Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Song Remains Ingrained

By default (I didn't really have anything else to write about) June is Led Zeppelin month here at Dirt City Chronicles.  I've always been a big fan of Led Zeppelin, and until a few weeks ago, (due mostly to my own indifference) the whole Jimmy Page is a plagiarist thing meant nothing to me. But, it's such a polarizing topic  that I couldn't simply ignore it. 

Don't get me wrong, Jimmy Page is a great guitar player, a shitty human being,  a Satan worshiper, a recovering smack fiend, but a truly gifted musician, nonetheless.  Did he steal from a litany of musical sources? The evidence weighs heavily against him, but that doesn't diminish his greatest, though it could taint his legacy.

Like everything else that I write about, I dole out praise and dirt in equal portions. But, unlike some people, I'm not a Led Zeppelin hater. I celebrate their entire catalog, the band is one of the greatest rock bands ever.  Led Zeppelin changed the face of modern rock as much as the Beatles or Rolling Stones, their music is a testament to that fact.     

The Led Zeppelin Plagiarism Compendium is an online discussion board or forum, where rock music fans gather to slag, bag or nag about  Jimmy's alleged thievery. They've published a list of the songs in question. For no good reason whatsoever, I've decided to investigate the matter and post my highly opinionated and uninformed findings.

The Led Zeppelin Plagiarism Compendium

Album:  Led Zeppelin
Babe I'm Gonna Leave You,  Source:  Joan Baez - Babe I'm Gonna Leave You (Anne Brendon)
The lyrics are the only part of Joan Baez's grating version that resembles Led Zep's lumbering take on Anne Brendon's song. But, yes it's the same song and they were forced to admit that much in court and Brendon received a substantial back payment from the band and songwriting credit.  Verdict: Guilty, and forced to pay up!

Dazed and Confused,    Source:  Jake Holmes - Dazed and Confused
Beyond the shadow of a doubt Page ripped this from Holmes. Had Jake Holmes pursued the matter when Zep's version first came out, he probably would have forced an out of court settlement. Alas, Jake waited 41 years to file suit and he's still waiting for compensation or acknowledgment.     Verdict: Guilty, litigation still pending                                                                                                                             

Black Mountain Side,   Source:  Bert Jansch - Black Water Side  
From Jansch's "Jack Orion" album released in 1966  (with John Renbourn) very little difference between Bert's arrangement and Jimmy's. "Black Water Side" however, is  a traditional folk song.  It's quite obvious that Page drew his "inspiration" from Bert's version.  Jimmy didn't feel obligated to give Jansch songwriting credit, though he claims Jansch as one of his primary influences (which is Page speak for "fuck him")  Bert Jansch never raised a fuss about it, nor did he get his  well deserved credit.  Verdict: Guilty                                                                                                                                               
 How Many More Times,   Sources: Howlin Wolf - How Many More Years / Albert King - The Hunter / Jeff Beck - Bolero
First of all, let's eliminate "Beck's Bolero" Recorded in 1966, the session included (beside Beck) Jimmy Page on guitar, John Paul Jones on bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano, and Keith Moon on drums.  In effect, we're asked to believe that Page plagiarized himself.  Jeff Beck drew his inspiration from Maurice Ravel's Boléro, so it comes down to who stole what and when.

Howlin Wolf scored a hit with "How Many More Years" in 1951, is Led Zeppelin's "How Many More Times" the same song?, not at all.  Zep's song is a bastardized mash up, with traces of Howlin Wolf's tune and a heaping dose of Albert King's "The Hunter" Jimmy Page ripped off Albert King, but he did in  such a clever fashion that it almost sounds like a tribute.                                 Verdict:  1 Guilty, 2 Not Guilty

Communication Breakdown,  Source:  Eddie Cochran - Nervous Breakdown
Anyone who sees any similarity between Led Zeppelin's classic rave-up and Cochran's is trying too fucking hard.  We're out to bag some big game and this dog don't hunt. This argument has no merit, or as Johnny Cochran would say "You ain't got shit"   Verdict: Not Guilty                                                                                                                                                        

Your Time Is Gonna Come,  Source:  Traffic - Dear Mr. Fantasy
From Traffic's  1967 album "Mr. Fantasy", Other than that rolling guitar riff, which is identical to Dave Mason's  riff on Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy", this one doesn't really wash. That would be like saying that Kingdom Come was ripping off Led Zeppelin just because all their songs sounded exactly like Led Zeppelin.                                                                                                                                               Verdict: Not Guilty

Album:  Led Zeppelin II
Whole Lotta Love,     Sources:  Muddy Waters (Willie Dixon) - You Need Love / Small Faces - You Need Loving
Shamelessly brazen heist, made worse when you consider that this was the song that put Led Zeppelin over the top with American music fans. (the band's only top ten U.S. single) Muddy Waters recorded "You Need Love" in 1962, it was written by Willie Dixon specifically for Waters. The Small Faces' version (1966) sticks close to Muddy's original. Robert Plant aped Steve Marriott's vocal mannerisms for Led Zeppelin's version. Page, Plant, Bonham & Jones were credited as songwriters, Dixon received a belated credit after he threatened court action.      verdict: Whole Lotta Guilty

Lemon Song,    Sources:  Howlin' Wolf - Killing Floor / Robert Johnson - Traveling Riverside Blues
"Squeeze me baby, till the juice runs down my legs, the way you squeeze my lemon, I'm gonna fall right out of bed" are still the greatest lyrics ever written in any genre.  Problem is... Robert Plant didn't write them nor did Jimmy Page compose the music.  Wolf probably nicked the tune from Robert Johnson, who most likely learned it from the Devil himself.  Zep's version of "Traveling Riverside Blues" later turned up on the band's final album "Coda" credited to Robert Johnson, with Page & Plant listed as co-writers, cheeky bastards! "The Lemon Song" credits the entire band and Chester Burnett (Howlin Wolf) as songwriters (that wasn't the case when the album was first released)  Verdict: Guilty as Hell

Bring it on Home,    Source:  Sonny Boy Williamson (Willie Dixon) - Bring it on Back
Another Willie Dixon song that Led Zeppelin stole. Dixon got his song writing credit along with royalties (not sure if he received any back payments)  Led Zeppelin's version amounts to nothing more than a cover song, albeit lumbering and loud. They totally fail to capture the nuances that made Sonny Boy's version so good, but then being subtle wasn't in the works for The Lead Balloon.           Verdict: Guilty

Moby Dick,    Source:  Bobby Parker - Watch Your Step
I had never heard of Bobby Parker, but thirty seconds into "Watch Your Step" you realize that "Moby Dick" uses the instrumental bed from Parker's tune. Led Zeppelin's take was souped-up and beefy, but there's just too many nagging similarities with Parker's song (he may have stolen it from Ray Charles "What'd I Say" in the first place) No mention of Bobby Parker in the credits.  Verdict: Guilty

Album:  Led Zeppelin III
Since I've Been Loving You,  Source:  Moby Grape - Never
"Never" was the first track from "Grape Jam" the bonus "free" album that came with "Wow" Moby Grape's second album. The song was written by Moby Grape's bass player Bob Mosley. "Grape Jam" consisted of several improvisational jams, which was a radical departure from Moby Grape's much ballyhooed first album. Led Zeppelin's "Since I've Been Loving You" is superior in every way to "Never" thanks to some ungodly guitar work from Jimmy Page and killer vocals from Robert Plant. There's some similarities, but not enough to jump to the conclusion that Zep burned Moby. Verdict: Not Guilty

Hats Off,   Source:  Bukka White - Shake 'em on Down
Let's see if I've got this straight, Led Zeppelin pays tribute to Roy Harper by stealing a song from Bukka White?  I do love Zep's version though, that's some sweet slide work by Jimmy, in order to play like that a man would have to do unworldly things, like sell his soul to the devil... maybe? "Hats Off" also features some of Robert Plant's best vocals... ever! Having said all that, they did steal this from Bukka.       Verdict: Guilty

Album:  Led Zeppelin IV
Stairway to Heaven,   Source:  Spirit - Taurus
It would be difficult to argue that Jimmy Page didn't steal a few snippets from "Taurus" for the "Stairway to Heaven" intro.  Led Zeppelin and Spirit crossed paths during Zep's first U.S. tour in 1968. As Jake Holmes discovered, if Jimmy Page is in the house, prepare to get ripped off.  Just as was the case with Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy" it's skirts a fine line, which as we've learned, was Jimmy's specialty.          Verdict: Not Guilty

Album: Physical Graffiti
Boogie with Stu,  Source:   Oooh My Head- Ritchie Valens
Ritchie Valens was notorious for not being able to finish his songs, when Bob Keane first signed him, all Valens had was a bunch of riffs and lyrics. Working together they constructed several 1950's rock & roll classics, including "Oooh My Head" which Zeppelin tried to pass off as "Boogie with Stu"

Bob Keane was no dummy and he lawyered up quick once Physical Graffiti was released. Keane persevered and eventually Led Zeppelin reluctantly agreed to give writing credit, not to Valens & Keane (the actual composers) but to a Mrs. Valens (Ritchie's mother Connie) 

Jimmy Page came up with some hogwash about how Connie had never received any money from any of his hits, so out of the kindness of their hearts, Led Zeppelin was granting her a songwriting credit (they didn't even have the fucking decency to use her actual name, Consuelo Valenzuela)   Verdict: Guilty

Custard pie,   Source:  Sleepy John Estes - Drop Down Mama
All efforts by Jimmy Page to make "Custard Pie" something other than "Drop Down Mama" fail miserably. I'm about to say something totally fucking crazy, Why not just call the song "Drop Down Mama" and give Estes his due?  That's what I don't get about Page, he would exert all that effort and creativity in order to take songwriting credits for songs that others had written! Page & Plant are still listed as the sole composers for this song.  Verdict: Guilty

In my time of dying,  Source:  Bob Dylan - In my time of dying (Blind Willie Johnson)
Bob Dylan didn't write "In My Time of Dying" nor did he take credit for it. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant didn't write it either, but they did take credit and still do to this day. My guess is that Jimmy Page reasoned that a Bob Dylan cover of a Blind Willie Johnson song, surely has to be considered public domain.                  Verdict: Not Guilty

Album:   Presence
Nobody’s Fault But Mine,  Source:  Blind Willie Johnson - Nobody’s Fault But Mine
Stealing from a blind man would be considered low for most folks, but once you've sold your soul to the devil  you don't quibble over such matters.  As had become customary, Page & Plant took the writing credit. Blind Willie Johnson had no say in the matter, having been dead since 1945.         Verdict: Guilty

Jimmy Page Speaks: 

He sorta, kinda admits to plagiarism,
"As far as my end of it goes, I always tried to bring something fresh to anything that I used. I always made sure to come up with some variation. In fact, I think that in most cases you would never know what the original source could be. Maybe not in every case, but in most cases"

He then proceeds to throw dear old Bob (Robert Plant) under the bus,

"So most of the comparisons rest on the lyrics and Robert was supposed to change the lyrics, and he didn't always do that, which is what brought on most of the grief. They couldn't get us on the guitar parts of the music, but they nailed us on the lyrics"

Lawyers are far more persuasive than a guilty conscience,

 "We did however take some liberties, I must say, but never mind, we did try to do the right thing" 
 Guitar World Magazine 1993