Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” trial is happening, despite the band’s previous attempts to stop it in its tracks. A federal judge determined that a trial is needed to determine if Led Zeppelin’s iconic song ripped off its famous opening notes from a song previously recorded by the Los Angeles-based band Spirit.
According to a report from the Associated Press, U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner has ruled that lawyers for late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe have presented enough evidence to warrant a trial to determine if Led Zeppelin’s signature 1971 song copied notes from the Spirit song “Taurus.”
Judge Klausner noted that while the two songs do have several differences, lawyers for Wolfe’s estate should be given the opportunity to prove that the chords have substantial similarities.
Spirit is best known for the 1968 song “I Got a Line On You.” But before that, Wolfe wrote the instrumental “Taurus” around 1966 or 1967 for his band’s first album, about five years before Led Zeppelin released “Stairway to Heaven.” Spirit toured with Led Zeppelin on the festival circuit in 1968 and 1969, and the suit alleges that “Stairway to Heaven” songwriters Jimmy Page and Robert Plant may have heard “Taurus” before they penned their classic song, as “Taurus” was very much on Spirit’s late ’60s set list.
In 2014, Bloomberg Business revealed that lawyers for Wolfe’s estate were targeting Led Zeppelin for the plagiarism lawsuit, alleging the famous “Stairway to Heaven” opening riff came from the Spirit instrumental. Wolfe, who was also known as Randy California, died in 1997, but his heirs slapped a lawsuit on Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Super Hype Publishing Inc., and Warner Music Group over the opening melody. The surviving Spirit members reportedly waited for decades to take action due against the English rock band due to financial reasons.
The report revealed that Randy Wolfe was once even quoted as saying “Stairway to Heaven” was a rip-off of his song. Shortly before his death, the rocker reportedly told Listener magazine that Led Zeppelin “made millions of bucks” on their iconic tune and never thanked him or offered to compensate him for the opening melody.
While experts hired by Led Zeppelin contend both songs in question use notes that have been used in music for centuries, in the past, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page acknowledged that Spirit may have influenced his writing of the song. Sill, Page scoffed at the accusations of plagiarism, calling the idea “ridiculous” and refusing further comment.
Attorney Francis Alexander Malofiy, the representative for Wolfe’s trustee Michael Skidmore, praised the latest milestone in the “Stairway to Heaven” copyright trial, which will put the spotlight on one the most recognizable rock song openings in history. In a statement posted by Pitchfork, Malofiy said his client wants credit given to Spirit, and no other type of settlement with Led Zeppelin would be acceptable. He also relished in the idea of a jury trial.
“I don’t believe a jury will be as forgiving as Led Zeppelin’s fans.”
The Led Zeppelin “Stairway to Heaven” trial is scheduled for May 10 in Los Angeles. Led Zeppelin band member John Paul Jones is not involved in the case, but lead singer Robert Plant and lead guitarist Jimmy Page will both be defendants.
If you haven’t yet heard the similarities between the Led Zeppelin and Spirit songs, you can be the judge now. Listen to a mash-up of “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus” via the video below.
[Photo By Evening Standard/Getty Images]