Home Music Led Zeppelin, Greatest Song Thieves in Rock History, Nominated for Songwriters Hall...

Led Zeppelin, notorious for stealing songs from obscure sources and sampling other people’s music, have been nominated for induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame this morning. They are on a strange list that also includes Madonna, whose songs have all been written by others including Stephen Bray and Patrick Leonard.

But it’s the inclusion of Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page that will certainly causes peels of laughter today, especially among music historians. The group’s catalog is well known for being purloined from Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson and so on.

Their song “Dazed and Confused” was lifted from a 1967 song of the same name by a little known artist called Jake Holmes. Holmes opened for the Yardbirds — Page’s group before Zepp- in 1967 in Greenwich Village. Two years later, the new Zeppelin released their “Dazed and Confused.” For some reason, Holmes waited until 2010 to sue them.

The internet is littered with examples of Zeppelin’s thievery. The website whosampled.com has dozens and dozens of examples of which folk, blues and early rock songs became Led Zeppelin hits. There are also several YouTube videos demonstrating all the uncredited samples. Thanks to the amateur musicologists who put these videos together.

So how did Zeppelin make it onto the nominees list this morning? For years there were arguments against them, and all the evidence was presented. But I’m told that the success of having Steven Tyler and Joe Perr last year at the SHOF dinner spurred this on. The major difference, though, is that they actually wrote their own songs. And when they wanted to record a blues album, they did with “Honkin’ on Bobo.”

None of what Zeppelin did took away from their amazing performances. As a rock band playing the blues, they are unequaled. But songwriters? That’s something else.

As for Madonna: I’m told a plea was made on her behalf. But the endorser may be having second thoughts now. As for the other performing nominees, several are long overdue. Donovan and Ray Davies are the most obvious. Cat Stevens should be in both the Songwriters and Rock and Roll Halls of fame.Elvis Costello and Pete Townshend are also missing from the SHOF.

If the SHOF wants to be more contemporary, then Cyndi Lauper– legitimately a great songwriter–should be inducted. She just won a Tony Award for Best Musical for “Kinky Boots.” That’s not something Madonna will ever achieve.

A footnote on Madonna: when Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg, who wrote “Like a Virgin,” Madonna’s biggest hit, were inducted, she didn’t even bother to show up. The writers made a joke of it in their speech, and the audience howled.

48 replies to this post
  1. Trebonianvs (@Trebonianvs)”If not for Led Zeppelin nobody would have heard of those obscure blues artists”. so if i go and rob from some obscure store and it makes the papers then it is okay because now some more people know about it????. come on get a grip!!!!!

  2. It was horrible of them to try to take credit for the covers/reworkings of other artists’ songs. But come on, it’s not as if the majority of their lyrics were stolen. A lot of bands do covers throughout their career but pretty much every one does so early on.

  3. I think the point that a lot of people here are missing is that Zepp claimed to have written these songs, and when first confronted about their theft, they continued to claim as such.

    Covering a song, like Jimi covering All along the Watchtower, is different than what Zepp did because Jimi attributed the song to the original artist. Zepp claimed to write them and received the royalties due the original artist for those songs.

    Homage – a riff here and there.
    Cover – giving credit to original musician.
    Theft – taking credit for the composition.

    These were times when writing one hit song could have changed the lives of the authors, especially some of the poorer southern people. Shame on Zepp for not giving proper credit.

    To the people who claim there is ‘a riff here and there’ and that’s all; did you go to the site referenced and listen to some of the comparisons? These were lyric and composition rip offs timing for timing, note for note. The original authors should have been credited. The funny thing is, Zepp still would have been rich and famous, and even genuinely welcomed into the blues community, like Clapton is, and they would have made people money at a time in their lives when they could have used it.

    What Zepp did was not what people were ‘doing at the time’, not at all.

    PS: Led Zeppelin is currently, and will always be, in my top five favorite bands. They rock the entire house down, too bad they’re douche bags.

  4. It’s not weather or not Led Zeppelin took basic chord progressions, specific instrumental parts or the lyrics and made them there own renditions.. IT’S THE FACT That they did it and Claimed on their Albums That “THEY” Wrote The Original Music / Lyrics – When They Obviously Did Not!!! – As a matter of Fact, They did This With So MANY of Their supposed Original Songs, I Question weather or not ANY SONG of Led Zeppelins Is Actually Original ?!? Seriously, their Ability to Create their own Phenomenal arrangements of Other peoples Riffs and Lyrics -And- Their Mind Blowing Live Performances as Well as Mind Blowing Studio Work, Makes Their Plagiaristic Ways Embarrassing and Low.. Very sad, that such Talent LIED Their Way To The Top! – You people on here Nit Picking about the Spirt song Not being ripped off to Make “Stair Way To Heaven” are missing your Minds… Once you see a band has repeatedly Claimed “Original” On Countless Obviously Stolen Pieces of Work, you can rest assured that for some Reason Led Zeppelin felt they Must Also STEAL The Essence of the Spirit Song to Make “Stair Way To Heaven” – Also, there is No Consolation in saying that if it weren’t for Led Zeppelin, no one would know any of these songs. Every decent human being Knows the difference between Right and Wrong – which is Why when I watched the Kennedy Center Awards for Led Zeppelin (which was Very Good, by the Way) I Still Laughed My Ass Off at the SIGHT of Zeppelin Sitting Up there With all the other Liars Cheaters and Stealers! ~*~

  5. I hear parts of old (80 years or more) songs in parts of ‘new” (since mid 50′s) songs all the time. When you are learning music, trying to find your way, you listen to so much music that it would be hard to keep it all categorized. A little rif here that sticks in your mind…..and then fuel all of that with alcohol and drugs in the 60′s-70′s….c’mon, man….add to the fact that we all now have soooo much more access to at one time very little known music, lost recordings, etc…..

  6. Roger is correct. You can’t lift lyrics word for word or music note for note and not credit the original writer. Zep were great muscians but cannot say it was “unconscious plagarism”. It’s not a new thing to plagarize, hell our very own VPOTUS, the moronic Joe Biden is a thief and the POTUS is a liar .. “you can keep your health insurance”… yeah right, open your eyes..and ears !

  7. Where’s the “black ‘Going to California’”? Where’s the “black ‘Kashmir’”? Where’s the “black ‘Good Times Bad Times’”? Immigrant Song? Etc. etc.

    Led Zep were indeed tremendous songwriters. This article is such hysteric rubbish. The melodies (only) claimed as lifted — are for filler junk recordings nobody really cared much about. They were fundamentally White European in their songwriting, which means there was a strong emphasis on melody and structure. Plus no black musician every played like Jimmy Page.

  8. Led Zeppelin’s most famous song, and the most famous in rock history was “Stairway to Heaven.”
    Lyrics written by Plant, music by Page, Jones and Bonham.

  9. Led Zeppelin were sued by Willie Dixon and decided to settle out of court instead of continuing to look like jerks. Prior to settling there was NO credit given to Dixon after the settlement all new printings of their albums had to credit WD as well as LZ. The point of the article is that LZ did not write many things that they are famous for. All they had to do is give the other artists credit originally or fess up when they were originally hit with legal action and they did not. Here is a good write up of the situation: http://turnmeondeadman.com/led-zeppelins-influences-whole-lotta-love/ If you don’t like this article just google around it was all well documented. I was not aware that as late as 2010 others were stepping up to make claims. Sad, really all this could have been avoided and their song writing status would not be tarnished. I personally think artists no matter who need to do what they have to protect their work. If you steal your going to get what’s coming, doesn’t matter whether no one has heard of the artist being ripped off or not.

  10. Being better or not, even if nobody would ever heard about “obscure blues artists” (wich is doubtfull) they never gave credits to the original artists.
    Stealing songs (or parts of songs) is like stealing your daily bread

  11. Led Zeppelin did originally credit Memphis Minnie for When the Levee Breaks. Stairway is not a ripoff of Spirit unless you want to count a chord structure that is similar in the beginning and then goes completely different. Jimmy strummed a few chords of a Beatles song in the intro to the Rain Song as a tribute and I would not count that as plagiarism. Yes, they unfortunately didn’t credit some songs and your hatred for some of that blinds the original compositions the band did create like Black Dog, Misty Mountain Hop, Kashmir, etc. Bonham gave a tip to a Little Richard song in his hi-hat work in Rock and Roll. The fact is Zeppelin took a lot of those songs to different heights. The fused guitars in the intro to Nobody’s Fault But Mine and the copying of the intro to Bring it on Home before taking it to a totally new galaxy. Whole lotta love is one of the greatest riffs in rock history and yes they borrowed some lyrics and yes they borrowed some Moby Grape for Since I’ve Been Lovin You but the song is totally different from the original. In a music world where rock promoters, management etc. ripped off artists regularly, Zeppelin and especially Page made some not so smart decisions in the credit area. They should and have been sued by original artists based on money. If Zeppelin albums didn’t sell or they were relegated to the rock heap then you bet this wouldn’t be a story. The fact is their body of work outweighs their indiscretions. Many artists would love to have an ounce of the success Zeppelin did. There is nothing wrong with wanting to cover your heroes music and the way Zeppelin infused early rock, blues and folk into their long jams was ecstatic live performance. That is fact and you can berate them all you want, but that will not change. Heck, just look at all the sampling that goes on today. I say it is a tip of the hat to great artists of the past. I think intelligent people will make the decision if Page and Plant belong in the songwriters hall of fame not angry ramblers who cite this babble without commenting at all about the weight of the songs Zeppelin did write on their own.

  12. Roger Friedman, I have never heard anybody named Roger before, or anybody Friedman.. So that is an original name. However, man, this is a stupid article. Its not even eloquent. Somebody is paying you for this? what a steal!

  13. It’s always been amusing to me how people go berzerk over Zeppelin’s “thievery” but nobody seems to be bothered in the least by the dozens of bands who launched their careers by being Zeppelin clones. Rush, for instance, who’s song Working Man sounded identical enough to Zeppelin that people mistook it for a Zeppelin song. Or Heart, which came to be referred to as Led Zeppelin with breasts, and who’s most famous song Barracuda bears a remarkable resebmlance to Zeppelin’s Achilles Last Stand. Would anyone argue that Rush shouldn’t be considered “real” songwriters because they began their career as a Zeppelin clone?

    Yeah, it was a mistake for them to not give proper credit, but as others pointed out, that was not an uncommon thing back then. The difference was that most bands didn’t make the kind of money Zeppelin did, which is why most of the lawsuits came years after the “thievery” occurred. The majority of the time, these instances of “thievery” were actually Zeppelin paying homage to their influences, such as the inclusion of the Robert Johnson lemon-squeezing lines in what was obviously a cover of Killing Floor. Speaking of which, so many rock bands in the 60s covered Killing Floor that nobody actually thought that The Lemon Song was supposed to be a Zeppelin original. It would be like doing a cover of With A Little Help From My Friends. Everyone knows where it came from. Speaking of Joe Cocker, what a thief, right?

  14. Obviously some of their incredible body of work borrows bits from others, and their lack of acknowledgment (indeed claiming as one’s own!) is damning. And they have paid dearly for their sins in some instances. It would be interesting to see a Plant, Page, et. al. rebuttal. Still one of the greatest bands EVER and well deserving HOF honors!

  15. Who writes this shit? I’m going to take a wild guess and say; someone whose accumulated knowledge about music could fit on the head of a match

  16. @Trebonianvs- “If not for Led Zeppelin nobody would have heard of those obscure blues artists.”

    Really, That’s your take on this? FYI- nobody has heard of those artists, all they know is Zeppelin, and 99.9% still think Zep wrote the songs. Not to mention that little thing called money that those obscure artists never got paid!

  17. Sad that they did not properly credit people. They must have known that most of these artists made little money from their work, and LZ did very well with it.

  18. This is a dumb article and I’m only hear because of my Google News alert. Everyone steals and samples from everyone. What is this, a ghetto Pitchfork?

  19. It’s pretty undeniable that Zep were a great band, but equally undeniable that they were accomplished “borrowers”. It’s great to be influenced by other musicians (I write songs and music that only a few people will ever hear, and my influences range from Muddy Waters to Rogers & Hammerstein), but not cool if you rip them off word-for-word, note-for-note and stick your own name on it. Rock and Roll HOF? Absolutely. Songwriters HOF? Definitely not.

  20. Led richly deserves to be in the R&RHoF, but they do not deserve to be in the SHoF.

    There is nothing at all wrong with remakes, which are often much better than the original. However, when it is done without either permission or attribution, it is plagiarism, and that is utterly unacceptable. In Led’s case, we are dealing with serial plagiarists.

    If they get inducted into the SHoF, it is not just a slap in the face of those who were deservedly inducted, but a rank cheapening of the award.

    That said, nothing could make me love their versions any less.

  21. So Led zeppelin “borrowed” from other artists. It was no different to what a lot of other acts were doing in the 60′s. The fact remains that most of their catalogue of work was written by them and included many well crafted songs. If you don’t believe me, then ask the millions of people who have and still continue, to buy their albums.
    Where do you get the notion that Zeppelin are a rock band playing blues? Have you listened to hot dog, or D’yer maker?

  22. In other words, they borrowed the lines from the American writers in the same manner as they borrowed lines from J.R.R. Tolkien. They took them through the looking glass.

  23. I’ve never had a problem with Zep covers, blues covers were standard fare of the time and everyone knew it.

    Stairway to Heaven always made me uncomfortable though.

  24. I disagree with the comment that “If not for Led Zeppelin nobody would have heard of those obscure blues artists.” Many, many people have made it their passion to know all about the progenitors of the blues and contemporary popular music for that matter. Led Zeppelin did not credit any of these artists for these songs that, though modified and rearranged, were quite plainly misappropriated.

  25. look at the songs they did write as “songwriters” then judge,this doink doesn’t know about theivery ,music or Zeppelin in any historical context

  26. @Treboniavns – so what?? Just b/c Zep made the songs famous does NOT mean they get to steal credit for someone else’s work. I’ve never been a big Zep fan, but my brother is and so I appreciate the fact that they are a good group. They probably should be inducted into the Rock & Roll HOF (if they haven’t already been), but if the SONGWRITERS HOF wants to maintain any credibility they will NOT induct song thieves into their institution. This would be akin to me being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame after serving as a batboy.

  27. @Trebaonianvs Really? Led Zeppelin didn’t give credit to them either. Do you think LZ was putting together a complex riddle for all us, perhaps?

  28. Read Mick Wall’s excellent bio on Zep ‘When Giants Walked the Earth’ He devotes a whole chapter to Zep’s plagiarism. Included is an interview with one Jake Holmes, BTW

  29. This article is not accurate Like A Virgin was NOT Madonna’s biggest hit, I seriously doubt a PLEA was made on her behalf to nominate her that’s ridiculous to say the least. Madonna has written some of the biggest hits of all time and most of her singles are considered classics. Her songs are not all written by other people she is listed as the main writer on many of her singles.

  30. They DID write ‘Stairway to Heaven’ ‘Kashmir’ ‘Rock and Roll’ ‘Houses of the Holy’ ‘All of my Love’ and many more brilliant songs besides. They certainly belong in that Hall of Fame.

  31. As a lover of the blues, rock music and folk music, I was glad that Led Zeppelin “borrowed” from both well-known and obscure music for many of their hits. It introduced a whole new generation to music which had been neglected for years. It was thoroughly enjoyable in the ’60′s to discover the musical roots or folk songs which became such great rock hits, and taught a lot of us “folkies” just what could be done to bend and stretch a song, sometimes making it new again, as has occurred throughout the course of traditional music.

  32. Every rock musician or group from the era “stole” or “plagiarized” music. You should be fair, too, in that every single one of the blues musicians Led Zeppelin “stole” from, at some point in their careers, also “stole” music from other blues musicians.

    Most of the Zeppelin plagiarism can be attributed to some form of idiocy on the part of whoever decided that the liners/ASCAP entries should credit only the band members…but like I’ve implied, this wasn’t a new idea at all: “Whole Lotta Love” borrows heavily from “You Need Love,” a Willie Dixon/Muddy Waters song…eventually, Led Zeppelin was sued, and a credit in Dixon’s name was inserted; the essentially identical-to-the-original “You Need Loving,” by The Small Faces, has never been subject to litigation, and credits Ronnie Lane and Steve Marriott as the songwriters.

    There are numerous other examples, but…you won’t change your mind. Plagiarism is by-and-large an anachronism, and only became an issue when money was involved. (The Jake Holmes case was settled out-of-court, not because he would have won — he wouldn’t have — but to get it out of the news.)

    Oh, btw, you should really proofread your articles before publishing them.

  33. I am not a Led Zeppelin fan, but for my part I think that the songs have been reworked sufficiently to be regarded as new works in their own right. Chaucer took his stories from Boccacio, Shakespeare wasn’t the first to come up with basic idea of Hamlet, but few would argue that they were not the authors of the works that we know. Artists have been taking existing works, reworking them and stamping them with their own vision for millenia. Nobody is going to mistake Led Zeppelin for their blues elders. And if we had recordings of the generations that preceded Robert Johnson and co., then I have no doubt that in many cases the geneology of those works could be traced back even further.

What do you think?