SULLY ERNA Says LED ZEPPELIN's 'Stairway To Heaven' Is A 'Masterpiece' Even If JIMMY PAGE 'Ripped Off' Beginning Riff

December 21, 2023

During an appearance on the latest episode of "The Mistress Carrie Podcast", GODSMACK frontman Sully Erna was asked to name a "perfectly written" song that somebody else wrote where he just goes, "God, I wish I wrote that song." He responded (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "Well, I think everybody knows maybe one of the most perfect songs ever written in the world for rock music is [LED ZEPPELIN's] 'Stairway To Heaven'. It just is. It is what it is. And even if you did rip off that beginning riff, Jimmy [Page], I don't give a fuck. You did a good job with that shit. And it wasn't — listen, I even heard the original piece that they talked about that was a copyright infringement, and it literally is a speck of that entire epic ballad that ZEPPELIN put together. So he heard a melody within a few notes of someone else's song, and he was inspired by it and created this whole amazing legendary rock song. And as a writer, I have to respect that, because maybe he could have changed the key or changed a couple of notes, but it really is a very, very, very small part of the intro to that song."

He continued: "If you think about that song, I mean, a gorgeous, beautiful acoustic opening, and then John Paul Jones comes in with these really beautiful flute lines and the melody is gorgeous, the lyrics are mysterious and captivating. And then it just keeps ramping up and up and up until it gets to this incredibly powerful guitar solo and jam at the end where they're all kind of reaching for this finale. For it all to just kind of explode and go back down to where it started in the beginning, to me, that truly is a masterpiece."

Erna added: "As much fun people make of that song, 'cause it's probably the most overplayed song on rock radio in the world, there's a reason why it's overplayed. That song is a fucking masterpiece. Especially now, being a seasoned songwriter, I listen to that again and I go, man, I would still love to have written that song. That's the song I'd be proud of to this day, only because as I've grown, it hasn't been about a very narrow-minded kind of rock music. Our earlier music, we were just learning. I was trying to figure out how to write music. So it was very simple. And maybe that's part of what made it work. But it was also very — I don't know — for me, it wasn't very experienced sounding. But as I've grown into my later years and become more experienced as a writer, and the solo stuff and all that, I like the orchestrated, more epic versions of stuff. And that, to me, fits right in that category."

In March 2016, LED ZEPPELIN won a long-running copyright dispute over the opening riff in "Stairway To Heaven".

Page and the rest of ZEPPELIN were accused of stealing the riff from a song called "Taurus" by U.S. psych-rockers SPIRIT, recorded three years before the release of the album "Led Zeppelin IV", which contained the classic ZEPPELIN track.

Michael Skidmore, the trustee of "Taurus" songwriter Randy "California" Wolfe's estate, had brought the claims more than four decades after "Stairway To Heaven" was released.

In June 2016, a Los Angeles jury deliberated for about five hours before deciding unanimously in favor of LED ZEPPELIN. The case was revived in 2018 before a court of appeals upheld the original verdict in 2020. In October 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, definitively ending it.

Asked "what sort of experience" it was to have to testify at the 2016 trial, ZEPPELIN singer Robert Plant told "Loose Ends": "What can you do? I just had to sit there. I was instructed to sit directly opposite the jury: 'Don't look at them, but just don't look at anybody. Just sit there for eight hours.'

"As much as I am musical, I cannot comment on anything musical. I just sing," the LED ZEPPELIN frontman continued.

"There are zillions and zillions of songs that are carrying the same chord progression, so it was very unfortunate, and it was unpleasant for everybody."

Plant testified in court that he had no recollection of ever hearing "Taurus" before. "I didn't remember it then, and I don't remember it now," he said. Page also testified that he had not copied any part of "Taurus" even though he owned five discs by SPIRIT among his collection of 4,000 vinyl records.

Enrico Bonadio, a senior lecturer in law from City University London, told Newsweek in April 2016: "I don't think that it is appropriate to consider the act of devising a tune that simply has the same 'feel' and 'groove' as another as copyright infringement. This is how music creativity often works. Musicians frequently build upon earlier arrangements and styles, and so the increasing occurrence of cases such as these should give us pause."

After the 2016 trial, plaintiff's attorney Francis Malofiy claimed he lost his case on a technicality, insisting that it was unfair the jury was unable to listen to the sound recording of "Taurus" and instead was limited to hearing an expert performance of the registered sheet music.

Malofiy received over a hundred sustained objections and "multiple admonishments" during the ZEPPELIN trial, with the band's publishing company Warner/Chappell Music filing documents asking the judge to order the plaintiffs to pay over $613,000 in costs for defending against the lawsuit.

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