Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Led Zeppelin being taken to court over Stairway

I found a handy video showing how Taurus and Stairway to Heaven can sound so similar without it being a rip-off. I guess the uploader got sensitive about the issue a year or so ago, just in time for Spirit's lawsuit. 

First, some background on the case: Rolling Stone  Casey Rae

 And of course, here's Taurus and Stairway. The Stairway-alike part starts at 44 seconds in.


Here is a handy ready made compilation video on why this sounds so familiar to us. This type of descending minor progression is actually called a cliche line! (Others with more musicological bent call it a passamezzo antico.)

[video has been taken down] The compilation video by ThatsSoInane contains the following tracks:

Davey Graham's Cry Me A River introduction - you know this is where Jimmy heard the chord progression the first time, don't you!
A Taste of Honey, by Bobby Scott and Ric Marlow, played by The Beatles
Spirit's Taurus
Summer Rain by Johnny Rivers
Thoughts, from the group Crow
Ice Cream Dreams from the band Cartoone. Jimmy Page is the session guitarist on this album.  Cartoone subsequently toured with Led Zeppelin. So if my understanding is correct Jimmy Page is playing the riff here before he tours with Spirit or has heard Taurus from the sidestage. (Edit: the webs say that JP played Telecaster on this track, so the acoustic may be the band's guitarist, but the point stands that they were in the studio playing this together in October 68, and the tour with Spirit was not until April 69.)
And She's Lonely by The Chocolate Watchband
Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin
Time in a Bottle by Jim Croce
Let It Grow by Eric Clapton

Some others people have suggested the following. A few of these are just guitarists remembering their first bit of classical that they had to learn at school, I think, but The Dolly Parton is amazing. If this sort of thing was actionable, I suspect Page's lawyers would have mentioned this one to him.

Dolly Parton's We Used To (introduction)

U2's Sunday Bloody Sunday (introduction after the drums)

Pink Floyd's Is There Anybody Out There? (start at 1:30)

Foo Fighters' The Pretender (introduction)

The guitar solo and general feel in Damnation of Adam Blessing's Strings and Things.

Nick Drake's Day is Done. (This sounds like Davey Graham again.)

Scott Walker (introduction)

The Kinks - Shangri-La

There are probably a thousand more, but once everyone starts suing each other, there won't be another one because they'll all be spending all their time in court.

Things could go badly for Page. Not that I think he stole it. Unfortunately for Stairway, everybody and his brother has heard it ten thousand times, so anything similar sounds like it was stolen from it, or even it was prior, that Stairway was stolen from that song.

As for whether Spirit's lawyers have a chance at redressing a grievance at this late date, yes, the three year statute of limitations is reset every time a record is re-released. However, royalties would not be awarded for the early releases, so Page isn't set to lose the half a billion Stairway is said to have earned. (He's spent it, anyway. According to the interwebs, his net worth is between $125 million and $127 million.) 

Gripes of this age do come up. There was a recent court case in England concerning the organ playing on Whiter Shade of Pale, where laches (the legal argument that someone has waited too long and has lost his rights) played a significant part. After much hard judicial thinking and a trip to the House of Lords, three years of royalties were awarded, as the law lords decided that that the delay in filing had not caused hardship to the original songwriters, but had in fact benefited them, since they'd trousered the money for all those years.  

As usual, the lawyers will be the winners.

Edited 8:33pm
Notes: The Cartoone album was recorded "at the same time" as Led Zeppelin I.  Led Zeppelin I was recorded in October, 68 (Led Zeppelin, A Celebration, Dave Lewis, p. 139). The second American tour with Spirit was April to June 69. (Argentum Astrum.)

05/28/14 Update here

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