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Credit is overdue

December 16, 2007

Ann Powers captures at least a portion of the problem with Led Zeppelin in her article "From Zep Hater to a Whole Lotta Love" [Dec. 2]: "No discourse existed about 'appropriation,' so musicians could take songs from lesser known (and often nonwhite) writers and 'elevate' them into their own hits."

This is a very kind and indirect treatment of Led Zeppelin's blatant and well-documented plagiarism. Certainly, popular musicians have long "borrowed" tunes from the countryside, folk sources and even contemporaries. But Led Zeppelin took this practice to unprecedented levels.

"Dazed and Confused" was originally composed by American folk singer Jake Holmes. The Yardbirds, Jimmy Page's earlier band, picked up the song and gave it a heavy electric arrangement. Led Zeppelin used basically the same arrangement, rewrote the lyrics and credited the song solely to Page, with no mention of the original composer.

Similarly, "Whole Lotta Love" came from "You Need Love" by American bluesman Willie Dixon. British mod-rockers the Small Faces did a blistering version of the song, and Led Zeppelin derived it from there, adding more emphasis on the guitar and turning the original song into a heavy-metal psychedelic freakout. Again, no credit to Dixon until his daughter sued in 1985.

The irony is, despite all of the plagiarism, Led Zeppelin was an incredibly original and groundbreaking band. Amid all of the stolen songs were plenty of fine original songs, and even the stolen songs were given a treatment that no one else had thought of. All that was needed was a footnote crediting the original source. The band members would still be multimillionaires -- but without the dark cloud of plagiarism hanging over them.

Bruce Murray

South Pasadena

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