Jimmy Page Questioned Over Influence of ‘Mary Poppins’ Song on “Stairway”
The courtroom trial over the authorship of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” grew more contentious on Thursday, as the judge admonished the plaintiff’s attorney for “wasting time” and Jimmy Page was questioned about a recently released mix of the song that could produce royalties for the plaintiff if the case succeeds.
Significantly, an expert witness described similarities between “Stairway to Heaven” and the Spirit instrumental “Taurus” to support the plaintiff’s claim that Page plagiarized the song when composing his Led Zeppelin classic.
For the second day, Page was grilled about the influence of other songs on the creation of his 1971 composition. Francis Malofiy, the attorney for the plaintiff, had Page listen to “Taurus” before questioning him about similarities between the two recordings.
That effort proved to be in vain: The matter in the copyright infringement case concerns the underlying musical structures of the two songs, not their recorded versions. U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner sustained the numerous objections raised by Page’s attorney and grew increasingly annoyed by Malofiy’s line of questioning.
“Nobody cares,” he told Malofiy. “It’s not an issue in this case.”
Page at times seemed confused by Malofiy’s questions during a lengthy conversation about the musical structure underlying his song. In one of the more unusual moments of his testimony, Malofiy quizzed the guitarist about the influence of the tune “Chim Chim Cher-ee” on “Stairway to Heaven.” The song comes from the 1964 musical motion picture Mary Poppins.
Page had himself referred to the song in his pretrial declaration back in February:
“Before 1968, I also was familiar with other songs that included a descending line, such as songs by the Beatles and ‘Cry Me a River’ by Davey Graham. Also, in 1964 a studio musician, Joe Moretti, introduced me to the song ‘Chim Chim Chiree’ and I liked the idea of music going at counterpoint and I used that and similar ideas in my music. For example…‘Stairway to Heaven’ has a descending chromatic line over which there is also an ascending line, so that the music is going in two different directions.”
Malofiy played a portion of “Chim Chim Cher-ee” in the courtroom, bringing a smile to Page’s face.
But the attorney’s rambling line of questioning only frustrated Klausner, who warned him, “You’re wasting a lot of time.”
For the first time in the trial, the court was presented with an explanation of the music theory at issue when Malofiy called expert witness Dr. Alexander Stewart to the stand. A noted musicologist and music professor at the University of Vermont, Stewart described for the court the similarities in the musical structures underlying “Taurus” and “Stairway to Heaven.” The passage of concern is a descending chromatic arpeggio line, performed on acoustic guitar. It appears at the opening of “Stairway to Heaven” and about 45 seconds into “Taurus.”
As Rolling Stone reports, Stewart noted that both songs “in an unusual way” skip E before resolving on an A note. He claimed that this was unlike any of the 65 compositions submitted by the defense team as examples of previous songs that used similar chordal and compositional structures, including the Beatles’ “Michelle,” “My Funny Valentine” and Henry Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament.”
Stewart also noted that none of the examples submitted by the defense have the “unique and distinctive elements” shared by “Taurus” and “Stairway to Heaven,” and which can be protected under U.S. copyright law.
“Stairway to Heaven” has earned more than $550 million in royalties since its release in 1971. Those royalties are protected by statute of limitations, though future royalties could be shared if the plaintiff succeeds with the case.
Through his questioning of Page at Thursday’s trial, Malofiy revealed that a previously unreleased version of “Stairway to Heaven” included in the 2014 reissue of Led Zeppelin IV may also be liable under the three-year statute of limitations.
In the video below, TJR of TJRMusic.com explores the similarities and differences between “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus.”