Monday Music Minute–Folk Song That Helped Led Zeppelin Case

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Led Zeppelin prevailed in a plagiarism case, in which the legendary band was charged with stealing the first few chords of their epic “Stairway To Heaven” from an unknown song nearly 50 years ago.

A jury decided that Jimmy Page was not guilty of lifting the exact same chord progressions used in the first few moments of a late 1960’s song called, “Taurus,” by the British band Spirit.

To prove that Led Zeppelin shouldn’t be found guilty, the group’s lawyer brought a musicologist to the stand on their behalf. The musicologist argued the kind of chord progression used at the beginning of both “Stairway” and “Taurus” originated some 400 years ago!

Digital Music News explains:

Back in April, a Digital Music News reader unearthed a classical composition from the early 1600s that sounded nearly identical to ‘Stairway to Heaven.’  That piece, written by pre-baroque composer Giovanni Battista Granata, raised the possibility that the famous progression from ‘Stairway’ is actually in the public domain and not subject to any copyright whatsoever.

Expert attorneys debated that point, with one noting that the real question under US law isn’t whether the piece itself is public domain, but whether Zeppelin copied the version created by Spirit in their song, ‘Taurus’.  But other versions of the progression have also emerged, including a 1950s version by Davey Graham that also sounds exactly like the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ the world knows.

In that light, Zeppelin’s attorneys have understandably argued that the ‘Stairway’ guitar riff is as old as time itself, dating back hundreds of years and passed between generations of artists.  Now, there’s more evidence to support that assertion, and possibly end this case for good.   In expert testimony earlier today, musicologist Lawrence Ferrara unearthed an old folk song called ‘To Catch a Shad” that is also in the public domain.

The only known recording of “To Catch a Shad,” apparently, is by The Modern Folk Quartet in 1963. You can easily hear the similarities between the two songs. However, the original composition is four centuries old, meaning it’s in the public domain.

And that is how Led Zeppelin probably won the case.

I shared a portion of this song on yesterday’s WSGW First Day show. Here’s the entire song.

Enjoy!

pat@wsgw.com

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