The looming deluxe reissue of the untitled Led Zeppelin album that gave us “Stairway to Heaven” may hit a snag in the weeks ahead as the group many believe is responsible for the song’s opening guitar lines gets set to file a long overdue lawsuit. According to a lengthy Business Week feature, founding Spirit bassist Mark Andes, Philadelphia lawyer Francis Alexander Malofiy, and the trust that handles the estate of Spirit guitarist Randy California will make the argument that “Taurus” — an instrumental piece California wrote for Spirit’s self-titled debut — features a minute-long stretch Jimmy Page clearly lifted for one of rock’s most iconic intros. How iconic you ask? According to a 2008 story by Conde Nast Portfolio, the song has generated at least $562 million in revenue, largely due to the fact that Led Zeppelin never released an official single of the song. Led Zeppelin IV, as the album came to be known by the fans, has sold 23 million copies alone, putting it just below Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the Eagles’s Greatest Hits collection.
“We did quite a few shows with those guys,” Andes said. “Not to say they might not have heard it from the record.”
“The idea behind this is to make sure that Randy California is given a writing credit on ‘Stairway to Heaven’,” added Malofiy, who is also currently part of a case against the Usher song “Bad Girl.” “It’s been a long time coming.”
California died in 1997 while trying to save his 12-year-old son from a rip current in Hawaii, but he told Listener magazine “Stairway to Heaven” was a ripoff just before his death. “The guys made millions of bucks on it and never said ‘Thank you,’” he said. “‘Can we pay you some money for it?’ It’s kind of a sore point with me. Maybe someday their conscience will make them do something about it.”
Their conscience or a court order. “Stairway to Heaven” is the latest in a long line of lawsuits related to Led Zeppelin’s loose definition of ‘borrowing’ inspirational material from other bands. Cases involving “Dazed and Confused,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “The Lemon Song” have all been settled over the years. As for what Warner Music has to say about all this, they offered “no comment” to the Business Week story. Check out a game that compares key bars from the two songs here.