Few bands have been as swept up amid accusations of plagiarism as Led Zeppelin, and every aspect of the music that the band released was scrutinised to an extent of intense struggle. While some creative similarities might be coincidental, the discussion of artist borrowing followed them around.
Over the course of eight studio albums, Led Zeppelin created a dynasty and rose to the top of the musical ladder. However, they never hid the fact that each member wore certain influences on their sleeve as a badge of honour — and sometimes they took it a step too far.
This subconscious tactic, albeit a controversial one, doesn’t take anything away from the canon brimming with powder that Led Zeppelin created during their tenure, which will stand the test of time. Additionally, when it came to performing live, there weren’t many who could compete with Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, John Bonham, and Robert Plant. However, putting on a spellbinding concert doesn’t mean they weren’t guilty of ripping off others…
Five times Led Zeppelin ripped off other artists:
‘Bring It on Home’
Accusing Led Zepellin of ripping off Willie Dixon on ‘Bring It on Home’ feels slightly harsh, but the courts weren’t as kind to the band. The track appeared on their second album, Led Zeppelin II. However, Dixon had initially recorded the effort six years prior, in 1963, and he was incensed when he heard their version.
Zeppelin deliberately paid tribute to Sonny Boy Williamson’s take on the effort on the intro and outro, yet, they never asked for permission to do so by Dixon. The band’s defence that it was a homage didn’t stand up in court, and they were forced to pay an undisclosed cash settlement and name him as a songwriter on future releases of ‘Bring It On Home’.
‘Black Mountain Side’
The instrumental effort ‘Black Mountain Side’ is featured on Zeppelin’s debut album, and it’s not just the title that’s similar to Bert Jansch titled ‘Blackwaterside’. Jimmy Page has always been open about being a fan of Jansch’s work, but undoubtedly he let his adoration for the technical supremo go out of hand on this occasion.
Tellingly, Jansch informed Classic Rock in 2007: “The thing I’ve noticed about Jimmy [Page] whenever we meet is that he can’t look me in the eye. Elaborating on an explanation for this behaviour, he added: “Well, he ripped me off, didn’t he? Or let’s just say he learned from me. I wouldn’t want to sound impolite”.
While it would have been easy for Jansch to sue the band, he instead chose to let the matter slide.
‘Whole Lotta Love’
Musically, ‘Whole Lotta Love‘ is an entirely original piece. The lyrics, on the other hand, were a “nick”, according to Robert Plant. Again, it was Willie Dixon who they’d pinched from. The 1962 track ‘You Need Love’, which Dixon wrote for Muddy Waters, was also covered by The Small Faces, and is the source of the claom. The case was eventually settled between the pair in 1985, and Dixon recieved another payday.
Plant was brutally honest about the blatant steal, later telling Musician Magazine: “Page’s riff was Page’s riff. It was there before anything else. I just thought, ‘well, what am I going to sing?’ That was it, a nick. Now happily paid for. At the time, there was a lot of conversation about what to do. It was decided that it was so far away in time and influence that .. well, you only get caught when you’re successful. That’s the game.”
‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’
This track was originally penned by singer-songwriter Anne Bredon in the 1950s while a student at the University of California. The song found itself getting covered among folk circles, and once Joan Baez released a live version in 1962, ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’, which later found its way to Jimmy Page.
Page would regularly play the track whenever he had guests round to his house and once said: “I used to do the song in the days of sitting in the darkness playing my six-string behind Marianne Faithfull.”
Led Zeppelin initially credited the song as traditional and even said Page had arranged it. However, Bredon would discover their version of ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ in the ’80s, and they came to an agreement.
‘The Lemon Song’
‘The Lemon Song’ originally started when they began covering Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Killing Floor’ during their live sets, and it morphed into something new, but they initially didn’t give Wolf the credit he deserved.
In fact, there were some mistakes made in the pressing plant, and on Led Zeppelin II, it was listed as ‘Killing Floor’. In 1972, a lawsuit ensued, and once again, the group lost. They were ordered to pay an undisclosed amount to Wolf and also credit the singer as a co-writer on releases going forward.