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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Stairway to Heaven: The Song Remains Pretty Similar

Stairway’s stature—financially, culturally, and musically—is towering. By 2008, when Conde Nast Portfolio magazine published an estimate that included royalties and record sales, the song had earned at least $562 million. It was so profitable in part because Led Zeppelin refused to release the song as a single, forcing fans to shell out for the entire album, which is untitled but known as Led Zeppelin IV. In the U.S., the album has sold more copies (23 million, according to the Recording Industry Association of America) than any save Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits (1971-75). To this day, Warner Music Group cites the song in its annual reports as an example of its publishing portfolio.
For live audiences, Stairway’s power starts with its introductory notes. “Can you think of another song, any song, for which, when its first chord is played, an entire audience of 20,000 rise spontaneously to their feet, not just to cheer or clap hands, but in acknowledgment of an event that is crucial for all of them?” Observercritic Tony Palmer wrote in a 1975 profile. Dave Lewis writes in Led Zeppelin: The Complete Guide to Their Music that “Stairway has a pastoral opening cadence that is classical in feel and which has ensured its immortality.”
But what if those opening notes weren’t actually written by Jimmy Page or any member of Led Zeppelin? What if the foundation of the band’s immortality had been lifted from another song by a relatively forgotten California band?

H/t Kathy S


Unknown said...

Oh, Zeppelin - and Page specifically - are the most renowned balls-out thieves in the history of the music business, which is saying a LOT. I think there's a grand total of two original songs on their first album and maybe another three on their second. And they've been successfully sued for this kind of thing before.

But there are a couple of reasons I think this suit is going to fail.

First, the court is going to want to know why it took 43 years to file, particularly when the Spirit guys have been known to having been alleging plagiarism for decades.

When Willie Dixon sued over "Whole Lotta Love" in the 80s, he didn't actually know about the theft until his kids told him.

Second, Andes, as the main litigant, doesn't have standing since he isn't a credited writer of "Taurus" and therefore suffered no damages. I can't see how the suit wouldn't be dismissed on those grounds alone, leaving the case by the California estate.

But even the estate would have a problem, since the publisher (as legal owner of "Taurus") would probably be called by Zeppelin's lawyers to testify as to their opinion that there's no grounds for a suit.

My guess is that there'll be a settlement in 7-10 years, with the California estate getting next to nothing, a la Jake Holmes. You know what the legal obligations of an "inspired by" credit are as they relate to royalties? Likely, there are none.

Mal said...

Nah. I hate the song, but the musical argument is pretty damned thin. They both start with that simple semi-tone walk-down within the A minor chord, but almost instantly a melodic line emerges in STH that doesn't exist in Taurus. A couple of bars later the chord structure is totally different, too. Just because it's possible to play a song in counterpoint for a couple of bars it does not make a case for plagiarism except in a rotten bastard's mind perhaps. See: GREED
It's a cash grab, plain and simple.

Mal said...

Having said that, Skippy is dead right about their other, and far more blatant musical theftage.
Maybe a punter can get himself in a lather about a STH/Taurus "lift", but I can't see a musician getting the vapours.
"Whole Lotta Love", on the other hand, was definitely a criminal enterprise.