Today in Los Angeles a jury put to rest the issue of whether legendary British rock band Led Zeppelin stole the opening passage for their classic hit–Stairway To Heaven–from an instrumental composition put out by singer Randy Wolfe, who founded the psychedelic band Spirit under his stage name Randy California. Spirit, which gained some popularity in the late 1960s and 1970s for its novel fusion of rock with jazz and other styles of music, put out a song on its debut album in 1968 that some feel was the genesis for Stairway To Heaven. The track was entitled Taurus. (Stairway To Heaven appeared on Led Zeppelin IV and it was released 3 years later in 1971).
Editor’s Note: Although written largely in legalese it is interesting to check out the allegations that the Wolfe estate (Wolfe had died in 1997) made against Page and Plant which you can view here: Wolfe Trust v Led Zeppelin 2014.
The unanimous decision (by a jury panel of eight men and women) came after a week-long trial which included testimony from Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones. Page and Plant both claimed that they had not heard Taurus until recently and not until after Page’s son-in-law had alerted Page to a growing internet buzz about similarities between the two songs.
In a joint statement following the verdict Messrs. Plant and Page had this to say:
“We are grateful for the jury’s conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favor, putting to rest questions about the origins of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and confirming what we have known for 45 years. We appreciate our fans’ support, and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us.”
The attorney for Wolfe’s estate claimed that the trial was not a fair one. The attorney stated this because the jury never heard the actual music (i.e., the original recording of Taurus) because it was not protected under federal copyright law at the time. The jury instead compared sheet music that was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.
At stake was potentially millions of dollars in royalty payments, which would have gone to the estate of Wolfe. Wolfe’s estate was seeking a third of the songwriting credit for Stairway To Heaven.
Judge for yourself and take a listen. Do the two compositions sound similar?