Led Zeppelin vs. The World

Led Zeppelin vs. The World

“If the lyric hadn’t been stolen, the music would have been lesser for it… It was decided that it was so far away in time and influence that… well, you only get caught when you’re successful. That’s the game.”

-Robert Plant


Editor’s Note:

This has been a hot topic for many years and Ben did an awesome job writing this up. I added some notes and the best images I could find on Google 😛

Got anything to add to this list? Add it in the comments below!

Led Zeppelin is certainly no stranger to this site, which to a degree is inevitable with any highly mimicked, vastly popular band. However, most of their coverage thus far has revolved around what others have taken from the group, despite the likelihood that they themselves are one of the most infringing acts in the history of rock. A few glowing moments and an admirable knack for myth-making aside, Jimmy Page & co. borrowed far and wide for both riffs and whole songs, indebting Led Zeppelin not only to their contemporaries but even more substantially to specific old blues tunes — and yet it often went officially unacknowledged by them. Indeed, a cursory glance through old Zeppelin vinyl reveals that even tracks which were later assigned proper songwriting credits in the CD era — after the band was repeatedly taken to task — were initially devoid of any mention of their origins. Hand it to Led Zeppelin: at least they had good taste, borrowing from some of the day’s finest acts past and present.

What follows are samples of tunes that were originally notated as being solely written by the band — delusions since debunked.

Jimmy Page's "zoso" Saturn sigil

Start by considering the back-to-back examples offered in “Your Time Is Gonna Come/Black Mountain Side”, a one-two punch of plagiarism found on their 1969 debut.

The first is pretty straightforward:

Traffic - "Dear Mr. Fantasy" (1967)
Led Zeppelin - "Your Time Is Gonna Come" (1969)
Robert Plant and Steve Winwood on ThatSongSoundsLike.com

Robert Plant and Steve Winwood (Traffic)


John Paul Jones non-interlaced triquetra overlaying circle sigil

The second is slightly more complex. A frequent argument in defense of Zeppelin is that some of the older material they proffered as their own was public domain, but be that as it may, in such cases their arrangements were often highly derivative of other acts who had for all intents and purposes already made the music their own. Perhaps it didn’t strike the band as poor form to take repeated advantage of copyright law grey area in this fashion, but frankly it’s hard to see it any other way. Case-in-point is Bert Jansch‘s “Blackwaterslide”, a traditional Irish folk song to which he gave his indelible stamp with a bracingly original guitar figure. In his rather amicable words, Jimmy Page “ripped me off, didn’t he? Or let’s just say he learned from me.”

For curiosity sake, let’s hear a more standard reading of the song by Altan, followed by Bert Jansch, followed by Led Zeppelin. Gauge the distance for yourself between each of the respective three in terms of instrumental ingenuity:

Altan - "Blackwaterside" (1996)
Bert Jansch - "Blackwaterside" (1966)
Led Zeppelin - "Black Mountain Side" (1969)
Jimmy Page and Bert Jansch

Jimmy Page and Bert Jansch

In fact, Led Zeppelin’s debut was rife with Jimmy Page’s sources of “inspiration” being dubious at best, and as a result he wound up pissing off Jeff Beck and otherwise having to face his accusers, even as recently as several years ago. No wonder the record drew such poor reviews.

Jake Holmes - "Dazed and Confused" (1967)

Led Zeppelin - "Dazed and Confused" (1969)

John Bonham's three intersecting circles sigil

It certainly wasn’t the last time the band would raise ears in such a way, either. Their second album features two infamous instances of the band’s indiscretions while mining top-notch blues songs.

Muddy Waters on ThatSongSoundsLike.com

Muddy Waters

For one, they took “Whole Lotta Love” from Muddy Waters‘ original (written for him by Willie Dixon) by way of the Small Faces‘ own (also uncredited) take on the song, and were successfully sued in 1985.

Here are the three laid out:

Muddy Waters - "You Need Love" (1962)

The Small Faces - "You Need Loving" (1966)

Led Zeppelin - "Whole Lotta Love" (1969)

They were likewise held accountable in 1972 by the copyright holder to Howlin Wolf‘s “Killing Floor”, which they had handily mixed-n-matched along with Robert Johnson‘s “Travelling Riverside Blues” to create “The Lemon Song”:

Howlin' Wolf - "Killing Floor" (1965)
Led Zeppelin - "The Lemon Song (Guitar Solo)" (1969)
Led Zeppelin - "The Lemon Song (Verse)" (1969)

And now for the lemon squeezing bit (a metaphor already borrowed by Johnson himself from a song by Roosevelt Sykes):

Robert Johnson - "Travelling Riverside Blues" (1937)
Led Zeppelin - "The Lemon Song (Coda)" (1969)
Robert Plant Lemon Squeezer


Robert Plant's feather sigil

Jimmy Page

L to R: Jimmy Page, Guitar

By the time Led Zeppelin’s self-titled fourth came around, they began to operate more on their own steam and even ordained to properly credit Memphis Minnie when borrowing from her for “When the Levee Breaks”. Yet, for all that progress, the album’s defining track is not entirely their own. Listen to the similarity between the well-known guitar intro on “Stairway To Heaven” and a song by the brilliant Spirit, who had toured with Zeppelin just a few years prior:

Spirit - "Taurus" (1968)

Led Zeppelin - "Stairway To Heaven" (1971)



And now for artists who have lifted from Zeppelin. These have all been published on the site before. I’ve collected them all in one convenient spot. Of course you might even say that “We Used To” is derived from “Taurus” from above.

Led Zeppelin - "Stairway to Heaven" (1971)

Dolly Parton - "We Used To" (1975)


Led Zeppelin Zoso

Led Zeppelin - "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" (1969)

Chicago - "25 or 6 to 4" (1970)

Green Day - "Brain Stew/Jaded" (1995)

White Stripes - "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" (2001)

Led Zeppelin Zoso

Led Zeppelin - "Kashmir" (1975)

Coheed and Cambria - "Welcome Home" (2005)

Led Zeppelin Zoso

Led Zeppelin - "In My Time of Dying" (1975)

Danzig - "Twist of Cain" (1988)

Led Zeppelin Zoso

Led Zeppelin - "Wanton Song" (1975)

Rage Against The Machine - "Vietnow" (1996)


Led Zeppelin Zoso

Led Zeppelin - "Kashmir" (1975)

Rage Against The Machine - "Wake Up" (1992)

Led Zeppelin Zoso

Led Zeppelin - "Misty Mountain Hop" (1971)

Devo - "Uncontrollable Urge" (1978)


And… they’re buying their way… out of lawsuits…

Robert Plant and a Dog Eating an Ice Cream Cone


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45 Replies to “Led Zeppelin vs. The World”

        1. Mark Adams

          Yes, samples are a bit obvious, except the first time you hear a song you will unlikely be aware of the credits.

  1. Arthur

    There’s another song from Led Zeppelin in a video I did. I also got some examples from this site, but your url is on the video’s credits at the end. You can watch if you want here:

  2. Mark Adams

    Do you realise Babe I’m Gonna Leave You was written by Anne Brendon but somewhere along the line Jimmy Page claimed it as his own and that In My Time of Dying was stolen from Bob Dylan’s cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s Jesus Make My Dying Bed? For other examples, see the three part youtube video: Led Zeppelin Plagiarisms.

    1. Mark Adams

      And Bring It On Home (1969) were copied from Sonny Boy Williamson’s 1963 recording of the song of the same name, written by Willie Dixon (settled out of court) and Led Zepp paid money to the publisher of Ooh My Head by Ritchie Valens over Boogie with Stu (1975).

  3. jjj

    this is sampling, rather than plagarism, but the beat for “Rhymin and Stealin” by the beastie boys is from “When the Levee breaks”

  4. Mark Adams

    Another couple for Led Zeppelin/Chicago/Green Day/White Stripes: I Wish Someone Would Build a Bridge (So I Can Get Over Myself) and No Sugar by Thirsty Merc. I would put the lot of them down to coincidence, anyone can come up with a descending chromatic riff like that.

  5. Nick Cobel

    Are you sure this one didn’t start with the Beatles? I always heard the Beatles (1968) “While my Guitar Gently Weeps” in Zepplin’s (1969) “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and later in Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4”

  6. Mark Adams

    In regards to The Lemon Song, Travelling Riverside Blues by Led Zeppelin, which is a tribute to the Robert Johnson song of the same name and to the man in general, also features the lemon squeezing metaphor and includes a reference to Come On in My Kitchen and features a Robert Johnson riff for turnarounds.

    As far as I’m concerned though, this is like writing your own lyrics without having invented the language and we probably often include famous phrases in lyrics.

    1. Ben Post author

      A very astute series of comments Mark, thank you. What you say is true, and the language you speak of extends beyond the lyrics. How could it be “wrong” to borrow a phrase when it’s perfectly okay to take a lick, a style, a structure, even a certain chord progression from a predecessor? Words are just more finite and easier to trace. The history of folk and blues traditions, on through rock ‘n roll, is one of repetition in all its forms, built on reference, emulation and fine-tuning.

  7. Sapayo

    To me Spirit – “Taurus” is more similar in rhythm and a little bit of the notes are the same to Led Zeppelin – “Stairway To Heaven”.Iwuold like you to listent to to Pink Floyd – “Is There Anybody Out There” that to me sounds more similar to Spirit – “Taurus” than Led Zeppelin – “Stairway To Heaven”

  8. Mark Adams

    Here’s another one concerning a different part of Kashmir and the similar descending pattern in Shark Attack by Split Enz (1980).

  9. Mark Adams

    When I heard 2000 Light Years Away by Green Day (1992) recently, I was trying to think of what it reminded me of. One thing was a song called Reach (1999), which I remembered from choir at my Primary School. The line: that’s when your dreams will all come true is sung to the same tune. Then I thought of Phil Collins and his cover of A groovy Kind of Love (1988), originally performed by Diane and Annita (1965), written by Toni Wine and Carole Bayer Sager and heavily based on the Rondo section of Sonatina in G major, op.36, no.5, by Muzio Clementi.

        1. Mark Adams

          Here’s another link. Some are comparing Green Day songs to other Green Day songs but others are comparing Green Day songs to songs by other people.

        1. Mark Adams

          Or like Deadbeat Holiday off of Warning in 2000, which in turn sounds like Love Minus Zero/No Limit (1965). Also from Warning: part of Castaway sounds like 9 to 5 and Fashion Victim and Jackass sounds like You May Be Right by Billy Joel. And going a little bit off topic, Coles used Downtown (1964) or Waiting by Green Day (2000), for a jingle, but probably the former and IGA used Rock Around the Clock (1955).

    1. Mark Adams

      The chorus of Missing You by Green Day (2012) also sounds kind of like There You’ll Be by Faith Hill. If I Can’t Change Your Mind by Train (2006) and Broken Hearted Girl by Beyoncé (2008) also sound kind of like A Groovy Kind of Love.

  10. JayD

    The Dolly Parton song also sounds a bit like Cats in the Cradle.

    The group Heart has performed “Stairway to Heaven” live several times. Ironically, Mark Andes of Spirit was a one time member of Heart.

  11. GDog

    First off, I am a musician and a pretty good one at that. I am also a songwriter. Let me say that the notion that an artists can come up w/ something wholly original is a myth b/c he/she has been influenced by other things heard in the past which serve as inspiration for his own work. The questions here are:
    a) whether or not they intentionally used something without giving credit, and
    b) whether or not that something is a very small part of a much larger work, or comprises most of the entire work.

    Example: I actually wrote a song that had a cool riff and people saw my band live and said it sounded like Rush. Eventually, I heard the song and agreed, but I wrote the riff w/o ever hearing the song, so it’s not classic plagarism.

    I think w/ Zep you have a bit of both going on. In some instances (Black Water Side, Lemon Song), yes, they are guilty of not giving the original work credit. For Whole Lotta Love as well as the other references to borrowed blues phrases, there’s a grey area. Yes, the phrases were intentionally lifted, but the riff, the chorus, the music, the big psychedelic mid section of WLL are all very original as is the majority of music in, say, How Many More Times which was not listed here, but includes portions of The Hunter by Albert King, among others.

    In the case of Stairway, I do believe Page lifted the descending riff that forms the basis of the first few verses, but, the riff was varied enough and resolves differently from the Taurus version so it can’t be called complete plagiarism, and, the song has so many other twists and turns, it’s still authored more by LZ than by Spirit.

    So, I think we all need to be careful before we call someone a “thief,” lest we tear into everyone who’s ever picked up an instrument or pen. There’s a very relevant quote I recall about being ‘an artist, a poet, and a thief,’ but I’m not sure who by.

    And, I do want to give full credit, of course…

    1. Keith

      Thanks for the contribution GDog. I agree with what you’re saying. And just for the record I don’t think the word “thief” has ever been used once on this site which I’ve been running since 2007. You are the first! 🙂 But in all seriousness, this site has been a great sounding board for all things related to this area. We all get it – art and music are something that are based off of and inspired by the world around us. Some are just more “inspired” than others 🙂

      1. GDog

        Yes, Keith. I agree. And I didn’t mean to say anyone here called them “thieves,” but it’s been used by others before who didn’t like the band. I DO like the band, no love them, but am disappointed about some of their choices w/ regard to songwriting credit. Strange for a group that came up with so much other unique material like Kashmir, Achilles Last Stand, The Rain Song, The Song Remains the Same, Black Dog, etc.

        What brought me here was the Gwen Stefani rip off of Hash Pipe, which drives me crazy!

        1. Mark Adams

          No, I haven’t exactly seen anyone on this site call anyone thieves, but I’ve seen people use the word ‘poser’ or say “I’ve just lost a lot of respect for…”. I don’t know if you mean that it sounded like one of Rush’s riffs or like something they would write, but I wrote a song with a riff similar to that of Stormbringer by Deep Purple (1974) and another like a Black Sabbath riff, both before hearing these. This means that if when I one day release these songs, someone tries to sue me, I can legitimately claim ‘independent creation’, but that is more believable if the one that came first wasn’t a hit.

          Unfortunately, I also wrote a melody similar to I Guess That’s Why They Call it The Blues by Elton John, one which sounds somewhat like Hotel California and one which has a verse like Candle in the Wind, a chorus like Maria by Tony Christie and I changed the guitar solo because it sounded too much like that of Never Say Goodbye by Bon Jovi (1986), but I often improvise phrases similar to other existing ones (at Tafe they even handed us sheets on ‘Essential Blues licks’, Blues bass lines and riffs and Blues and Jazz turnarounds and endings). Most of these ones I wrote after I heard the ones that came first and after I realised, I changed them, but, as we know from the George Harrison case, they can get you for subconscious copying, probably because it’s difficult to prove how the similarity came about.

          In terms of that grey area you’re talking about, that would be the sort of situation where the court would decide on a lesser amount of royalties to be paid to the original artists, kind of like sampling, where even one or two second samples have to be paid for, but I do think the costs are excessive.

          You might want to look into Black Dog and there is a quote that goes: “What is originality? Undetected plagiarism”, which you can find on this site and I think there is some truth in it, but it’s an exaggeration.
          Something I wonder about is: Is a deliberately derivative work simply music for entertainment and not an art form and are some of the most blatant cases tributes/homages or is that just a label to justify plagiarism? I think there are genuine tributes, though.
          http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread923703/pg1 It should be in part 3, if it works.

          Hash Pipe, What You Waiting For? etc. are built around the Andalusian Cadence or Phrygian Tetrachord, which I’ve said about in response to this comment below, the only difference is these have the first note an octave below and then jump up an octave.

        2. Mark Adams

          Anyway, although the main melody of Stairway to Heaven is very stepwise, Autobuses by Estelares still bears a strong resemblance to it, probably more so than with the Stairway and Taurus intros. While copyright can get in the way of music, in a lot of cases it is necessary, because you can spend a lot of time and effort on writing a song and as they say, time is money, then someone else comes along and steals your song and can release it cheaper. How can you compete with that?

          I think I know why Led Zep did what they did: in a interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Jimmy Page said that when he was starting out, bands were expected to write their own songs (there were a few solo artists who did only covers, but they were probably crooners marketed at a older audience and were considered lesser artists). It wasn’t all that long before that The Monkees had been criticised not only for being a manufactured band, but for not writing their own songs.

          I guess Jimmy Page didn’t have a lot of confidence in his ability as a composer, so he mostly pretended to have written songs actually written by other people, but felt listeners would accept a couple of covers, which were of songs too well known at the time to pass off as his own and include some songs which were less derivative, because maybe it didn’t matter if some of the songs weren’t as good (Good Times Bad Times is probably my favourite on the album). People were surprised how quickly the first album was produced and the second soon followed with less derivative work, presumably as Jimmy Page gained more confidence as a songwriter (although I admit liking Moby Dick, I also like Heartbreaker), and considerably less derivative work on Led Zeppelin III. There were still a few songs though, which they wanted to claim as their own, some of which were on the following album (Stairway is obviously a classic and I agree it is mostly original, but I also like Going to California and Rock and Roll, even though the riff from Rock and Roll is similar to riffs from the ’50s, probably building on from older blues riffs), then on Houses of the Holy the band seemed to write all the songs without any outside help (Over the Hills and Far Away and D’yer Mak’er being both good IMO), but Physical Graffiti still had some derivative work (but good original songs like Kashmir and the funky Trampled Underfoot), then Nobody’s Fault but Mine on Presence and after that, they seemed to write all the songs themselves.

          I’m not justifying it, you can either make it on your own merits or cheat and I feel they made the wrong decision.

        3. Mark Adams

          Led Zeppelin Plagiarisms Part 3 can be found with the audio track muted, but that isn’t a whole lotta use. Anyway, just to be safe, part 1 covers Anne Brendon vs. Led Zeppelin over Babe I’m Gonna Leave You; Jake Holmes vs. Led Zep over Dazed and Confused; Bert Jansch-Blackwaterside vs. Led Zep-Black Mountain Side, which you already have, but also Eddie Cochrane-Nervous Breakdown vs. Led Zep-Communication Breakdown and Howlin’ Wolf-How Many More Years vs. Led Zep-How Many More Times vs. Albert King-The Hunter and Jeff Beck-Beck’s Bolero vs. How Many More Times.

          Part 2 covers Muddy Waters-You Need Love vs. The Small Faces-You Need Loving vs. Led Zep-Whole Lotta Love (’69)vs. John Lee Hooker-Back Door Man; Howlin’ Wolf-Killing Floor vs. Led Zep-The Lemon Song vs. Robert Johnson-Travelling Riverside Blues (1937), which you already have, but also: Sonny Boy Williamson (1961) vs. Led Zep over Bring it On Home; Bobby Parker-Watch Your Step (’61) vs. Led Zep-Moby Dick (’69); Moby Grape-Never (1967) vs. Led Zep-Since I’ve Been Loving You (1970) and Bukka White-Shake ‘Em On Down (’37)vs Led Zep-Hats off to (Roy) Harper (’70).

          Part 3 covers Taurus-Spirit vs Led Zep-Stairway, which you already have; Sleepy John Estes-Drop Down Mama vs. Bukka White-Shake ‘Em On Down vs. Led Zep-Custard Pie; Blind Willie Johnson-Jesus Make My Dying Bed vs. Led Zep-In My Time of Dying and Blind Willie Johnson-Led Zep over Nobody’s Fault but Mine.

          Here’s another video, which also includes Davey Graham-She Moved Thru’ the Bizarre vs. Led Zep-White Summer:

          Here’s a list of Led Zep plagiarisms:
          In the comments, someone adds Rosey & the Originals-Angel Baby vs. Led Zep-D’yer Mak’er (1973).

        4. Mark Adams

          Sorry, Black Dog never was in Part 3, nor in Parts 1 and 2. I distinctly remember the video comparing Black Dog with three other songs. Funny how memory can play tricks on you and it doesn’t have to be years ago (it may have been a year and 9 months), nor do you have to be old.

  12. GDog

    Well, I believe Led Zeppelin made on their own merits. They just made poor choices in not citing original writers in some instances. The reason I say this is because the majority of their catalogue is very original considering the vocal style and melodies, guitar work, bass lines and drum work. It can never be said these four main facets were not original, especially given the chances and improvisation taken in a live context. This is why they have a special place in rock and in the hearts of so many. And this will never change despite the detractors.

    Signing off, respectfully.

    1. Mark Adams

      I meant as songwriters. As arrangers, some of their arrangements had minimal differences to the originals while others were vastly different. I agree that they had a unique sound, possibly building upon that of artists like Steppenwolf, Jimi Hendrix (who is considered unmatched in terms of originality) and The Jeff Beck Group, who are all candidates for the inventors of Heavy Metal, and maybe even building upon the sound of Cream and the others from the British Blues movement, plus potentially such Kinks’ songs as You Really Got Me and All Day and All of the Night, with three chord structures considered as proto-metal. Led Zep of course also built upon the works of many blues musicians whose songs they covered, with or without credit (some even say about how the use of power chords in blues songs in the ’50s lead to Heavy Metal).

      Jimmy Page’s use of the Roger Mayer Fuzz Box was completely new and while Eddie Phillips from The Creation used a violin bow on guitar before Page, Jimmy Page combined it with wah wah and echo. His use of the Maestro Echoplex with sustain and adjustments to the frequency of the echoes was also completely new. He and the whole band were also very diverse, going from Hard Rock to Folk Rock, for example, which could even be over the course of one song in the case of Stairway (resulting in him using the Gibson EDS 1275 Double Neck and leaving one neck on while playing the other to produce an Indian sitar-like effect), experimenting with different time signatures, used together on songs like Black Dog (John Bonham, considered one of the best drummers of all time, for some reason could manage this and all those drum solos, but couldn’t play a reggae groove, so they had to get as close as they could on D’yer Mak’er), playing Latin American rhythms at times and modal experimentation, which had been done before by the like of Gabriel Faure and Ralph Vaughn Williams, returning to the modal system of the Middle Ages, but not in a rock context.

      It still could be argued, even though I find some of their stuff too experimental for my taste, that they didn’t stretch the definition of music as far as atonal composers such as Arnold Schoenberg, or like the aleatory and indeterminate composer John Cage, who apart from his works for prepared piano and the famous silent piece 4 min 33s, composed a piece determined by an Ancient Chinese method of selecting random numbers, which in my opinion, can reach the point where it is no longer music, but just a random pattern of notes.

      Hip hop, while in some ways in unoriginal, is original is that it took away the need to be able to play an instrument or hold a tune and particularly after it was found to be too expensive to include several samples, dumbed the backing music down to just have the best part of the music over and over (while that part may be good, in the original it was often the fact that there was more to the song that kept it interesting). To any hip hop fans, I know why you like it, it’s very inclusive, but why should I have to listen to it?

      I guess it’s pointless to go into who’s the most original, but this is probably as good a place as any to discuss it. I think there may still be further to go with music, maybe not to the extremes but in between, e.g. if musicians have only had songs before which are either 51% rock and 49% funk or vice versa, there is still room for a song which is exactly 50-50, not that I’d know how to work out the percentages, Another option is to combine elements of different styles which haven’t been combined before.

      Now, I’ll leave you with the grey area of all grey areas: The Eurhythmics were in the studio when they accidentally reversed the playback of a bass line and they liked the sound of it. This became the basis for Sweet Dreams. That’s not only a grey area, but a completely different shade of grey. Is it more black or white? Is it 50-50? My thoughts are that while the original artists may have owned the bass line, they only owned it in the sequence they wrote it and can’t possibly own the notes in any order other than that. I think the worst thing you could call this is lazy.

    1. Travis

      seems that zep link isnt there anymore

      so heres a replacement link

      i still think these 2 are quite alike


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