A Mary Poppins song is the latest piece of evidence in the Led Zeppelin "Stairway to Heaven" trial. The civil lawsuit, filed by a trustee for the late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe, claims British rock band Led Zeppelin lifted the descending chromatic four-chord progression at the beginning of their signature 1971 song, "Stairway to Heaven," from the band Spirit's 1967 instrumental "Taurus." But according to a report from Reuters, Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page told the court the riff he is accused of copying is actually a commonly used chord progression similar to a melody from the 1964 Disney musical Mary Poppins.
While Page said he is still confused over accusations that a similarity exists between "Stairway to Heaven" and "Taurus," he had no problem comparing his signature song to "Chim Chim Cher-ee," a song performed by Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews and featured in the Disney movie classic, Mary Poppins.During his second day on the witness stand, Page was asked about a previously written declaration he gave for the lawsuit where he talked about his song and the more up-tempo tune from the Mary Poppins film. The rocker told the eight-member jury that the iconic opening to "Stairway" and the memorable Mary Poppins song share the same chord pattern—a descending sequence mostly in A-minor.
"I may have said the chord sequences are very similar because that chord sequence has been around forever," Page said of comparisons of "Stairway" to the Mary Poppins soundtrack staple.Attorneys for Led Zeppelin have long argued that the chord progression has been in common use for centuries. And in a previous court declaration posted in full by the Hollywood Reporter, the Led Zeppelin icon admitted that several songs of the era, including the Beatles, "Cry Me a River," and the Mary Poppins song "Chim Chim Chiree," used a similar descending line guitar concept.
"I liked the idea of music going at counterpoint and I used that and similar ideas in my music. For example, as stated above, 'Stairway to Heaven' has a descending chromatic line over which there is also an ascending line, so that the music is going in two different directions," Page previously stated.In the Los Angles courtroom, U.S. District Judge Gary Klausner became frustrated with the Mary Poppins line of questioning. After Francis Malofiy, the attorney representing the estate of Randy "California" Wolfe, played a bit of "Chim Chim Cher-ee" in the courtroom, Page reportedly smiled broadly, but the judge was not amused. Klausner scolded Malofiy and told him, "you're wasting a lot of time."
Time is of the essence. Judge Klausner has only allotted each side a maximum of 10 hours to present their case. Malofiy may have wasted precious time talking about Mary Poppins and may have even further showcased the fact that the chord progression in question is a common one."Stairway to Heaven" was written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant in 1970, but during the trial, Malofiy has described Page as "the alleged" writer of the classic rock anthem. "Chim Chim Cher-ee" was written by Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman, and the song from the Mary Poppins score won an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1964.
Led Zeppelin has argued that while many songs have a descending pattern of the chromatic scale, it's something that goes back to the days of classical music master Johann Sebastian Bach or even beyond, and it's something that can't be copyrighted. According to The Frame, Page has described the opening of "Stairway" to being "a poor man's version of a Bach piece."
It remains to be seen if "Stairway to Heaven" will be determined to have plagiarized "Taurus," but for now, listen to the Mary Poppins song that Page admits is similar to his 1971 classic.[Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]