“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.”
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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”:
And now for the lemon squeezing bit (a metaphor already borrowed by Johnson himself from a song by Roosevelt Sykes):
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:
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.
And… they’re buying their way… out of lawsuits…