Saturday, May 24, 2014

To Be a Rock and Not to Roll

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

There is Classic Rock Music and then there are Classic Rock Songs. Any Mount Rushmore of Classic Rock Songs includes Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”. The other three on my “Rushmore” are “Nights In White Satin” (Moody Blues), Comfortably Numb (Pink Floyd) and All Along The Watch Tower (Jimi Hendrix). My wife has vetoed the playing of these at my funeral, but if I outlive her…watch out.

However, a problem has arisen with respect to “Stairway to Heaven”, a problem which I thought had been resolved long ago. Another band from back in the day, Spirit, had a song titled “Taurus” that starts out a lot like STH. I thought everybody knew this. Then I realized that a lot of people who used to know this are now dead or can no longer remember much of anything; certainly not Spirit or Randy California. (He did vocals, played guitar and was one of the band’s founders. He actually got his name from Jimi Hendrix. But that’s another story and also involves a Randy Texas. Randy California’s real name was Randy Craig Wolfe which should have been cool enough if you ask me.) Spirit’s instrumental “Taurus” was written and recorded a couple of years before STH. In fact, Spirit was a pretty hot band in the late 60’s and Led Zeppelin actually opened for them a couple of times. They no doubt heard “Taurus” and I guess the tune stuck in their head. They tweaked it just a tad, but it’s basically the same music used in the “Stairway to Heaven” intro.

So when Stairway to Heaven came out, those of us fortunate enough to have Spirit’s first album, creatively titled “Spirit”, immediately recognized the intro music as being essentially the same as Taurus. However, by this time the mainstream was starting to get on board with what would become Classic Rock. In addition, Spirit’s second album had come out with their biggest hit, “I Got a Line On You” (had nothing to do with drugs…or did it?). Spirit became known for that one hit and Led Zeppelin turned out to be one of the greatest rock bands ever. Spirit, the band was forgotten and Taurus, the song, became a footnote in Rock N’ Roll history.

Then this week we hear that Spirit’s founding bassist Mark Andes and the estate of the late Randy California are planning to file a copyright infringement lawsuit and seek an injunction that would prevent Zeppelin from re-releasing the album containing the song, which the band has plans to do this summer. I guess someone forgot to tie up a loose end somewhere. I always figured that some 40 odd years ago Spirit quietly got a check under the table and agreed to keep their mouth shut. And no one was going to pay attention to their handful of burned out fans who were mumbling something about Taurus and those English bastards ripping off our guys.

It’s still hard for me to imagine that this music is over 40 years old. That it’s being re-released and that someone would file suit over it is even more incredible. The cynic in me thinks that the lawsuit is just all part of the promotion. Once again Spirit is getting a check under the table along with a wink and a nod for helping out.

(Randy California died in 1997. He drowned in the Pacific ocean at the age of 45 while rescuing his 12-year-old son Quinn from a rip current near the home of his mother, Bernice Pearl, at Molokai, Hawaii. He managed to push Quinn (who survived) toward the shore.)

And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last
When all are one and one is all, yeah
To be a rock and not to roll

And she's buying a stairway to heaven

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