Who is Led Zeppelin ?

LZ pic

Led Zeppelin is an English rock band formed in London in 1968. The band was at the time composed of 4 musicians – Jimmy Page, the guitarist, Robert Plant, the singer, John Paul Jones, the bassist and keyboarder and John Bonham the drummer. Some of their main hits were “Stairway to Heaven” for instance, or “Whole Lotta Love”…

They were active between 1968 and 1980 as Led Zeppelin, some members of the group were playing as the Yardbirds (Jimmy Page) before 1968. After 1980 they kept playing but not under the same name. The group disbanded in 1980 after the death of John Bonham, the drummer of their group.

Led Zeppelin used a guitar style that drew heavily on the blues; its early repertoire included remakes of songs by Howlin’ Wolf, Albert King, and Willie Dixon. They drew so heavily in the blues that they were, as we will debate in another article, sued by many blues artists because they failed to give proper credits to the original artists of the songs they covered, hence were and still are accused of plagiarism.

The blues influences in Led Zeppelin’ songs

The inspiration Led Zeppelin drew from the blues can be seen in many of their songs, if not a good part of them. Looking at all the instances would be really long so we will just focus on some of them in this article. The inspiration drawn from the blues is both lyrical and rythmical.

A first example is “In my Time of Dying” published in 1975 by Led Zeppelin. A song of a similar name or almost was recorded by Blind Willie Johnson in 1927. The similarities in this song are lyrical here, below an excerpt of the lyrics of the two versions of the song starting with the one of Led Zeppelin.

In my time of dying, want nobody to mourn
All I want for you to do is take my body home

Well, well, well, so I can die easy [X2]

Jesus, gonna make up my dyin’ bed.
Meet me, Jesus, meet me. Meet me in the middle of the air
If my wings should fail me, Lord. Please meet me with another pair.

Now the version of Blind Willie Johnson, “In My Time of Dyin.”

Well, in my time of dyin’, don’t want nobody to moan
All I want for you to do is take my body home
Well, well, well, so I can die easy
Well, well, well, well, well, well, so I can die easy
Jesus goin’ make up
Jesus goin’ make up
Jesus goin’ make my dyin’ bed

Well, meet me, Jesus, meet me, meet me in the middle of the air
If these wings should fail me, Lord, won’t you meet me with another pair

As we can see, the first lines are identical or almost. It is clear that Led Zeppelin stole or copied a part of the lyrics of the original song of Blind Willie Johnson and added their own composition after it (not above). The theme is the same all along though. Whether it is just a lifting or a case of plagiarism is yet to be discussed in another article.

Now let’s take a look to the song “Bring it on Home” published in 1969 by Led Zeppelin. This song was published under the exact same name in 1963 by Sonny Boy Williamson. Here too the similiraties are lyrical, which is not a surprise for a supposedly cover of the song. Just as for the first song, below an excerpt of the lyrics of both versions, starting with the one of Led Zeppelin.

Baby, baby… I’m gonna bring it on home to you.
I’ve got my ticket, I’ve got that load. Got up, gone higher, all aboard.
Take my seat, right way back. ooh yeah. Watch this train roll down the track.
I’m gonna bring it on home, Bring it on home to you.
Watch out, watch out…

Now the version of Sonny Boy Williamson published in 1963.

Baby, baby,
I’m gonna bring it on home to you

I done bought my ticket, I got my load
Conductor done hollered, “All, aboard”
Take my seat and ride way back,
And watch this train move down the track

Baby, baby,
I’m gonna bring it on home to you

As you see here again, the lyrics from the song of Led Zeppelin are for a good part a copy of the ones from Sony Boy Williamson’s song mixed with Led Zeppelin’s own composition.

In order to avoid a boring enumeration of the lyrical similiraties between Led Zeppelin’s songs and classic blues songs, we will take a look the song “Dazed and Confused” published in 1969 by Led Zeppelin. A song with the same name was published by Jake Holmes two years earlier. The lyrics are quite different, if not totally different. Nonetheless, it is clear that Led Zeppelin got inspiration from Jake Holmes’s song for their own. Below are two Youtube video with first the original version of the song, that is to say the one of Jake Holmes. Listen carefully to the first seconds of the songs, that is where the matter lies.

Now the version of Led Zeppelin.

The resemblance is striking in the introduction of the song, before the lyrics. Jake Holmes was not specially a blues singer but it was easier to illustrate that the inspiration was both lyrical and rhythmical with this song as it is often tricky to hear where the rhythmical similarities lie in pure blues songs.

In the next article, we will do a presentation of the on-going debate about whether or not Led Zeppelin actually covered songs or plagiarized them and the different instances for which they were sued.

Covers or Plagiarism ?

In the previous article entitled “The Blues influences in Led Zeppelin’ songs”, we pointed out clearly that it was not always clear if Led Zeppelin covered songs or plagiarized them. First we need to define what is the difference between the two. The difference lies in the fact that in a cover, proper credits are given to the original artists of the song, whereas when the song is plagiarized few credits or even no credit at all are given to the original artists. In Led Zeppelin case, as we will see in details, they most of the time they failed to give credits. The following picture illustrates pretty well the problem.


Click to zoom


The previous picture is not a comprehensive list of all Led Zeppelin’s songs that have been covered/copied. This list is anyway going to change, soon or later, as Led Zeppelin is getting sued by most artists/records company to whom they owe money due to the credits thing.

Even though Led Zeppelin failed to give credits to many songs, some people like to argue that they copied unknown songs and made diamonds of them and that these unknown songs would have not been known but for Led Zeppelin. Obviously, the contrary argument is to say that they shamelessly ripped blues songs… In my opinion, both opinions are valuable, but it is neither black or white in this case, the similarities are just as many as the differences so we could argue on and on, and in the end anyone is free to conclude whether or not their songs are rip-offs.

Picture taken there http://turnmeondeadman.com/led-zeppelin-plagiarism/