By Hayden Wright
“Stairway to Heaven” is regarded among the best and most important rock songs of all time, but the 1971 Led Zeppelin composition will now face trial over plagiarism allegations, a U.S. district judge in California has ruled. The judge determined there are enough similarities between “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus,” by ’60s L.A. band Spirit, to warrant a trial, which has been set for May 10.
The suit, which was was brought against Robert Plant and Jimmy Page by Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe, claims that when Led Zeppelin performed with Spirit in the late ’60s they were exposed to “Taurus,” and subsequently emulated the main progression of the song for “Stairway.” The lawsuit argues that Wolfe deserves a writing credit for “Stairway to Heaven,” which would entitle his estate to a share a percentage of the song’s income. A 1967 contract signed by Wolfe would limit his estate to 50 percent of any damages.
“While it is true that a descending chromatic four-chord progression is a common convention that abounds in the music industry, the similarities here transcend this core structure,” Judge Gary Klausner ruled. Based on the evidence he reviewed, Klausner determined the matter should be heard before a jury.
“For example, the descending bass line in both ‘Taurus’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’ appears at the beginning of both songs, arguably the most recognizable and important segments,” he wrote. “Additionally, the descending bass line is played at the same pitch, repeated twice, and separated by a short bridge in both songs.”
There are conflicting accounts among the parties was how close the touring relationship between Spirit and Led Zeppelin actually was.
“The surviving members of Led Zeppelin testified that they never toured with, shared a stage with, or listened to any of Spirit’s music during these brief encounters,” wrote the judge. “The surviving Spirit members, on the other hand, recalled conversing with the Led Zeppelin members backstage between sets” at festivals where they shared the bill.