Journalmania: Going to California (for trial)



I personally live by the philosophy that for every great artist, there is one equally great forger. Art itself is merely a magic trick, and it is up to the spectator to determine whether it is grounded in reality or illusion or both.

With that said, it’s no secret among rock aficionados that Led Zeppelin enjoys covering, sampling and tinkering with old blues and soul songs, often without crediting the original artists.

“Whole Lotta Love" and “When the Levee Breaks” are just a couple of examples of the plethora of “stolen” songs produced by the band. Very rarely does the band deny the influences from other artists, though it often uses the obscurity of the song to its advantage.

“You only get caught when you’re successful,” Zeppelin singer Robert Plant said.

Well, it seems like the band has been caught once again. 

Last week, Zeppelin was on trial for allegedly plagiarizing Spirit’s 1968 instrumental song “Taurus” for Zeppelin’s signature “Stairway to Heaven.”

Realize this is no small dilemma. If Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams can be sued by the estate of Marvin Gaye for “Blurred Lines” basically having the same vibes as a Gaye song, where does it end?

Will Madonna sue Lady Gaga for “Born This Way"? Will Paul McCartney sue Sublime for “What I Got"?

The point of this is there are only so many melodies and lyrics in the world, and at some point or another, these paths are going to cross, accidentally or otherwise.

If you actually listen to “Taurus,” you will find almost a miniscule amount of similarities to “Stairway.” It’s really just a snippet of the famous opening riff to the latter song that you can slightly hear in the former one.

What Michael Skidmore, the executor of “Taurus” songwriter Randy "California" Wolfe, doesn’t understand is that the chromatic scale in question has been present in music since the 1600s. You can even hear it in the Beatles’ “Michelle,” but you didn’t see Spirit credit them on “Taurus.”

Spirit hasn’t been fighting with logic. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have hired Francis Malofiy. If Cersei Lannister were to have a child with Saul Goodman, Malofiy would be the toxic result.

The trial began in the Los Angeles federal court June 14. The first day saw testimonies from those representing the plaintiff, while Plant and Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page casually observed.

It wasn’t until June 15 that Page was given the opportunity to testify when called by Malofiy as a witness.

Under oath, Page claimed he had never listened to “Taurus.” 

The second day provided the first of many headline-worthy discoveries during the trial. At one point, Malofiy played the “Mary Poppins” classic “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” and noted how it could have been another song Zeppelin “ripped off” for “Stairway.”

Another key moment in the trial occurred with the arrival of Zeppelin bassist/keyboardist/songwriter John Paul Jones. It was a rare and much anticipated reunion for the surviving band members, missing only their former drummer John Bonham.

Unfortunately, Jones’s testimony didn’t work in his favor. When confronted with interviews about the origins of “Stairway,” he admitted he sounded like he was “guessing.”

He also said he thought the cover songs played by Zeppelin in their early days, when they were stilled billed as the “New Yardbirds,” were all originals by the Yardbirds.

On top of this, when Malofiy asked whether or not Jones had been to a Spirit concert, Jones claimed he had never been to any rock concert before the recording of “Stairway.”

While this cross-examination saw the end to Malofiy’s allotted 10 hours to plead his case, it was certainly an ugly end to his consistent bullying.

Perhaps that was why Zeppelin’s attorneys began urging Judge Gary Klausner to halt proceedings on Monday, stating Malofiy has failed to establish any burden of proof during the previous three days of testimony. Despite this, the trial was still set to resume on Tuesday.

Given Malofiy’s inability to prove anything thus far, I’d say Zeppelin still has a fighting chance. 

Say what you want about the band, but this is one lead zeppelin that won’t go up in flames.

afaulds@indiana.edu | @a_faulds9615

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