Opinion: I Hope Spirit Wins the Case Against Led Zeppelin
The first time I heard Spirit was in 2008, when I joined my old band, Flaming Tusk. Our drummer and my longtime friend, Dumnorix Xristophage, was super into them, and wanted us to cover the track “Ground Hog.” We all loved the song — I was also tickled that it was written by someone named ‘Randy California’ — and decided to do the cover (which, for the record, wasn’t very good).
In the following weeks, we all got pretty into Spirit, who have a really storied history (they passed on Woodstock to do a radio interview, which I find hilarious). Their self-titled album rocks, but it’s the bizarre psychedelia of The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus that really gets me. And when I talked about them again with my drummer, he said, “Yeah, and you know ‘Stairway To Heaven’ was ripped off from ‘Taurus’, right? Those dudes toured with Zeppelin, and Zeppelin totally bit off that song.”
That couldn’t be true, could it? I went home and listened to “Taurus,” and damn if that song didn’t sound eerily similar to “Stairway.”
Over the years, I was told this story again and again by various parties, including my girlfriend’s dad, who’s an old-school Spirit fan. I thought it was a generally-accepted piece of rock lore. So imagine my surprise when, only yesterday, I find out that Spirit are finally taking Led Zeppelin to court over “Taurus.”
Now, don’t get me wrong — as Phil pointed out, it’s easy to dismiss the similarities between “Taurus” and “Stairway To Heaven.” A similar hubbub arose last year about how “Sweet Child of Mine” sounded suspiciously like a certain Australian rock song. These kinds of similarities appear often in rock music, especially during an era where a specific style within rock is being defined.
But I don’t believe in coincidences, and I don’t much care for Led Zeppelin. Zep’s singles are fun and all, but they were so much less interesting than bands like Black Sabbath or Alice Cooper; I’ll take sci-fi satanism over rehashed Tolkien any day.
On top of that, Robert Plant has repeatedly disowned heavy metal and its fans, and he made that fucking Starbucks album with Alison Krauss. And unlike the G’N’R debate, these bands weren’t operating in their own hideouts across the globe here, they toured together.
So I’m rooting for Spirit here. “Stairway To Heaven” might be more famous, and Spirit might be an incredibly out-there underground classic rock band who few people have heard of, but fuck that: in my opinion, the whole measuring-talent-by-success thing is the death of rock n’ roll incarnate. Given that they played “Taurus” every night on that first American tour with a young Zep watching from the sidelines, I think the chances that Spirit got totally ripped off are significant.
Anyway, good luck to Randy and the boys. Here’s “Ground Hog,” which I’d say is better than “Good Times Bad Times” by a fucking mile.