Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page are reuniting in a Los Angeles courtroom this week to defend themselves in a lawsuit brought by the estate of one Randy California (real name: Randy Craig Wolfe). The suit alleges that Led Zep’s immortal 1971 oldie “Stairway To Heaven,” whose composition is credited to Page and Plant, rips off an obscure instrumental called “Taurus” released by California’s band, Spirit, in 1968. Since Zeppelin and Spirit toured together in the late 1960s, California’s estate says, Page would have had plenty of opportunity to hear and learn the crucial guitar part from “Taurus” that became the unmistakable intro from “Stairway.”
The lawsuit, originally filed in 2014, is just coming to trial now, but the story of how Led Zeppelin supposedly copied Taurus has been a subject of debate among music fans for years. Back in 2014, for instance, an Orange County singer-songwriter who self-identifies as TJR posted an authoritative, seven-and-a-half-minute comparison of “Stairway To Heaven” and “Taurus” to show how the songs are both similar and different.
TJR begins the video, logically enough, by playing the crucial passages from both “Taurus” and “Stairway To Heaven” on an acoustic guitar. They certainly sound similar, but are they identical enough to warrant payment to California’s estate? They both start with an A minor chord with similar descending bass lines. But crucially, “Taurus” stays in A minor, while “Stairway” switches to a D chord. From there, Page makes a brief stopover at an F major seventh before visiting G and then returning to A minor. Also, while “Taurus” and “Stairway” have matching bass melodies, the latter also has an ascending melody that the Spirit song lacks.
Incidentally, if the California estate is successful in this lawsuit against Led Zeppelin, the next target should be Dolly Parton. Just listen to Parton’s 1975 song “We Used To.” The intro to this song is close enough to “Stairway To Heaven” that it could even fool an FM disc jockey in desperate need of a smoke break.