Song of the Week – Taurus, Spirit


Back in February 2009 I wrote a post featuring “I’m Confused” by Jake Holmes. I pointed out that “Dazed and Confused” by Led Zeppelin was a blatant rip off of Holmes’ song.

In fact, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant have a long history of lifting other people’s riffs or lyrics and repurposing them, often very creatively, for songs that they’ve claimed writing credits.

To some, this is just an extension of the old folk/blues tradition of handing songs down from one generation to another – add a new verse here, alter the chords or melody there. All harmless, no?

To others it’s plagiarism and causes economic harm to the original copyright holder. A prime example is Zeppelin’s first big hit, 1969’s “Whole Lotta Love.” The lyrics are very similar to a 1962 Muddy Waters song, “You Need Love”, written by Willie Dixon.

You’ve got yearnin’ and I got burnin’
Baby you look so ho sweet and cunnin’
Baby way down inside, woman you need love
Woman you need love, you’ve got to have some love
I’m gon’ give you some love, I know you need love

Sound familiar? The courts thought so and Led Zeppelin settled out of court with Dixon in 1985 for an undisclosed sum. As part of the settlement, Dixon’s name was added to the credits for “Whole Lotta Love” on all subsequent releases.

This week Page and Plant are in court again. This time it’s over the intro to their timeless classic “Stairway to Heaven.” Some claim it bears a striking resemblance to the instrumental “Taurus”, today’s SotW, by the California psych band Spirit.

So far the plaintiffs – the estate of the song’s author, Randy California – are trying to establish that Page and Plant heard the song on record or in performances before they wrote “Stairway to Heaven.” Page, under sworn testimony has denied it. Rolling Stone has been reporting on the trial. You can read their coverage here:

Rolling Stone – Stairway to Heaven trial part 1

Rolling Stone – Stairway to Heaven trial part 2

For my part, I hear the similarity, but in this particular case I find it a stretch to concede that there’s enough of a case to award Spirit a favorable judgement and monetary damages. Whatever influence he may have nicked from “Taurus”, Page takes “Stairway to Heaven” way further. No contest here.

But it will still be interesting to see how it is decided in the courts.

Enjoy… until next week.

3 thoughts on “Song of the Week – Taurus, Spirit

  1. How can you compare a two minute instrumental to a seven minute song that has many changes in the verses musically and lyrically,!? from a band once considered the greatest of all. Because of slight similarities in a four note Am progression?
    They’re probably thousands of song writers that have used the same including myself.
    Led Zeppelin brought rock, blues, folk, heavy metal and instrumental to the world in a way that will live for ever, never be matched, replaced, discredited or forgotten.
    If Spirit wants credit, they got it now. If they want money, they don’t deserve it. If they want to discredit a band that doesn’t need it, they should be ashamed

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