Led Zeppelin: What’s Original After All?

Response to Kirby Ferguson’s “Everything is a Remix” Part 1

The fourth-highest-certified music artist in the US, Led Zeppelin, has a knack for sometimes swiping lyrics and melodies from other artists. This very fact certainly worked against them in their attempt to win over a federal court jury in June 2016 for whether their song “Stairway to Heaven” was, in fact, their song. This case was between Zeppelin and the band Spirit, who released the song “Taurus” two years prior to the release of “Stairway.” The two songs just so happen to share a similar chord progression at the very beginning, but nothing else the same.

“The jury eventually decided that there was no [copyright] infringement,” told CBS News.

But how can one be entirely sure that this is the case for the rest of their so-called stolen songs? Should they also be ruled “without infringement” for stealing exact lyrics and melodies from a number of blues singers?

IMG_3615
Nine popular Led Zeppelin albums released between 1969-1982

In Kirby Ferguson’s video, he touches on a multitude of songs by Led Zeppelin that, in order to write, the band would have – undoubtedly – had to take inspiration from signers Willie Dixon, Chester Burnett, Bert Jansch, Jake Holmes, and more. Ferguson’s first example from the video states, “The opening and closing sections of ‘Bring it On Home’ are lifted from a tune by Willie Dixon entitled (not coincidentally) ‘Bring it On Home.'” I think that this song by Led Zeppelin is a bold transformation of the original song by Dixon, because it takes the distinct lyrics from the very beginning – the entire phrase that is – and they play it to the exact same baseline only more “pepped” up and faster. The first phrase of both songs go as follows:

“I’m gonna bring it on home to you.
I’ve got my ticket, I’ve got that load. Conducter gone hollered, all aboard.
Take my seat, right way back. ooh yeah. Watch this train roll down the track.
I’m gonna bring it on home, Bring it on home to you.”

Even though Zeppelin has changed a few elements of the original, they still haven’t changed enough of the song to call it their own (even though they did). As Ferguson states in his video, “Many bands knock off bands that came before them, but they tend to emulate the general sound, rather than specific lyrics or melodies.” Zeppelin failed to capture just the “general sound”, instead they have taken the whole sound of many songs.

Not only did Led Zeppelin transform certain songs from their original version, by adding more lyrics and changing the tempo, but they also downright copied some others. For example, Ferguson mentions that Zeppelin’s song titled “Dazed and Confused” features almost the exact same lyrics, melody and baseline as the song by the same title by artist Jake Holmes. Not only did Zeppelin take all of these things, but they credited themselves as songwriters, without showing acknowledgement to the original blues singer. When this is done by an artist, it is considered against the law, for it is plagiarism.

Led Zeppelin has demonstrated a recombination of lyrics and guitar riff in a song not mentioned in Ferguson’s video titled “Whole Lotta Love.” Guitarist Jimmy Page did in fact write the melody for the song, although Robert Plant, the vocalist, lifted some lyrics from the 1962 song “You Need Love” by Willie Dixon which Plant sang to Page’s tune. By recombining stolen lyric with Page’s creativity, they were able to make a new song that went unnoticed of plagiarism until 1985 (when Dixon sued). When speaking with Rolling Stone Magazine, Robert Plant justified what he had done, “Well, you only get caught when you’re successful. That’s the game.”

Considering these examples, I think that Led Zeppelin has failed to create their own content using the copying, transformation and recombination of original songs, for they have stepped outside of the legal boundaries of remixing. They haven’t given credit the the original artists of these songs, nor have they altered the sound enough to take their version from cover to whole new song. However, speaking as a fan of Led Zeppelin, I must defend that these are only a few songs, of many original ones, that just so happened to break these laws. Their talent as a band could have been utilized in a much better way, if only to overcome the temptations they had to copy another artist.

An amazing creator must stay true to the rules of remixing previously described. Only then are they able to share their content confidently without “ripping-off” a fellow artist.


Works Cited

Edwards, Gavin. “Led Zeppelin’s 10 Boldest Rip-Offs.” Rolling Stone, 22 June
2016, http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/
led-zeppelins-10-boldest-rip-offs-20160622. Accessed 13 July 2017.

“Everything is a Remix.” Vimeo, vimeo.com/14912890. Accessed 13 July 2017.

“Jury: No copyright infringement in Led Zeppelin case.” CBS News, 23 June 2016,
http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/jury-no-copyright-infringement-in-led-zeppelin-case.
Accessed 13 July 2017.

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