Stairway to Taurus

Music is in the air, it’a part of daily life for many of us. As such, plagiarism, both intentional and unintentional, is inevitable. Led Zeppelin has been accused of stealing riffs beforeand it’s happened again as the band is poised to re-release its catalog.

The song containing filched bits is one of the most famous, and in my book overrated, song in the Zeppelin songbook, Stairway to Heaven:

Led Zeppelin may soon be headed to court over the claim that Stairway to Heaven was stolen, in part, from another band. A lawyer is preparing an injunction against the upcoming reissue of Led Zeppelin IV, arguing that one of the group’s most famous guitar lines was nicked from the headlining act at their first US gig.

“It’s been a long time coming,” attorney Francis Alexander Malofiy said in a feature story for Business Week. Malofiy represents a songwriting trust for the late Randy California, guitarist for the band Spirit. According to California and his supporters, the opening of Stairway to Heaven copies from Taurus, an instrumental track that appeared on Spirit’s eponymous 1968 debut album.

It certainly appears that Jimmy Page, who wrote Stairway to Heaven, would have had the chance to hear California’s version. In 1969, Led Zeppelin and Spirit played together in Detroit, Atlanta and Seattle; on 26 December 1968, Zeppelin were the opening act for Spirit’s gig at the Denver Auditorium Arena. Taurus was part of Spirit’s set list at the time. “It was such a pretty moment, and it would typically come after a big forceful number and always got a good response,” recalled Spirit co-founder Mark Andes. There’s even evidence that Led Zeppelin integrated a different Spirit song, Fresh Garbage, into their 1969 tour sets.

Why now? The reissue means that Randy California’s family can get some money out of the Led Zep camp since they cannot get any past royalties. I think they should do what they’ve done in the past and settle. Take a listen to the Spirit tune in question:

This story has been floating around for eons. It’s particularly amusing because Led Zep management is notoriously litigious. Former Manager Pete Grant was a goon who would sue you for just giving him a side-eye glare. They even sued over a sublime parody by Little Roger and the Goosebumps, Stairway to Gilligan’s Island. Ooh, it makes me wonder: