Led Zeppelin: Plagiarism? “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper”

“Hats Off to (Roy) Harper”, which closes Led Zeppelin III, draws on a number of country blues songs. Along with “Custard Pie” on Physical Graffiti, “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” is a prime example of Robert Plant’s cut-and-paste approach to borrowing lyrics from blues artists. Almost every line in “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper was lifted from a country blues song. The most obvious source is “Shake ‘Em On Down” by Bukka White. Mississippi Fred McDowell recorded a song by the same title, but other than a similar refrain, the lyrics of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s version differ from Bukka White’s. The lyrics Robert Plant uses for “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” are more directly from Bukka White’s version, while Jimmy Page’s bottleneck guitar has a sound similar to the version by Mississippi Fred McDowell.

The refrain (“When I done quit hollerin’, babe/I believe I’ll shake ’em on down”) was taken from Bukka White’s version of “Shake ‘Em On Down”. In the third verse Robert Plant mixes “Shake ‘Em On Down” with “Help Me” by Sonny Boy Williamson (“Listen, mama, put on your mornin’ gown/Put on your nightshirt, mama, we gonna shake ’em on down”—lines he would reuse in “Custard Pie”). The song most heavily quoted in “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper,” however, is “Lone Wolf Blues” by Oscar Woods, as the second and fourth verses both come from this song. Robert Plant also inserted a reference to a “brown-skin woman”, which is probably taken from the song of that title by Howlin’ Wolf or perhaps Sunnyland Slim. The alternate lyrics that Robert Plant uses for the refrain in the second half of the song (“I been mistreated, babe”) also draw on “Lone Wolf Blues”.

The lyrics to “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” are given below, listing the source Robert Plant used for each line. In a couple of cases the association is a stretch, particularly the lines “Get me, baby, won’t be late/You know by that I mean not seconds late”. Those lines may have come from Howlin’ Wolf’s “Down in the Bottom” written by Willie Dixon, which contains the phrase “don’t be late” rather than “won’t be late”. While not a certainty, all of the other lines are readily identifiable from blues sources, and “Down in the Bottom” is on Howlin’ Wolf’s  “Rockin’ Chair” album, which was one of the first records Jimmy Page and Robert Plant shared upon first meeting. The other tenuous association is the final line of the song with Tampa Red’s “Blue and Evil Blues,” which has a similar theme and concludes with the singer shooting his woman.

Hats Off to (Roy) Harper
Lyrics Source
When I done quit hollerin’, babe Shake ‘Em On Down
I believe I’ll shake ’em on down Shake ‘Em On Down
Get me, baby, won’t be late Down in the Bottom [?]
You know by that I mean not seconds late Down in the Bottom [?]
Must I holler, must I shake ’em on down Shake ‘Em On Down
When I done quit hollerin’, babe Shake ‘Em On Down
I believe I’ll shake ’em on down Shake ‘Em On Down
Well, I ain’t no monkey, I can’t climb no tree Lone Wolf Blues
No brown-skin woman Brown Skin Woman
Gonna make no monkey outta me Lone Wolf Blues
Yeah, I ain’t no monkey, sure can’t climb no tree Lone Wolf Blues
I been mistreated, babe Lone Wolf Blues
I believe I’ll shake ’em on down Shake ‘Em On Down
Well, I been mistreated, babe Lone Wolf Blues
I believe I’ll shake ’em on down Shake ‘Em On Down
Listen, mama, put on your morning gown Help Me
Put on your nightshirt, mama Help Me
We gonna shake ’em on down Shake ‘Em On Down
Must I shake ’em on down Shake ‘Em On Down
Well, I done been mistreated baby Lone Wolf Blues
I believe I’ll shake ’em on down Shake ‘Em On Down
Gave my baby twenty-dollar bill Lone Wolf Blues
If that don’t finish her, I’m sure my shotgun will Lone Wolf Blues
Yeah, I gave my babe twenty-dollar bill Lone Wolf Blues
Well, if that don’t get that woman out Lone Wolf Blues
I’m sure my shotgun will Lone Wolf Blues
Yeah, I’ll go shoot her, now Blue and Evil Blues [?]

“Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” is a strange recording and a rather odd way to pay tribute to Roy Harper, who was a folk singer with minimal blues influence. Perhaps the tribute to Harper is in the eccentricity of the recording itself, which would be fitting as Harper is certainly eccentric. Still, as it is, “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” serves as more of a tribute to country blues artists of the 1930s than to the man mentioned in the title. Jimmy Page explained the tribute in a 1979 interview in New Musical Express. Chris Salewicz was asking Jimmy Page about his political beliefs and being true to one’s convictions. Jimmy Page pointed to Roy Harper as someone he had great respect for in this regard. According to Jimmy Page, “Harper’s ‘Stormcock’ was a fabulous album which didn’t sell anything. Also, they wouldn’t release his albums in America for quite a long time. For that I just thought, ‘Well, hats off to you’. As far as I’m concerned, though, hats off to anyone who does what they think is right and refuses to sell out.”

Perhaps the strangest thing about “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” is how the songwriting credits are listed: “Traditional, arr. by Charles Obscure”, presumably a pseudonym of Jimmy Page. With multiple artists quoted, shouldn’t at least one of them have received songwriting credit for this track? How much of an artist’s work needs to quoted before they deserve to be acknowledged in the credits? A line? A refrain? A verse? Two verses? I don’t know what the rules for songwriting credits are, but to my mind quoting two verses, as is the case with “Lone Wolf Blues”, warrants songwriting credits for Oscar Woods. Also, the Bukka White refrain, repeated several times throughout the track, plays a key role in “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper”, and so Bukka White should have been credited on this song as well. It should be noted that Bukka White was still alive when “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” was recorded.

Lone Wolf Blues
by Oscar Woods:

Mama mother told me, when I was quite a child (2x)
I say the life that you are living will kill you after a while

I just begin to realize the things my mother say (2x)
Since I been down here I been mistreated this way

I never loved no one woman, hope to God I never will (2x)
All these triflin’ women will get some good man killed

Now I ain’t no monkey and I sho’ can’t climb a tree (2x)
And I ain’t gonna let no woman make no monkey out of me

Now I sent my baby a brand new twenty-dollar bill (2x)
If that don’t bring her, I know my shotgun will

Shake ‘Em On Down
by Bukka White

Yes, you’re a nice girl, mama
And little girl
Night before day
We gonna shake ’em on down

I need some time holler, now
Oh, must I shake ’em on down
I done shout hollerin’, now
Must I shake ’em on down

Too much is debted to me
Through the week
Save these chili peppers
Some ol’ rainy day, here

Best I’m hollerin’, now
Ooh, must I shake ’em on down
I done shout hollerin’, now
Must I shake ’em on down, now

Fix my supper
Let me go to bed
This white lightnin’ done gone
To my head

Oh, must I holler now
Ooh, must I shake ’em on down
I done shout hollerin’, now
Must I shake ’em on down

I ain’t been in Georgia, babe
I been told
Georgia women got the best

These nights time holler, now
Oh, must I shake ’em on down
I done shout hollerin’, mama
Must I shake ’em on down

See See mama, heard
You, done-done
Made me love you, now I know
Man done coming

Best I’m hollerin’, now
Oh, must I shake ’em on down
I done shout hollerin’, mama
Must I shake ’em on down

Pretty girl’s got
They don’t know
What it is make me drunk
At that old whiskey still

It’s best I’m hollerin’, now
Oh, must I shake ’em on down
I done shout hollerin’
Must I shake ’em on down.

Led Zeppelin: Plagiarism? “The Lemon Song”

“The Lemon Song,” included on the 1969 album Led Zeppelin II, is another of Led Zeppelin’s homages to the blues. On these sorts of tracks, Robert Plant was never content to take lyrics from just one source, but for the most part “The Lemon Song” draws on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor.” According to Led Zeppelin: The Complete Guide To Their Music by Dave Lewis, on Led Zeppelin’s first American tour in 1969 they regularly included “Killing Floor” in their sets. Following that tour, however,  they performed the song as “The Lemon Song” and recorded it under that title for Led Zeppelin II with songwriting credits given to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

The first, second and fourth verses of “The Lemon Song,” however, are clearly recognizable from Howlin’ Wolf’s original song.

Killing Floor
by Chester Burnett

I shoulda quit you a long time ago
I shoulda quit you, babe, long time ago
I shoulda quit you and went on to Mexico

If I hada followed my first mind
If I hada followed my first mind
I’da been gone, since my second time

I shoulda went on
When my friend come from Mexico at me
I shoulda went on
When my friend come from Mexico at me
But no foolin’ with ya, babe
I let ya put me on the killin’ floor

Lord knows I shoulda been gone
Lord knows I shoulda been gone
And I wouldn’ta been here
Down on the killin’ floor

The Lemon Song
by Jimmy Page & Robert Plant (& Chester Burnett)

I should have quit you, long time ago
I should have quit you, long time ago
I wouldn’t be here, my children
Down on this killin’ floor

I should have listened, baby, to my second mind
I should have listened, baby, to my second mind
Every time I go away and leave you, darling
Send me the blues way down the line

Said, people worry I can’t keep you satisfied
Let me tell you, baby
You ain’t nothin but a two-bit, no-good jive

Went to sleep last night
Worked as hard as I can,
Bring home my money
You take my money
Give it to another man

I should have quit you, baby
Such a long time ago.
I wouldn’t be here with all my troubles
Down on this killing floor

Squeeze me, baby, ’til the juice runs down my leg
Squeeze me, baby, ’til the juice runs down my leg
The way you squeeze my lemon
I’m gonna fall right out of bed

I’m gonna leave my children
Down on this killing floor

In 1972, ARC music sued Led Zeppelin, claiming that they had plagiarized Howlin’ Wolf and a settlement was reached out of court. Chester Burnett (Howlin’ Wolf’s real name) is now given songwriting credit for “The Lemon Song”.

Some of Robert Plant’s lyrics for “The Lemon Song” are not from “Killing Floor,” but rather from other classic blues songs. The phrase “you take my money, give it to another man” could have been taken from “Black Eye Blues” by Ma Rainey. Then, of course, is Robert Johnson’s lemon phallic reference from his 1937 song “Traveling Riverside Blues,” which became one of Robert Plant’s signature lyrics (Squeeze me, baby, until the juice runs down my leg/The way you squeeze my lemon/I’m gonna fall right outta bed) Plant often inserted these lines into other songs during live performances. On BBC Sessions, Robert Plant used them in “How Many More Times” and “Communication Breakdown”, and Dave Lewis points out that he often included this in the “Whole Lotta Love” medley during live shows.

Some time ago I had argued that Robert Johnson should also be credited for “The Lemon Song,” but I no longer hold that view. First, Robert Johnson was not the first to use a lemon as a sexual image in his music. In the 1929 song “I Want It Awful Bad,” Joe Williams had included the lines “You squeezed my lemon/Caused my juice to run.” Several artists used the image in 1930s, including Roosevelt Sykes in his 1937 song “She Squeezed My Lemon,” as well as Memphis Minnie and Sonny Boy Williamson I. Second, Led Zeppelin did provide an acknowledgement of sorts for Robert Johnson. They performed “Traveling Riverside Blues” as part of their live repertoire, and it is included on BBC Sessions, The first box set, and as a bonus track on the version of Coda included in The Complete Studio Recordings. Led Zeppelin’s version of “Traveling Riverside Blues” includes substantial original contributions from Led Zeppelin and the songwriting credits are properly listed as “Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Robert Johnson.” Third, Robert Plant changed Robert Johnson’s in a significant way. Robert Johnson’s lyrics from “Traveling Riverside Blues” are as follows:

Now you can squeeze my lemon ’til the juice run down my…
spoken: ‘Til the juice run down my leg, baby, you know what I’m talkin’ ’bout.
You can squeeze my lemon ’til the juice run down my leg
spoken: That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout, now
But I’m goin’ back to Friars Point, if I be rockin’ to my head

The reference to falling out of bed comes instead from “Stop Messin’ Round” from Fleetwood Mac’s 1968 album Mr Wonderful.

I want you to squeeze a me, baby, ’til my face turns cherry red
You roll me so hard, baby, I’m fallin’ out of bed, now

Led Zeppelin were clearly fans of Fleetwood Mac, particularly when that band was primarily a blues band under the leadership of Peter Green. Fleetwood Mac’s influence played a role not only in “The Lemon Song,” but in “Rock and Roll” and “Black Dog,” as well. Still, Robert Plant gave Robert Johnson credit.

That line “squeeze my lemon ’til the juice runs down my leg” was just so indicative of that person Robert Johnson…. It’s borrowed, admittedly, but why not? I would really like to think that someone who heard that… would go out and listen to Robert Johnson as a result.  But I wish I’d written that, I really do.

Other influences are evident in “The Lemon Song,” as well, which are worth mentioning even if they don’t warrant changing the songwriting credits. Dave Lewis points out that the arrangement of “The Lemon Song” is similar to Albert King’s “Crosscut Saw,” from his 1967 album Born Under a Bad Sign. Robert Plant often performed “Crosscut Saw” with the Honeydrippers after his days with Led Zeppelin.

Another influence that’s interesting to note is the Electric Flag, who included a version of “Killing Floor” on their debut album A Long Time Comin’, which was released in 1968. Though the Electric Flag stayed true to Howlin’ Wolf’s lyrics, their version of the song opens with a brief segment of Lyndon Johnson’s “And We Shall Overcome” address to Congress in 1965. The Electric Flag then interrupt Johnson’s oratory with laughter before the music commences. Though this introduction is brief, its effect is to change the meaning of the song entirely. A “killing floor” in classic blues lyrics often referred to a slaughterhouse. On a literal level, many black migrants from the South found jobs in slaughterhouses working on the killing floor. This image was incorporated into blues songs as having hit rock bottom, particularly in the context of a difficult relationship with a woman. By introducing the track in such a satirical way, the Electric Flag alter the meaning of the killing floor. In the Electric Flag’s version of the song, the killing floor becomes the Vietnam War and the urban unrest of the 1960s. Led Zeppelin didn’t attempt this sort of commentary in their version of “Killing Floor” but they had clearly heard the Electric Flag’s version of the song. Jimmy Page’s guitar solo bears some similarity to the Electric Flag’s solo and Robert Plant uses an Electric Flag variant of the lyrics. Where Howlin’ Wolf referred to his “first mind” in the second verse of “Killing Floor,” the Electric Flag sang,

If I hada listened to my second mind
You know I wouldn’t be here now, people
Down on the killin’ floor

Robert Plant followed these lyrics

I should have listened, baby, to my second mind
Everytime I go away and leave ya, darlin’
Send me the blues way down the line

To be fair, in “The Lemon Song” Led Zeppelin took a number of influences to produce something that was uniquely theirs. Still, they drew heavily enough on one source, Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” to be forced to change the songwriting credits under threat of legal action. In his scathingly negative review of Led Zeppelin II in Rolling Stone when the album was initially released in 1969, John Mendelsohn took exception to Led Zeppelin’s blues posturing. Mendelsohn’s review is laced with sarcasm and reveals a lot about why Led Zeppelin acquired such a bad reputation with the rock press, particularly with regard to the issue of plagiarism. To Mendelsohn, Led Zeppelin’s heavy interpretation of the blues was a bastardization of a vaunted form. That Robert Plant’s lyrics would quote so freely from the original sources while the instrumental parts had lost the essence of the original was grounds for ridicule to Mendelsohn. Plant later stated that he thought that Mendelsohn “was just a frustrated musician. Maybe I’m just flying on my own little ego ship, but sometimes people seem to resent talent.”

In recent years, critics have tended to be kinder to Led Zeppelin. A 2003 special edition of Q magazine on Led Zeppelin had this to say about “The Lemon Song,” “‘Forgetting’ to credit [Howlin’ Wolf] almost landed Zeppelin in court, but in truth the electrifying combination of Bonham’s sledgehammer drums and Page’s dazzling solo makes it entirely their own.” Had Led Zeppelin been better about citing their sources, they may not have met with such hostility from rock journalists in their early years and it may not have taken such a long time for the rock press to evaluate Led Zeppelin’s music on its own terms.

Led Zeppelin: Plagiarism? “Whole Lotta Love”

Robert Plant loved the erotic imagery used by bluesmen and the swaggering sexuality expressed in the blues, so much so that he would often lift lines here and there from various blues classics.  On occasion, however, he borrowed a little too much.  Such is the case with “Whole Lotta Love,” which opens the 1969 album Led Zeppelin II.  “Whole Lotta Love” was initially credited to Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham.  In 1985, however, Variety reported that Willie Dixon sued Led Zeppelin, claiming that “Whole Lotta Love” was largely plagiarized from “You Need Love,” written by Dixon and recorded by Muddy Waters as a single for Chess Records in 1962.

To be fair, “Whole Lotta Love” is a creative piece of work that demonstrates Led Zeppelin’s originality. The lyrics, however, do not meet this standard. The opening verse of “Whole Lotta Love” (You need coolin’/Baby, I’m not foolin’/I’m gonna send you/Back to schoolin’/Way down inside/Honey, you need it/I’m gonna give you my love) is readily identifiable from Willie Dixon’s lyrics for “You Need Love” (I ain’t foolin’/You need schoolin’/Baby, you know you need coolin’/Woman, way down inside/Woman, you need love) The next verse of “Whole Lotta Love” (You’ve been learnin’/Baby, I’ve been learnin’/All them good times/Baby, baby, I’ve been yearnin’/Way, way down inside/Honey, you need love/I’m gonna give you my love) strays a little from the original, but is still recognizable (You got yearnin’ and I got burnin’/Baby, you look so sweet and cunning/Baby, way down inside/Woman, you need love/You got to have some love/I’m gon’ give you some love). Robert Plant also takes the words from this verse and turns them into a vocal break near the end of the song. In addition, Robert Plant briefly quotes Howlin’ Wolf at the end of “Whole Lotta Love” with the lines “Shake for me, girl/I wanna be your back door man.” Actually, Plant was once again quoting Willie Dixon, as both of the songs “Shake for Me” and “Back Door Man,” though popularized by Howlin’ Wolf, were written by Dixon.

Whole Lotta Love
by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant,
John Paul Jones & John Bonham
(& Willie Dixon)

You need coolin’
Baby, I’m not foolin’
I’m gonna send you
Back to schoolin’
Way down inside
Honey, you need it
I’m gonna give you my love

Wanna whole lotta love

You’ve been learnin’
Baby, I’ve been learnin’
All them good times
Baby, baby, I’ve been yearnin’
Way, way down inside
Honey, you need love
I’m gonna give you my love


You’ve been coolin’
Baby, I’ve been droolin’
All the good times
I’ve been misusin’
Way, way down inside
I’m gonna give you my love
I’m gonna give you every inch of my love
Gonna give you my love


Way down inside woman you need love

Shake for me, girl
I wanna be your backdoor man
Keep it coolin’, baby

You Need Love
by Willie Dixon
performed by Muddy Waters

You got yearnin’ and I got burnin’
Baby, you look so sweet and cunning
Baby, way down inside
Woman, you need love
You got to have some love
I’m gon’ give you some love
I know you need love
You just got to have love
You got to have some love
you make me feel so good
You make me feel alright
you’re so nice, you’re so nice

You are frettin’ and I am pettin’
A lot of good things you ain’t gettin’
Baby, way down inside
Woman, you need love
I know you need love
You got to have some love

I ain’t foolin’
You need schoolin’
Baby, you know you need coolin’
Woman, way down inside
Woman, you need love
You got to have some love
She got to have some love

Robert Plant flippantly discussed this in an interview,

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… Well, you only get caught when you’re successful.

Bear in mind that when Led Zeppelin were recording their second album it had been only seven years since the release of Muddy Waters recording of “You Need Love”. When the lawsuit was filed in the 1980s, a lawyer for the Led Zeppelin’s record company, Atlantic Records, offered only the weak defense, “It’s strange that someone would wait all that time [to file a suit].” The case was settled out of court and recent Led Zeppelin releases have given songwriting credit for “Whole Lotta Love” to Willie Dixon along with all four members of Led Zeppelin. Willie Dixon used the money received from this settlement for the Blues Heaven Foundation, which he founded in 1984. The mission of the Blues Heaven Foundation is to “to help artists and musicians obtain what is rightfully theirs, and to educate both adults and children on the history of the Blues and the business of music.” Until his death in 1992, Dixon worked on behalf of other artists to ensure that they received the royalties they were due for their music.

Though Led Zeppelin had no doubt heard Muddy Waters’s version of “You Need Love”, the version of this song that appears to have most directly influenced them was by the Small Faces. The Small Faces released “You Need Loving” in 1966 and despite the slight retitling, this track is a straightforward interpretation of “You Need Love” that stays close to Muddy Waters’ version.

“You Need Loving” is credited to “Lane/Marriot,” demonstrating that Led Zeppelin weren’t the only ones who were reluctant to give proper songwriting credit. In a 1977 interview with Ray Coleman, Robert Plant referred to Steve Marriot, the lead singer for the Small Faces, as “the master of white contemporary blues.” Perhaps competing with Marriot, Robert Plant sounds very much like the Small Faces’ vocalist during the climactic vocal break (“Way down inside, woman, you need lo-o-ove”). The Small Faces’ “You Need Loving” included a similar vocal break, but Robert Plant draws out this line even more than Marriot had. Where Steve Marriot’s vocal break lasted 14 seconds, Robert Plant stretches this section out to 26 seconds

Marriot Plant Comparison
Robert Plant’s vocal break in “Whole Lotta Love” is nearly twice as long as Steve Marriot’s in “You Need Loving”

Still, Plant expressed humility in the Coleman interview, “I could never be compared with Steve Marriot because he’s too good, unfortunately! He’s got the best white voice, for sheer bravado and balls.” Steve Marriot, however, was not quite as gracious when he spoke about Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. In Steve Marriott: All Too Beautiful, Paolo Hewitt quotes Marriot as saying, “Jimmy Page asked me what that number was we did. I said, ‘it’s a Muddy Waters thing’.” He went on to say that Robert Plant was a big fan of the Small Faces. Marriot claimed, “He used to come to the gigs whenever we played in Kidderminster or Stourbridge,” and he felt that Robert Plant copied his interpretation of “You Need Loving” in “Whole Lotta Love.” “He sang it the same, phrased it the same, even the stops at the end were the same.”

It’s interesting that Willie Dixon never sued Ronnie Lane and Steve Marriot over “You Need Love”. Here Led Zeppelin’s popularity (and reputation as music thieves) made them more of a target for legal action than the Small Faces, even though though the Small Faces had drawn more freely from the original (Steve Marriot also lifted lines from “Land of 10,000 Dances” as he listed off several of the dances from that song). Willie Dixon may not have been aware of the Small Faces version. The only reason Willie Dixon was aware of “Whole Lotta Love” was that when his daughter, Shirli, was 13 years old, she heard the record at a friend’s house. She thought it sounded familiar so she borrowed it and played it for her father. After Willie Dixon’s death, Shirli Dixon-Nelson and Dixon’s widow, Marie, ran the Blues Heaven Foundation. It was through their efforts that the Blues Heaven Foundation moved into the restored Chess Records Studio at 2120 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago.


2120 S. Michigan Ave. in Chicago,
the former offices and recording studios of Chess Records and now the site of the Blues Heaven Foundation

Dazed and Confused by Jake Holmes

On June 28, 2010, Jake Holmes at long last sued Jimmy Page for plagiarizing the song “Dazed and Confused.” Rather than dragging the case through the courts, it appears they have settled out of court, as the case was “dismissed with prejudice” at the request of the plaintiff (Jake Holmes) on January 17, 2012. Very little information is available about the case or the terms of the settlement, but on the reunion concert CD/DVD Celebration Day, which was released November 19, 2012, the songwriting credits for “Dazed and Confused” read “Jimmy Page; Inspired by Jake Holmes” Up to this point, Jake Holmes had never received any acknowledgement or compensation for Led Zeppelin’s version “Dazed and Confused.” So while these revised songwriting credits are still not entirely accurate, this is a step in the right direction.

“Dazed and Confused” was written by Jake Holmes and included on his 1967 album The Above Ground Sound of Jake Holmes. Led Zeppelin’s version appeared on their debut album, released in 1969.  In an interview with Will Shade, Jake Holmes revealed that he did approach Led Zeppelin several years after the release of Led Zeppelin I about the authorship of “Dazed and Confused”. No one from Led Zeppelin replied to Jake Holmes’s queries and he didn’t pursue the matter. When asked why he waited so long to initiate any legal action, Jake Holmes pointed to the case of “A Whiter Shade Of Pale,” the 1967 hit single by Procol Harum. Initially credited only to Gary Booker and Keith Reid, the case was settled in 2009 in favor of Procol Harum organist Matthew Fisher despite the length of time since the track had been released.

When Led Zeppelin I was released in 1969, Jimmy Page was listed as the sole author of “Dazed and Confused,” though this was always subject to doubt. A 1990 interview with Jimmy Page in Musician is revealing.

MUSICIAN: I understand “Dazed and Confused” was originally a song by Jake Holmes. Is that true?
PAGE: [Sourly] I don’t know. I don’t know. [Inhaling] I don’t know about all that.
MUSICIAN: Do you remember the process of writing that song?
PAGE: Well, I did that with the Yardbirds originally…. The Yardbirds were such a good band for a guitarist to play in that I came up with a lot of riffs and ideas out of that, and I employed quite a lot of those in the early Zeppelin stuff.
MUSICIAN: But Jake Holmes, a successful jingle writer in New York, claims on his 1967 record that he wrote the original song.
PAGE: Hmm. Well, I don’t know. I don’t know about that. I’d rather not get into it because I don’t know all the circumstances. What’s he got, The riff or whatever? Because Robert wrote some of the lyrics for that on the album. But he was only listening to…we extended it from the one that we were playing with the Yardbirds.
MUSICIAN: Did you bring it into the Yardbirds?
PAGE: No, I think we played it ’round a sort of melody line or something that Keith [Relf] had. So I don’t know. I haven’t heard Jake Holmes so I don’t know what it’s all about anyway. Usually my riffs are pretty damn original [laughs] What can I say?

The interviewer let the matter go at this point, but the article adds the following footnote: “The acoustic “Dazed and Confused” on The Above Ground Sound of Jake Holmes (Tower Records ST 5079, June 1967) is very, very close to Led Zeppelin’s 1969 version, musically and lyrically.” It’s interesting to note that in the Musician interview Jimmy Page seems to be giving Robert Plant credit for the “Dazed and Confused” lyrics, though this has never been reflected in the songwriting credits.

It’s commonly acknowledged that Jimmy Page had heard Jake Holmes play “Dazed and Confused” before the Yardbirds (and Led Zeppelin, of course) began performing the song. In Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga Stephen Davis writes that the Yardbirds heard Jake Holmes at Café a Go Go during a stint in New York in 1967, and they were impressed with his performance of “Dazed and Confused,” which they felt was “a brilliant number—dramatic, frightening, and very stealable.” A somewhat different account comes from Greg Russo, who asserts that on August 25, 1967, Jake Holmes opened for the Yardbirds at the Village Theater in Greenwich Village. Jim McCarty and Jimmy Page were so impressed with Jake Holmes’s performance that each of them went out and bought a copy of The Above Ground Sound of Jake Holmes.

Greg Russo is perhaps the more credible source, as his account was confirmed by Jim McCarty. Also, Greg Russo is the author of Yardbirds: The Ultimate Rave-Up, and he wrote the liner notes for the 2003 EMI reissue of Little Games, the last studio album released by the Yardbirds. This reissue adds a number of tracks, including a live performance of “Dazed and Confused” recorded for the BBC in March, 1968. Interesting to note that this reissue credited Jake Holmes as the songwriter and the Yardbirds as arrangers.

By March, 1968, “Dazed and Confused” had become part of the Yardbirds live repertoire. The Yardbirds did not record a studio version of “Dazed and Confused” for release on any of their albums, but it was included on Live Yardbirds Featuring Jimmy Page, a concert recorded at the Anderson Theater in New York on March 30, 1968. Epic released Live Yardbirds Featuring Jimmy Page in 1971 to capitalize on Jimmy Page’s success in Led Zeppelin, but they did so without the permission of the Yardbirds and carelessly listed the title of “Dazed and Confused” as “I’m Confused.” Reportedly Jimmy Page was displeased with the recording quality of Live Yardbirds Featuring Jimmy Page and he was horrified to find that “the producer had tacked on bullfight cheers and sound effects of clinking glasses to make the concert sound ‘live.'” Jimmy Page has gone to some lengths to keep this album off the market.

As “Dazed and Confused” became a regular part of the Yardbirds live set, Keith Relf took some liberties with the lyrics of the song, but it should be noted that other than the title line, Led Zeppelin completely rewrote the lyrics of the song. Also, in When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin, Mick Wall quotes Jake Holmes as saying that he just wanted “a fair deal. I don’t want [Page] to give me full credit for this song. He took it and  put it in a direction that I never would have taken it, and it became very successful. So why should I complain? But give me at least half credit on it.” (p. 64) I don’t think “inspired by Jake Holmes” meets this goal, not to mention that Led Zeppelin owes a great debt to Jake Holmes, one that even a complete change of songwriting credits could not repay. “Dazed and Confused” became one of Led Zeppelin’s signature numbers and was emblematic of their staggering success.  Led Zeppelin and “Dazed and Confused” are identified so strongly with their times that Richard Linklater used “Dazed and Confused” as the title of his film about coming of age in the 1970s. Now that the lawsuit is over, “inspired by Jake Holmes” is probably the only change to the credits that will occur, even if it isn’t right.

Combining Led Zeppelin and The Beatles

Mashups are a hit-or-miss proposition, with more misses than hits.  Here’s one that really hits, though, called “Whole Lotta Helter Skelter” by Soundhog. Originally released as an audio track on SoundCloud, Soundhog recently created a video for this mashup. You can download this track from Soundhog’s blog.

Clearly Led Zeppelin and the Beatles are a potent combination. In a somewhat different vein, one of the greatest tribute/parody performances occurred when the Beatnix set the lyrics of “Stairway to Heaven” to Beatlemania-era Beatles music for the Australian television show The Money or the Gun. Each week on this program, which ran on ABC (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, that is) from 1989 to 1990, a different artist would perform “Stairway to Heaven” in a unique style. Over the course of the show’s run, two performers combined “Stairway to Heaven” with the Beatles. The Beatnix, a Beatles tribute band that formed in 1980, drew on “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (with a little “She Loves You” thrown in for good measure) in the first section, before a rousing “Twist and Shout” conclusion, while Robyne Dunn performed her rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” in the style of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Robyne Dunn’s version is interesting, but the version by the Beatnix is truly inspired. Both of these tracks are included on the compilation Stairways to Heaven, which features the best “Stairway to Heaven” performances from The Money or the Gun. The original Australian (ABC Music) version of this compilation contained 22 of the performances, but it’s much harder to find than the version of Stairways to Heaven released by Atlantic Records in 1995, which was edited down to 12 tracks.

I got to wondering if Led Zeppelin had ever covered a Beatles song, and it turns out that Zep did give a nod to the Fab Four on at least one occasion. In concert Led Zeppelin often played extended versions of their songs that included long interludes with medleys of covers. Playing at The Forum in Inglewood, California, on September 4, 1970, Led Zeppelin included “I Saw Her Standing There” (or at least the lyrics, anyway) in a medley in an extended version of “Communication Breakdown.” The bootleg album Led Zeppelin Live on Blueberry Hill comes from this concert.