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Led Zeppelin certainly owes a debt to the blues, but so much misinformation has been repeated as true that it’s important to separate fact from fiction.
Allegations have been repeated as fact either with no supporting evidence or delivered with little critical restraint, such as Howard Stern’s exercise in outrage.
The list below contains the instances where songwriting credits should be changed, and those that have already been changed on recent Led Zeppelin reissues are marked with an asterisk.
The cover story for the April/May, 2010, issue of Blues Matters magazine showed a picture of Led Zeppelin above the Jimmy Page quote, “It was always the blues.” In a magazine devoted to the blues, I was expecting to find an article about Led Zeppelin’s debt to the blues, particularly after reading the teaser on the table of contents page next to a graphic that reads “The Roots of Led Zeppelin,” The article by Richard Thomas, however, was just a brief overview of Led Zeppelin’s career with little information about their influences.
My general conclusion was that Led Zeppelin drew on an eclectic array of sources to produce a large body of original and vital music, but that in several instances they were so close to their influence that they should have given them songwriting credit.
Led Zeppelin did, in fact, give credit where credit was due for some tracks (“You Shook Me”, “I Can’t Quit You Baby”, “When the Levee Breaks”, and a half-hearted attempt with “Boogie with Stu”), but not in all cases.
it was equally dangerous to be overly vigilant in policing creative expression, because if Led Zeppelin hadn’t been free to mine the blues for inspiration, we wouldn’t have got ‘Whole Lotta Love’….” Gladwell drew a distinction between borrowing that is transformative and borrowing that is derivative.
First of all, the idea that “Dazed and Confused” “borrows heavily from Howlin’ Wolf” is absurd.
If you’re going to state that an artist’s work is not original, at least get the source right. He wrote one of the most instantly recognizable, iconic songs of his time, but he would seem to be forever doomed to obscurity. Even if you allow for poetic license or just write off this sort of language as hyperbole, this statement is way off the mark.
On the other side are Led Zeppelin’s defenders, such as Chris Welch, author of .
According to Welch, “Led Zeppelin were constantly being sniped at by nit-pickers and probed by musicologists.” Though Welch concedes that Zep were “careless in crediting their sources of inspiration,” he argues that it would be difficult to track down the true creators of the blues songs Led Zeppelin incorporated into their work.
According to Short, that Led Zeppelin released these records without proper songwriting credits amounts to outright theft.