It seems that whenever we post an article about Led Zeppelin, music fans are quick to point out the band’s history of ripping off old blues musicians without properly crediting them. While blues music does have a rich legacy of artists covering other artists, to the point that the original author of a song is incredibly diluted, Zeppelin has indeed ran into some controversy by taking writing credits where they do not belong.
Since Led Zeppelin’s later material was largely original, as their influences shifted along the way, we’ll take a look at the band’s first four albums and see just how plagiarized they actually were.
Led Zeppelin I (1969)
1. Good Times Bad Times – This is an all-Zepp original, with the main driving riff written by bassist/multi-instrumentalist John Paul Jones.
2. Babe I’m Gonna Leave You – A song written by folk singer Anne Bredon, which was popularized by Joan Baez. Since Baez credited the song as traditional, Zeppelin put “Trad arr. Page.” Decades later, Bredon was made aware of the Zeppelin song, and won a large back-payment of royalties. Since 1990, the song has been credited as “Bredon/Page & Plant”
3. You Shook Me – A song written for Muddy Waters by Willie Dixon, credited as such. Dixon was a huge influence on Jimmy Page, however, this track was recorded just a few months earlier by Page’s former Yardbirds bandmate, Jeff Beck, on his 1968 album Truth. Once more, John Paul Jones played organ on both tracks. Coincidence? Doubtful.
4. Dazed and Confused – Wholly identified with Zeppelin, “Dazed and Confused” was actually the title of a song on an album by singer/songwriter Jake Holmes. Jimmy Page took the title, changed the melody and the lyrics just enough to avoid a lawsuit, and the rest was history. Take a listen to the Holmes original:
5. Your Time Is Gonna Come – An actual Zeppelin original!
6. Black Mountain Side – A Page instrumental, inspired by Bert Jansch’s “Down By Blackwaterside.” The song was taught to Page by Al Stewart, who worked with both Page and Jansch. The Jansch version, which has lyrics, can be heard below:
7. Communication Breakdown – Another Zeppelin original!
8. I Can’t Quit You Baby – A classic Willie Dixon blues tune, properly credited to Dixon.
9. How Many More Times – A medley piece comprised of sections that are either inspired by or direct replicas of Howlin’ Wolf’s “How Many More Years,” Albert King’s “The Hunter,” abd Jeff Beck’s “Beck’s Bolero.” The original credited just Zeppelin, but this has since been amended to include Howlin’ Wolf’s name.
Scoreboard [based on the original credits, not re-releases]: Original – 3 , Covered with credit – 2, Ripped off – 4
Led Zeppelin II (1970)
1. Whole Lotta Love – Based off of a 1962 Muddy Waters song called “You Need Love,” written once again by the great Willie Dixon. The band was sued in 1985, and courts ruled in favor of Dixon. The copying comes mostly in the lyrics, as Page’s hard-hammering riff is his own work.
Interestingly, the Small Faces recorded a cover that’s even closer to the original, “You Need Lovin’,” which remains credited to Ronnie Lane and Steve Marriott. Check out the Muddy song for context:
2. What Is and What Should Never Be – All Zeppelin
3. The Lemon Song – The music here is pretty much identical to Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killin’ Floor.” Chester Burnett (Howlin’ Wolf’s real name) was not credited on the original, but Zeppelin lost a lawsuit in the early 70s, and subsequent releases credit Wolf. Check out “Killin’ Floor” and “The Lemon Song” below to hear the similarities:
It’s worth noting that the song’s titular “lemon” is most likely a reference to Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues.”
4. Thank You – Zeppelin original.
5. Heartbreaker – Original.
6. Livin Lovin Maid (She’s Just a Woman) – Original.
7. Ramble On – While this song is wholly about Lord of the Rings, it’s a Zeppelin original.
8. Moby Dick – An instrumental highlighting John Bonham’s exceptional drumming, the main riff of this song was inspired by the song “Watch Your Step” by Bobby Parker. Interestingly, John Lennon has said that the same song inspired the riff of “I Feel Fine.” Check out Bobby Parker’s tune below:
9. Bring It On Home – Another Willie Dixon song, this time recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson. While only the intro and outro resemble the Dixon track, no such credit was listed on the initial album, leading to yet another lawsuit. While the middle section of Zeppelin’s song is distinct, the resemblance in the other sections is uncanny. Listen:
Scoreboard: Original – 8 , Covered with credit – 2, Ripped off – 8.
Led Zeppelin III (1970)
1. Immigrant Song – An original Zeppelin tune.
2. Friends – Original.
3. Celebration Day – Original.
4. Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You – Sounds very similar to Moby Grape’s “Never,” which was released in 1968. No official lawsuit was ever filed.
5. Out On The Tiles – Original.
6. Gallows Pole – A traditional folk/blues song, credited as such.
7. Tangerine – An instrumental written by Page for the Yardbirds some years prior, eventually recorded for III. Original.
8. That’s The Way – Original.
9. Bron-Y-Aur Stomp – Original.
10. Hats Off To (Roy) Harper – While the song is a tribute is Roy Harper, the music contains direct snippets of “Shake ‘Em On Down” by Bukka White. The whole song is a blues medley, so this is not surprising, but White was never credited on the Zeppelin album.
Scoreboard: Original – 15 , Covered with credit – 3, Ripped off – 10.
Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
1. Black Dog – Original.
2. Rock and Roll – Original.
3. The Battle of Evermore – Original.
4. Stairway to Heaven – The subject of a lawsuit that has raged since 2014, as the band Spirit claims the famous intro of “Stairway to Heaven” was borrowed from their instrumental, “Taurus”. However, a federal jury ruled in 2016 that Led Zeppelin’s song did not bear the burden of being “virtually identical” to “Spirit”, as is the threshold for fairly common or simple chord progressions. This decision was then upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in March 2020, and finally on October 5th, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear the case, officially putting the matter to rest. Chalk this one up as a Led Zeppelin original.
And here’s “Stairway to Heaven,” in case you’ve never listened to music before:
5. Misty Mountain Hop – Original.
6. Four Sticks – Original.
7. Going to California – A song about Joni Mitchell, but an original nonetheless.
8. When The Levee Breaks – A blues song by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie, credited as such.
Scoreboard: Original – 22 , Covered with credit – 4, Ripped off – 10.
When it’s all said and done, over their first four albums, a majority of the band’s songs were original compositions. While they ran into trouble during their earlier years, especially on their blues-laden debut album, Zeppelin paved their way to stardom by cultivating a unique and distinct sound, which is why they have remained so memorable for so many years.
-David Melamed (@DMelamz)
[Sources: Music Times, Wikipedia]
[Originally published April 2016]