Thank you,' never said, 'Can we pay you some money for it?' It's kind of a sore point with me. Maybe someday their conscience will make them do something about it."

As WZLX points out, the move comes just before Led Zeppelin is about to release a remastered version of 'Stairway' along with many of its other classic hits, and even some never-before heard material.

Mark Andes, Spirit's founding bass player, and his legal team are aiming to force Led Zeppelin to share proper writing credit for the iconic song with the late California.

In addition, Bloomberg Businessweek reports that this is hardly the first such legal claim made against the rock and roll titans. Similar accusations have been leveled at Led Zeppelin throughout the years over hit tracks like 'The Lemon Song,' 'Babe I'm Gonna Leave You,' 'Whole Lotta Love,' and 'Dazed and Confused'. In all of those cases, Led Zeppelin was forced to change writing credits as they appear on albums and share subsequent royalties.

One high-profile case involved the band's highest-charting U.S. single, 'Whole Lotta Love.' Attorneys for blues legend Willie Dixon argued some music and lyrics in 'Whole Lotta Love' were lifted from 'You Need Love,' a Dixon-Muddy Waters collaboration that dates back to 1962. In 1987, Led Zeppelin settled that suit and agreed to include Dixon's name in the song's writing credits.

But in an interview with the New York Times published on May 15, Jimmy Page seems to dispute that the music in the song was even inspired by the blues great. 'I had a riff, which is a unique riff, O.K., and I had a structure for the song that was a unique structure. That is it,' he told the Times. Then he added, 'However, within the lyrics of it, there's "You Need Love," and there are similarities within the lyrics. Now I'm not pointing a finger at anybody, but I'm just saying that's what happened, and Willie Dixon got credit. Fair enough.'

Ultimately, a court will decide whether Led Zeppelin stole the famous opening notes of 'Stairway to Heaven' from Spirit's 'Taurus.' WZLX found versions of each song on YouTube. Take a listen to the two songs below and decide for yourself whether the song was plagiarized or if, as Mick Wall wrote in 'When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin,' what Jimmy Page did 'was the equivalent of taking the wood from a garden shed and building it into a cathedral.'

'Taurus' by Spirit, 1968 (wait for the :44 mark):

'Stairway to Heaven' by Led Zeppelin, 1971:

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Led Zeppelin's fourth studio album is commonly known as 'Ruins.' The correct spelling of the name is 'Runes.'

Join the discussion

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Gina May 19 2014 at 12:57 PM

Nobody waits 40 YEARS to sue someone for stealing their song! There is a TINY part that kind of resembles Stairway to Heaven but it's not enough to claim that Zeppelin stole their song. The fact that they are drumming this up FORTY YEARS LATER says it all.. STUPID!

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3 replies
ganderrrr May 19 2014 at 2:27 PM

AOL needs a new headline writer. In its day, Spirit was a well known and very influential band. Its works stands up well today. It's only "obscure" to the culturally illiterate.

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3 replies
paflyguy May 19 2014 at 5:35 PM

Calling the group Spirit "obscure"' is an indication of the author's lack of knowledge of 60's music.

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2 replies
whdlsn paflyguy May 21 2014 at 1:08 AM

@ paflyguy.... Thank you for your comments. Spirit was much bigger than indicated in this biased article. As you likely know, Randy Wolfe was given the name Randy California by Jimi Hendrix. Jimi was playing with two people named Randy, one was Randy from California and the other Randy from Texas, so Hendrix called them by their states. Randy California (and Ed Cassidy his stepdad/drummer) as well as the rest of spirit were great, both live and recorded.

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IBruzEZ paflyguy May 22 2014 at 8:00 AM

Oh really? I never heard of them until this article... and yes, I was "from the 60's" music era.!

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4 replies
uncamikie May 19 2014 at 11:56 AM

Spirit was not/is not an obscure band. Do your research before you write.

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2 replies
Odens Fist uncamikie May 19 2014 at 11:59 AM

Obscure all the way, totally Obscure to the point that they NEVER plat their music on any Radio station. You can't say the same thing about Zeppelin can you..?? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE

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8 replies
onionson uncamikie May 20 2014 at 2:27 PM

Having to research defines obscure. Making the cover of Rolling Stone does not.

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cenestpas May 19 2014 at 12:29 PM

Spirit was not an "obscure" band in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The band's last album, "Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus," was certified gold in 1976, and over the years the band did get significant radio play. The allegation that Jimmy Page stole the riff for "Stairway to Heaven" from "Taurus" has been kicking around for years, and it's surprising it took so long for someone from Spirit to sue over it.

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3 replies
Victor May 19 2014 at 1:44 PM

A few notes gave Jimmy Paige an idea.....did the other band have the talent to follow up and write Stairway to Heaven as well as the the music??? Obviously not...so it's a pathetic lawsuit........

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1 reply
Freedom Writer Victor May 19 2014 at 1:57 PM

Led Zep stole "Dazed and Confused" -- same title, same exact tune -- from singer Jake Holmes. See if you can dig it up.

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1 reply
Raubhautz Freedom Writer May 20 2014 at 1:32 PM

Don't forget about another Zep success, 'Whole Lotta Love'. And the beat goes on. Unlike other contemporaries, Led has the least originality. Compare The Who; The Battles; The Birds; Deep Purple; Rolling Stones. The songs these guys to that belong to others, get the credit they deserve.

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rlmcanoe May 19 2014 at 4:42 PM

why wouldn't you sue years back when it came out, waiting this long, come on, give us a break, are you broke

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1 reply
whdlsn rlmcanoe May 21 2014 at 1:57 AM

Randy California didn't sue when he was alive because he wasn't a sue-happy guy. He made it known that Led Zepplin ripped-off the song and just wanted the music community to know the truth, so he did mention it in interviews. He was pretty matter of fact about it, but made his point.

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calderasf May 19 2014 at 1:43 PM

OK they waited 40 years or so?

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1 reply
Allen Cat calderasf May 20 2014 at 2:21 PM

The "Spirit" bassist needs the money

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1 reply
pbruno54 Allen Cat May 21 2014 at 1:20 PM

Mark Andes (the bass player) was a member of hall of fame band "Heart". He doesn't need the money. He just wants Randy California to get credit.

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mrbills78 May 19 2014 at 11:33 AM

40 years to late my friend, you should have sued in 1968, why wait till now, after everyone is dead and then start... or maybe the other band members didn't want to sue and now the 1 guy that did is...

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2 replies
ganderrrr mrbills78 May 20 2014 at 11:54 AM

1968? "Stairway to Heaven" wasn't written until 1971.

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2 replies
erichJohn ganderrrr May 20 2014 at 12:35 PM

and spirit/randy california have been saying for decades it was a rip-off. rc stated in interviews more than once before he died it was a rip-off of taurus...

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kk77jones ganderrrr May 22 2014 at 10:57 PM

you must be thinking of 1978.

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michaelclajoie mrbills78 May 20 2014 at 12:54 PM

my thoughts exactly

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1 reply
Rene michaelclajoie May 21 2014 at 3:19 AM

it's also very simular to Johny River's " SUMMER RAIN "

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Dnv66 May 19 2014 at 10:03 PM

Same way they ripped off Immigrant Song from another opening act, Lucifer's Friend

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