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Yetanotheruser's avatar

Do you think Led Zeppelin ripped off Spirit?

Asked by Yetanotheruser (14521 points ) May 20th, 2014

I’ve heard this claim/rumor several times over the past 40 years, and I could never see the merit. Listen to Stairway to Heaven, especially the opening 10 seconds. Here you have the iconic guitar riff that sets the mood and is repeated several times throughout the piece.

In Taurus there is a similar acoustic guitar riff, but it is only for six measures, and then the similarity ends.

In the late sixties and early seventies, I was a fan of both bands. I found Randy California‘s guitar playing to be some of the most transcendent music ever delivered on a six-string; and Plant’s acoustic playing was an inspiration to the direction I would take my own guitar playing
The only reason I never learned to play “Stairway to Heaven” on the acoustic is that every other guitar player I knew was learning it!

If I were to listen to those two excerpts Stairway (at the beginning) and Taurus (at about 0:44), and do an analysis, I would first notice the similarities: both played on acoustic guitar; same chord structure with downward run in the bass line; joined by flute countermelody.

I would also notice the differences: different guitar melody, despite the same chord pattern; songs go into totally different directions outside the passages in question.

If I were judge in this case, I would throw it out of court. What about you?

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12 Answers

Coloma's avatar

I agree. There are only just so many notes and chords to play with and a modest resemblance to another tune is not plagiarism. It is possible that different musicians just like different artists, writers, of all kinds might create similar works all on their own with zero influence from others. Only so much original thought and composition to go around IMO.

Rock on Led Zeppelin!

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

It is sooo common to come up with a riff and it be just like something else. I remember when I was around 19 we were writing songs and I came up with a riff that was perfect. That is until a friend heard the smashing pumpkins play the exact same riff on the radio a few months or so later. Total coincidence but we ended up writing a new riff for that part because it was just too close.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

I’m not sure about this case, but do you recall George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” plagiarism case where the courts decided he had plagiarized the Ronnie Mack song He’s So Fine?

” In 1976, Harrison was found to have subconsciously plagiarised the earlier tune, a verdict that had repercussions throughout the music industry. He claimed to have used the out-of-copyright “Oh Happy Day”, a Christian hymn, as his inspiration for the song’s melody.”

Sorry @Yetanotheruser but I felt that case had some merit with this question.

Okay, I just listened to both songs and although there might be some itty bitty similarity, I doubt there is any plagiarism going on.

However, it appears that the Zeppelin has a history of ripping off songs (not necessarily the tune, but the song itself.

“Babe I’m gonna leave you was a” Joan Baez song.

“Black Mountain” they ripped off both the song and the tune from Bert Jansch

“Dazed and Confused ” is a ripoff of Jake holmes.

You know, the more I hear of how many songs they did ripoff, maybe you’re right. They quite possibly did ripoff Spirit (Who is a favorite group of mine from the 70s whom I haven’t thought of in some time. Listen to their album, “The Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus”)

They ripped off Howlin’ Wolf’s “How many more Years.” Zep called it “How many more times.”

They ripped off Albert King’s “The Hunter.” Zep called it “How many more times?”

And the list goes on.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

@Dan_Lyons I remember the Harrison case, and I can see that the two songs are alike. Not just similar, with the same chord structure, but with the same verse, chorus, AABA structure, in fact the only difference is the lyrics.

There is a strong folk tradition (before copyright law), especially in folk and blues (where does one end and the other begin) of taking a song and “making it your own”. Cab Calloway’s Minnie the Moocher was a re-working of an old folk-blues number Willie the Weeper (no, it was not originally by the Jetsons, but by Dave Van Ronk.

there is a huge grey area between plagiarism and artistic influence. To be sure, the Zep guys crossed the line many times, but not so in this case.

marinelife's avatar

I think it is just a similarity.

filmfann's avatar

While there is a slight similarity, the direction the music goes is so vastly different i would not call this plagerism.

pleiades's avatar

I’m not going to answer this with my feelings. I will respond factually and they do sound extremely similar. With that being said I have heard countless songs start with the D chord.

Crazydawg's avatar

Two things stand out to me. One is the riff is almost note for note the same as STH and then there is the tempo which is near identical to the STH. I would say both accounts together could present a compelling case. Why they waited a hundred years to move on this is confusing at best.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

I think the timing has to do with a Led Zeppelin boxed set about to ne released.

flip86's avatar

If they did, so what? I know they ripped off other artists, but honestly, I’m glad they did. They took the songs, tweaked them and made every tune sound a thousand times better. Without Zeppelin, those songs would have been forgotten.

Paradox25's avatar

There are some similar chords, but most songs share similar chords with others. Anyone that has listened to a fair amount of hard rock or metal, alternative or not, will notice similar chord patterns in music. Why don’t they just patent major and minor chords then while they’re at it. I know from playing a guitar myself that you’ll use similar chords and harmonies, even making your own sounds up.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I would dismiss the charge on the simple grounds that Zep, and particularly Plant have more than demonstrated that they have no need to consciously rip off anybody’s work.

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