Sometimes songs simply sound similar. There are only so many notes, chords, and progressions that songwriters can utilize to crank out the hits. However, if a song you wrote sounds very similar to another song that’s generally considered one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll tunes of all time and consequently made another band a shit-ton of money, you’re going to try to get paid.
Such is the case with Michael Skidmore, a trustee for Randy Wolfe, a.k.a Randy California, of the band Spirit. In 2014, Skidmore sued Led Zeppelin, claiming the Tolkien-loving rockers stole the intro to “Stairway To Heaven” from the 1968 Spirit song “Taurus.” And this past Friday, Judge Gary Klausner returned from his chambers—where he presumably had a bath towel pushed up against the base of the door—to rule that “Stairway” and “Taurus” were similar enough to warrant a hearing in front of a jury.
Klausner noted that both songs used a common chromatic four-chord progression, adding that the similarities here transcend this core structure as he dimmed the lights and lit an incense stick. According to Klausner, both of the tunes feature descending bass lines “played at the same pitch, repeated twice, and separated by a short bridge. What remains is a subjective assessment of the ‘concept and feel’ of two works…a task no more suitable for a judge than a jury.”
“This case from our perspective, has always been about giving credit where credit was due,” says Francis Malofiy, Skidmore’s lawyer. “Now we get to right that wrong.”
Led Zeppelin and Spirit did share a few bills in the late ’60s, and whether that “Stairway” opening was simply an earworm that came to Jimmy Page in a fit of inspiration or a deliberate knick of a fellow band’s tune is now up to a jury to decide. The members of Led Zeppelin are no strangers to being accused of stealing. The band’s been sued over hits like “The Lemon Song,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” and “Dazed And Confused” in the past, and some blues fans believe that the group’s entire career is based off of recycling old Howling Wolf licks. Maybe Spirit is a little salty after (allegedly) being ripped off, again: Besides “Stairway,” the opening of Cheap Trick’s “The Flame” sounds remarkably similar to Spirit’s “Nature’s Way.”
A trial date has been set for May 10 in Los Angeles.
[via Rolling Stone]