Sound familiar? ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ ‘Taurus’ and other sound-alike songs
Sometimes the artists change, but the songs, well, they remain the same. A recent judge’s decision to allow a copyright lawsuit over the opening bars of “Stairway to Heaven” to proceed against Led Zeppelin et al. brings to mind other twinned tunes, some of which resulted in legal battles and others that just made the world go, “Hmm ...”
‘Stairway to Heaven'/'Taurus'/'Cry Me a River’
The lawsuit against Led Zeppelin says that Spirit lead guitarist Randy Wolfe, a.k.a. Randy California, wrote the song “Taurus” in 1966 or ’67, and notes that Spirit and Zeppelin played in the same venues on the same dates three times between 1967 and 1970. “Stairway to Heaven” came out in late 1971. The familiar notes start about 45 seconds into “Taurus” and, interestingly, can also be heard in “Cry Me a River” by the late British guitarist Davey Graham, who was featured in a 1959 BBC documentary about folk music. Wolfe drowned in 1997, and his estate made the accusation against Zeppelin in 2014, ahead of a remastered re-release of the band’s music. The suit seeks, in part, a writing credit for Wolfe.
‘Taurus’ / Spirit
‘Stairway to Heaven’ / Led Zeppelin
‘Cry Me a River’ / Davey Graham
Little Big Town / Bonnie Tyler
“It’s a Heartache” by Bonnie Tyler was released in 1978 and subsequently covered by Juice Newton, Rod Stewart, Lorrie Martin and Trick Pony. Then when Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” came out in December 2014, folks noticed a similarity. Songwriter Lori McKenna told Rolling Stone at the time that she’d tried out the title on songwriting friends Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsey. Rose hated it, but Lindsey fell in love and “played the first chord and sang the first verse as it is,” McKenna said. Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild told the magazine, “I’d never heard a jealousy song written like this.”
‘Girl Crush’ / Little Big Town
‘It’s a Heartache’ / Bonnie Tyler
Lady Gaga / Madonna
When Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” came out in February 2011, there were comparisons to Madonna’s 1989 hit “Express Yourself.” Gaga said at the time that Madge and her team had emailed, sending her “their love and complete support on behalf of the single.” But a year later, Madonna called the newer turn “reductive,” and a few months later she covered it during rehearsal for a concert in Tel Aviv, mixing it up with her own song. In November 2013, Gaga said she’d been “completely kind of floored” that Madonna had covered “Born This Way” at all. “I’m not quite sure what her intention was -- to do that in the show,” she told Britain’s Attitude magazine,"but I don’t really care.”
‘Born This Way’ / Lady Gaga
‘Express Yourself’ / Madonna
Robin Thicke / Marvin Gaye
“Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke and Pharrell topped the 2013 charts, and Marvin Gaye’s kids heard a lot of their dad’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up” in the newer tune’s catchy beat. They sued, and in March 2015 a jury awarded them $7.4 million in unpaid licensing fees and a chunk of the song’s profits. “You’ve made it illegal to reference previous material,” L.A. composer and producer Gregory Butler told The Times after the decision. “I’m never going to come up with something so radically different that it doesn’t contain references to something else.”
‘Blurred Lines’ / Robin Thicke
‘Got to Give It Up’ / Marvin Gaye
Vanilla Ice / Queen
Vanilla Ice was accused of ripping off Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” in his defining 1990 tune, “Ice Ice Baby.” He denied it, saying, “We sampled ‘em from ‘em, but it’s not the same bass line. Like, it goes, ‘Ding ding ding di di ding, ding ding ding di di ding ding, ding ding ding.’ That’s the way theirs goes. Ours goes, ‘Ding ding ding di di ding ding, ding DING di di ding ding,’” but later retracted his denial. The lawsuit was settled out of court, with the “Under Pressure” side reportedly getting a big chunk of change and Freddy Mercury and Bowie getting writing credits on the tune.
‘Ice Ice Baby’ / Vanilla Ice
‘Under Pressure’ / Queen & David Bowie
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