When The Levee Breaks

“When The Levee Breaks” may sound familiar to you as a famous song by Led Zeppelin on their album, Led Zeppelin IV. But, did you know that the song was actually inspired and based on When The Levee Breaks by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie? The famous rock song was actually a cover of a 1929 blues song, which was based on the 1927 Mississippi River Flood. When fans of Led Zeppelin discovered this fact some claimed that the band “stole” the song.

This little story brings up the topic of stealing and plagiarism. First, the most obvious answer to this topic is that it’s wrong. Duh. But something in the music industry allows for plagiarism to have more leeway than in other forms of art. This is particularly noticeable in “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie and “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice. Vanilla Ice believed that he would be able to avoid any sort of legal action by “altering the rhythm of the baseline”. This case was never taken to court. Another case of so called “stealing” is with Led Zeppelin’s beloved song “Stairway to Heaven”.

The plaintiff in this case was the band Spirit that claimed “the descending bass line in both ‘Taurus’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’ appears at the beginning,” allowing them to take legal action. This case ended in Led Zeppelin’s favor ending the alleged plagiarism. These cases of plagiarism in the music industry really makes someone wonder how much music is really original. I am a firm believer in that Led Zeppelin’s songs were of original composition and where the likes of Spirit wanted to take advantage of the massively popular hoping for some cash. Likewise with Vanilla Ice.

Also, in the case of “When The Levee Breaks”, Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie, were properly credited on the album of Led Zeppelin IV. Comparing the two songs, there is little similarity between the two besides its lyrics. The sound, mix, effects, tempo were all different.

In short, when using or something that inspires you or is based off of something; credit it. There is no harm or shame in using something old to create something new. Especially in a world where there is already so many works and creations.


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