3 Things to Know About the 'Stairway to Heaven' Lawsuit
A song so popular it spawned a hilarious guitar store backlash may have been stolen, according to a lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania. The heirs of Randy Craig Wolfe, a.k.a. Randy California, claim he wrote the iconic opening riff to Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," and are seeking damages, profits from the song, and some money set aside for musical instruments for needy children.
The case is going to trial in a couple weeks, so here's what you need to know about the battle for one of the biggest songs in rock history.
1. The Filing Is ... Interesting?
As The Hollywood Reporter noted when it was filed, this lawsuit is not like the others. It incorporates the Led Zeppelin font; it's signed with some sort of star-adorned symbol; and a footnote indicating that "Funds obtained from a favorable resolution of this lawsuit will go to the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust" and may be used "to buy children in need musical instruments." It also includes a handy dandy chart of 17 other songs the band allegedly ripped off, some of which ended in settlements or added writing credits.
2. The Original Song Is ... Similar?
Randy California was 15 when he was discovered by Jimi Hendrix, went on to become a founding member of Spirit, and wrote and played "Taurus," and instrumental track from Spirit's first, eponymous album. The riff in questions comes about 50 seconds into the song, and you can listen for the similarities yourself:
It should be pointed out that "Taurus" was released two years before "Stairway to Heaven," Led Zeppelin opened for Spirit (and played their songs) at shows before, and Jimmy Page admitted the album was in his collection when he and Robert Plant "sat fireside in a remote cottage in Wales called Bron-Yr-Aur and allegedly wrote the song 'Stairway to Heaven.'"
3. The Drinking and the Drugs ... May Be Admissible?
Leading up to trial, the parties are arguing about how much of Led Zeppelin's hard partying will come into court. Eccentric attorney for the plaintiffs, Francis Alexander Malofiy, is contending the pervasive drinking and drug use is relevant to explain why Page and Plant can't "accurately recall their interactions (or lack thereof) with Randy California." The band, meanwhile, argues that the drugs weren't that bad, but given their previous statements on the matter, that might not be the best tack to take.
Given the content of the lawsuit and the enormity of the song at play, we can't wait for this trial to kick off.
- For Led Zeppelin, an Uncertain Legal Future Over 'Stairway to Heaven' (Rolling Stone)
- Led Zeppelin on 'Stairway to Heaven' Plagiarism (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice)
- Lawsuit Accuses Led Zeppelin of Lifting 'Stairway to Heaven' (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice)
- Led Zeppelin Faces 'Stairway to Heaven' Lawsuit Thanks to 'Raging Bull' (FindLaw's U.S. Third Circuit Blog)
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