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Six songs Led Zeppelin stole from their heroes


Take a look around the rock and roll scene of the 21st century; it is easy to spot the threads of influence that run through them all. The Beatles’ whimsical sense of creativity is perpetuated at every turn of the indie scene. The fearsome delivery of Black Sabbath can be heard in almost every heavy rock outfit around, and the swashbuckling power of Led Zeppelin permeates even the darkest corners of the genre. Led Zeppelin, comprised of John Bonham, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones, may well be the most influential of all.

Bursting onto the growing pop scene in the late 1960s, the band, buoyed by Page’s success both as a session guitarist and as lead for the Yardbirds, became a phenomenon. Outselling the Fab Four and toppling them as icons of a new era of rock and roll, Zeppelin were the perfect cocktail of the Delta blues, London’s swinging scene and the myriad of cultural influences that was passed along the wave of the Atlantic. However, one fact cannot be ignored: they stole a fair chunk of their music.

First things first, let us clear up any issues to do with influence. There is not a band on the list of the greatest rockers who haven’t borrowed, begged or stolen influence and inspiration from their predecessors or peers. The Beatles, for some time, were just a composite of Little Richard, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. Likewise, The Rolling Stones covered themselves so neatly in the mud of the Missippi music scene that some even thought they were from the deep south instead of Dartford. Pink Floyd would take inspiration from The Beatles and so on. But nobody borrowed influence like Led Zeppelin did.

Several songs were almost direct rip-offs of legendary blues artists that Led Zeppelin can count in their canon. However, Spirit’s ‘Taurus’ isn’t one of them. Spirit alleged that the group had stolen licks from ‘Taurus’ to create the masterpiece ‘Stairway to Heaven’ only to have the judge throw the case out of court, with appeal after appeal failing. In truth, everyone was pinching songs in the 1960s and ’70s, so it makes sense Led Zeppelin would too.

Below, we’re taking a look back at the songs Led Zeppelin stole from their heroes.

Six songs Led Zeppelin stole from their heroes:

‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’

Perhaps derived directly from the source — Anne Bredon’s 1950s release — but more likely gleaned from Joan Baez’s 1962 revision of the track for her album Joan Baez in Concert considering Page and Plant were such fans, ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ was a statement piece on the band’s debut LP.

With no writing credit for Ann Bredon, instead credited as a “traditional” folk song, the track helped to distil the appeal of Zeppelin. It would take another 20 years before the band would give any credit to Bredon, finally listing her as a co-author in the 1980s, with the folk artist seemingly unaware of them covering the track until then.

‘You Shook Me’

There is a fair amount of leeway given to this song. Featuring on the band’s debut LP, the track was originally released by Muddy Waters but comprised of lines and licks lifted from Willie Dixon and Robert Johnson song ‘Stones in My Passway’. However, it gets stranger still.

The song was also covered and released by Jeff Beck, Page’s former bandmate, just nine months before the Led Zeppelin version. Page denied hearing Beck’s version, however, and recalled in 1977: “[Beck] had the same sort of taste in music as I did. That’s why you’ll find on the early LPs we both did a song like ‘You Shook Me.’ It was the type of thing we’d both played in bands. Someone told me he’d already recorded it after we’d already put it down on the first Zeppelin album. I thought, ‘Oh dear, it’s going to be identical,’ but it was nothing like it, fortunately. I just had no idea he’d done it. It was on Truth but I first heard it when I was in Miami after we’d recorded our version. It’s a classic example of coming from the same area musically, of having a similar taste.”

‘Whole Lotta Love’

If there’s one man who can be called the fifth member of Led Zeppelin, then it is probably Willie Dixon. An iconic bluesman in his own right, many of Dixon’s songs were lifted and implanted into Led Zeppelin‘s canon. While Page is usually the man to lean on Dixon, in the case of ‘Whole Lotta love’, Robert Plant borrowed lyrics from ‘You Need Love’ — a Dixon contribution made famous by Muddy Waters in 1962.

Plant later recalled: “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.”

‘Bring It on Home’

Another song dragged from the depths of the Delta blues is ‘Bring It On home’. Not an entirely lifted set of notes, Plant and Page, combine for the majority of the track. However, at the start and end of the song are two blues compositions straight from the wild mind of, yep, you guessed it, Willie Dixon. Performed most notably by Sonny Boy Williamson, the track was penned by Dixon.

“The thing with ‘Bring It on Home,’” opined Page when confronted with the fact, “Christ, there’s only a tiny bit taken from Sonny Boy Williamson’s version, and we threw that in as a tribute to him. People say, ‘Oh, ‘Bring It on Home’ is stolen.’ Well, there’s only a little bit in the song that relates to anything that had gone before it.” Like it or not, those “tiny” bits comprise a fair chunk of the track and Page’s disdain for being caught should serve as a reminder to children everywhere to accept responsibility when you need to.

‘The Lemon Song’

It’s two R&B icons that inspired this track. Firstly, the legendary Robert Johnson’s lemon-squeezing scene from ‘Traveling Riverside Blues’ is transposed into pLant’s tongue, and then, quite dramatically, the group represent much of Howlin’ Wolf’s classic ‘Killing Floor’ within the track. So much so, in fact, that they listed the song on Led Zeppelin II as ‘Killing Floor’.

The song was eventually renamed ‘The Lemon Song’ and names Chester Burnett, aka Howlin’ Wolf, as a co-author on the track.

‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’

This may not be as clear-cut or egregious as the other songs on our list. However, there is good cause for Moby Grape to feel aggrieved about ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ as it leans heavily on their song ‘Never’.

One of Robert Plant’s favourite bands during his heyday, he perhaps intentionally fell upon their lyric “Working from 11 to 7 every night/Ought to make life a drag” and turned it into “Working from 7 to 11 every night/It really makes life a drag.” Hard to ignore such a similar lyric and Plant’s connection to the band.

‘In My Time of Dying’

Often considered Led Zeppelin’s finest release, certainly according to the band at least, Physical Graffiti displays the band’s virtuosity at full throttle. However, it also includes another song lifted from blues artists. This time it’s Blind Willie Johnson’s obscure masterpiece ‘Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed’ from 1927.

An 11-minute rock fest on the band’s album, the track is actually one of the only songs in their canon credited to Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Bonham and John Paul Jones despite being written by none of them. By 1962, Bob Dylan had picked up the song for himself and it appears Zeppelin followed his lead. No credit for the original author of the track was needed as it was soon in the public domain.