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San Francisco appeals panel reinstates 2016 judgment that found no proof 1971 song breached copyright of Taurus by Randy Wolfe

A US appeals court has reinstated a ruling that British rockers Led Zeppelin did not steal part of their song Stairway to Heaven from another band.

The San Francisco 11-judge panel affirmed a 2016 judgment that found no proof the classic 1971 Zeppelin song breached the copyright of Taurus, written by Randy Wolfe from a Los Angeles band called Spirit.

In 2018 that ruling was overturned by a three-judge panel in San Francisco, which said certain instructions to the district court jury had been erroneous and prejudicial, and failed to clarify that the arrangement of elements in the public domain could be considered original.

Led Zeppelin took the case to a larger panel whose decision on Monday, based on the 1909 Copyright Act, put the original ruling back in place.

Stairway to Heaven is estimated to have grossed $3.4m during the five-year period that was at issue in the earlier civil trial.

The Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page who was sued along with the groups singer Robert Plant and another surviving bandmate, John Paul Jones testified in 2016 that the chord sequence in question had been around forever.

But Wolfes trustee, Michael Skidmore, said the songs had similar chord progressions and Page may have written Stairway to Heaven after hearing Taurus while Led Zeppelin and Spirit toured together.

Obviously the court got it wrong, said the trustees lawyer, Francis Malofiy. This is a big loss for creators, those who copyright laws are meant to protect. Malofiy said he may appeal to the US supreme court.

Lawyers for Led Zeppelin did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The decision in the five-year-old case was a victory for a music industry still combating fallout from a 2015 verdict that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams 2013 hit Blurred Lines copied Marvin Gayes 1977 hit Got To Give It Up.

Jurors awarded Gayes children $7.4m, which was later reduced to $5.3m. The singer Katy Perry is appealing against a $2.8m verdict reached last August in a copyright case over her song Dark Horse.

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With Katy Perry and Led Zeppelins recent judgments reversing previous rulings, musicians dont know which way to tread

Have you written a song? A song so memorable that everyone who hears it starts humming it? A song so good it feels as though it has been around forever and you simply plucked it from the ether? Then a word of advice: get an expert to listen to it. Because somewhere, someone is going to be sure your song was copied from theirs.

An old music industry adage holds that where theres a hit, theres a writ. It was true in 1963, when the Beach Boys released Surfin USA, and Chuck Berry duly noted that the song was simply his own 1958 hit Sweet Little Sixteen with new lyrics (Berrys publisher, Arc Music, was granted the publishing rights, and from 1966 Berry was listed alongside Brian Wilson as a writer of the song). And its especially true now after several recent cases.

March alone saw two important judgments about music theft in appeals courts in California. First the ninth circuit court of appeals ruled that Led Zeppelins Stairway to Heaven did not crib from Taurus by Spirit. Then a federal court overturned last years jury verdict that Katy Perrys Dark Horse had stolen from the song Joyful Noise by the Christian rapper Flame.

Katy Perry performing Dark Horse in Los Angeles in 2014. A federal court in March overturned a 2019 verdict that the song had stolen from Flames Joyful Noise. Photograph: Youtube

Whats important, though, is not whether anyone was plagiarised, but whether a copyright was infringed. Plagiarism and copyright infringement are related but they are distinctly different, says Peter Oxendale, who has been a professional forensic musicologist someone who offers expert analysis of compositions for legal purposes for more than 40 years.

Copyright, for example, does not protect ideas but rather the fixed detailed expression of those ideas. Copyright infringement is a legal matter known as a tort, he says. Plagiarism, on the other hand, is an ethical matter and occurs when someone uses the ideas or works of someone else in their own work without giving the appropriate credit to the original source. The cases that come to court are not about plagiarism; theyre about infringement of copyright.

Members of Led Zeppelin pictured in 1970. A US appeals court has found the bands Stairway to Heaven did not crib from Taurus by Spirit. Photograph: AP

The Zeppelin and Perry cases have been hailed as important because they appear to offer songwriters the latitude they seemed to have been denied by a crucial earlier trial. In December 2018 the long-running and highly controversial case involving the song Blurred Lines came to a close, when Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, two of the songs writers, were ordered to pay just short of $5m to the estate of Marvin Gaye, for Blurred Lines similarity to Gayes 1977 song Got To Give It Up.

Blurred Lines certainly stirred up the music community, says Joe Bennett, a forensic musicologist based at Berklee College of Music, in Boston. The reason it had so many musicians concerned is that the two songs are demonstrably different in their melodies, lyrics, and underlying chords. It hasnt set a legal precedent exactly, because every plagiarism case is judged on its individual merits, and every comparison is different, but it certainly has shifted the culture among songwriters, and made many worried about unintentional similarity leading to unfair accusations of copyright infringement.

What the Blurred Lines case did was to allow something previously unheard of: the notion that the feel of a record could be copyrighted. Given that the musician who didnt want to replicate the feel of a beloved record, if not its chords and melody, has yet to be born, the verdict sent shudders through the industry.

Much of the feel of a song is created by instrumentation, production techniques and other elements that many people consider to not be part of the song itself, says Peter Mason, a music law expert at the solicitors Wiggin LLP. The difference is starkly demonstrated by comparing Blurred Lines to the Stairway to Heaven case, in which the jury was limited to considering only the notes of the composition, as registered at the US copyright office.

Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams performing at Miami Beach, Florida, in 2013. A court in 2018 ordered them to pay $5m to the estate of Marvin Gaye. Photograph: Startraks/Rex

Taking away the similarities in sound, feel or playing style reduced the similarity between the compositions. Importantly, much of what remained was commonplace and therefore not protected by copyright.

Nevertheless, says Oxendale, We are aware of a number of well-known clients who have been told to never cite the source of their inspiration in public or in print. This, in my view, has resulted in the stifling of creativity to the extent that inspiration is now being confused with appropriation.

Conversely, we are also seeing a growing number of instructions from clients who wish to pursue claims for infringement of copyright based on the use of nothing more than similar musical or lyrical ideas. I believe the Blurred Lines verdict has had a significant impact on the music industry as a whole and this is reflected in the number of cases coming into our office.

For all the high-profile court cases, though, many music copyright infringement claims never see the light of day. One major star who must remain nameless employed a musicologist for the specific purpose of listening to new releases in order to note any resemblance to their own works. The writer of any offending song received a polite note expressing the desire to avoid any embarrassment, and suggesting the whole matter might be resolved by a payment, without the need to shame the writer by going public or forcing a change to the songwriting credits.

Since the Blurred Lines case, notes Mason, other songwriters have pre-empted litigation by adding writers who might conceivably have had a claim to writing credits famously, Mark Ronsons worldwide hit Uptown Funk ended up with 11 writers. The average number of writers on hit songs has increased dramatically over the last five years or so, Mason says, and part of this is due to composers agreeing to add the authors of past songs that are somewhat similar.

Why, though, do all the best-known copyright infringement cases come from the worlds of pop and rock? After all, one rarely hears of classical composers fighting it out in court, or jazz players arguing furiously about whether one has ripped off the others saxophone solo.

I think there are two reasons, Bennett says. First, popular song is a constrained art form, with a palette of statistically predictable phrase lengths, song forms, scale and chord choices, lyric tropes and song durations. These norms are largely defined by market forces, through massed listener preferences over time affecting the kind of creative decisions that songwriters are likely to make.

Beyonc presesnting the award for record of the year, Uptown Funk, to Mark Ronson during the 2016 Grammy music awards. To avoid litigation, the song was credited with 11 writers. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty

Its a type of cultural Darwinism, in a sense, but thats not to diminish the songwriters art writing a world-class hit is incredibly difficult, and needs everyone in the artists production team to excel.

Second, pop is where the money is. A plagiarism lawsuit is a financial matter party A is pursuing party B for compensation, so theres little point in going after someone whose work has not generated significant income.

You might think, of course, that musicians and songwriters are pinching from each other all the time weve all listened to songs and been reminded of something else. There are some artists, in fact, who seem to have made careers out of sounding like someone else: neither ELO nor Oasis would deny their respective debts to the Beatles.

Sometimes, though, musicians dont even realise they are borrowing. On a recent edition of the Reply All podcast, Princes longtime recording engineer Susan Rogers remembered him sitting at the piano and picking out a melody. He liked it, he noted. But had it already been written?

Subconscious recollection is called cyrptomnesia, and it has been responsible for some notable copyright infringements: in the 1976 case where George Harrison was sued for the similarity of My Sweet Lord to the Chiffons Hes So Fine, the judge described the similarity as an example of unconscious copying. Sam Smiths Stay With Me ended up getting Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne added to its writing credits, because of its similarity to their song Wont Back Down, and Petty observed, without rancour: All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen. Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door but in this case it got by.

As Bennett puts it: Most melodic similarity is coincidental, and most accusations of melodic plagiarism are unfounded. In the rare cases when the similarity is so striking that it appears to be evidence of plagiarism, then yes its usually unintentional. Songwriters have almost zero incentive to copy melodies verbatim, and enormous economic disincentives to do so.

The miracle, perhaps, is not that there are so many accusations of musical copyright infringement, but so few. Consider that thereare just 12 semitones in an octave. Or think about how many songs that derive from the blues use the 1-4-5 chord progression (Twist and Shout; Blitzkrieg Bop; Louie Louie and Wild Thing and thousands more). What makes a song special is not its chords, or its top-line melody, or its lyrics, or its feel. It is how it combines all those elements.

Listeners dont hear songs as simple linear sequences of pitches they hear everything all at once, and its that combination of elements, in a recording or at a live show, that produces the powerful emotional response that we find so intoxicating, Joe Bennett says. If the cultural value of a song subsisted only in its melody, the world wouldnt need performers, lyricists, producers, or artists.

And, as everyone sitting in their living room gazing at the empty world outside knows, the word really does need all those people, for the sake of its sanity.

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Two years ago the band was cleared of stealing its Stairway to Heaven riff, but now a San Francisco court says jurors were misled

A US appeals court has ordered a new trial in a lawsuit accusing Led Zeppelin of copying an obscure 1960s instrumental for the intro to its classic 1971 rock anthem Stairway to Heaven.

A federal court jury in Los Angeles two years ago found Led Zeppelin did not steal the famous riff from the song Taurus by the band Spirit.

But a three-judge panel of the 9th US circuit court of appeals in San Francisco ruled unanimously that the lower court judge provided erroneous jury instructions that misled jurors about copyright law central to the suit. It sent the case back to the court for another trial.

A phone message left with an attorney for Led Zeppelin, Peter Anderson, was not immediately returned.

Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the estate of the late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe, filed the lawsuit against Led Zeppelin in 2015.

Jurors returned their verdict for Led Zeppelin after a five-day trial at which the band members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant testified.

Page says he wrote the music and Plant has claimed the lyrics, saying Stairway was an original. In several hours of often-animated and amusing testimony, they described the craft behind one of rocks best-known songs.

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In our series where great musicians tell the stories behind memorable records from their back catalogue, the Led Zep frontman discusses his enduring love for Patty Griffin and why hes happiest in the land of cider, Wolves and Welsh mythology

Listen Youd Better Run

Im 17, full of myself, in a youth club with Noddy Holder Its a warm-boned autumn afternoon in Londons Primrose Hill, and Robert Plant, 69, is luminous as a cartoon lion, a Soul Jazz records T-shirt tight over his belly, his golden mane winking in a dimly lit local French restaurant. Carry Fire, his 11th solo album (24th if you count collaborations and Led Zeppelin LPs) is just out, and with a little judicious nudging Plant generally dislikes nostalgia hes looking back. We are somewhere in the West Midlands in 1966. Wed borrow Noddys dads window-cleaning van for our gear, buckets clanking through the Black Country streets, so to have a record that was going to be pressed, have a dust sleeve it was showing-off time. He rears up. Well, weve got this deal with CBS, Noddy. And Noddy goes: Thats all right, weve got one with Columbia. And then I found out it was the same bloody song!

The track, originally recorded by US band the Young Rascals as You Better Run, was the first commercial release for both the NBetweens (who became Holders band Slade) and Listen, whose singer was Plant, although the label asked him to record their first single on his own. It was his first studio experience. I still remember the pride and the thrill and the smell of fear; to walk in a studio and see session guys booked for me to sing. I was very, very nervous. He did not appreciate how good a time it was for music then, he adds, and he still loves freakbeat bands: the Poets, Farons Flamingos and the Birds (who counted Ronnie Wood as a member) were among his favourites. And here I was in the middle of it all, trying to create a style, looking at black soul singers and my heroes like Steve Marriott. He still hears that nascent howl on Led Zeppelins debut three years later, too. That nasal boy. Its kind of cute now.

Led Zeppelin Friends

Four years later, the young show-off was an international rock god, all mane, chest and roar. But Friends marked a departure. I realised that tough, manly approach to singing Id begun on You Better Run wasnt really what it was all about at all. Songs like [Led Zeppelin Is] Babe Im Going To Leave You He flinches. I find my vocals on there horrific now. I really should have shut the fuck up!

Friends was the first place where Plants interest in Asian, especially Indian, music started to shine through, although hed first heard examples of it back in the Black Country. My neighbours were Gujarati. Coming home, I would walk up the alley in-between our terraced houses, and turn left instead of right, and just sit on the lino with my neighbours, have a bowl of curry, listening to their music. At the top of the street, at the Fox and Dogs, there was Caribbean music, too: youd hear Alton Ellis, the Skatalites, Delroy Wilson. He is unapologetic about connecting with these sounds through his own music-making. Theres something really splendid and otherworldly about trying to even touch those bigger ideas as a British rock group, to go past the idiom of singing about bars and chicks and all that crap, which unfortunately is the lingua franca of popular song. There are other dynamics of life, and we started to recognise that here.

Led Zeppelin Achilles Last Stand

In 1975, on a short family holiday in Rhodes in the middle of a punishing tour, Plants car spun off the road, leaving an elbow and an ankle badly broken; he was in a wheelchair for seven months. This was the first track he recorded, on crutches, back at the microphone. The whole of that album, Presence, is absolutely wracked with pain. Plus, the fraternity of the band at the time was stretched to breaking point. Years later, he played a new girlfriend this song. The two of us sitting in a little room on the Welsh borders, and me telling her: If you want to know what I was like at the end of Zeppelin, really, this was it. After it, she said: I dont want to be left alone in a room with that. Its too much. Thats what it was in the end: too much.

The tracks opening is also ferociously punky just before punk. Plant loved that style, especially the Damneds first album. New Rose, Neat Neat Neat: what brilliant songs. They quite rightly kicked juggernauts like Pink Floyd into touch for a couple of years. Plants felt his own juggernaut being kicked over the years too, and thats fine, he says, smiling. He recalls one Sylvia Patterson NME interview with Jimmy Page in the 90s which had the headline Help! The Aged! That was fair enough! But it made me think: well, Im not lying down because Im from another time. My time cant be the last thing I did. It has to be whats around the corner.

Robert Plant Watching You

Plants solo career kicked off in the 80s with dreamy FM radioepics such as Big Log, but this 1990 track from Manic Nirvana underlines his great love back then: north African music. A 1972 holiday to Marrakech lit the flame, but he also loved the beautiful, swirling orchestras of Cairo, and the bendir style of hand-drumming, used across North Africa, which became a bedrock for many later songs. It helps get rid of the whole rock four-on-the-floor rhythm, which I liked; it forces you away from that world. Although playing them has wrecked my thumb-bone completely.

Plant still visits Morocco regularly, recording Berber music off pirate radio over there as recently as last weekend, but he finds western sounds cutting in now, more than he does. I hear the chord progressions of Coldplay in Marrakech now, which Im trying to get away from! But Berber music burrows into me, and why it does fascinates me. Why do I feel so enriched by hearing it? Can I try and do something with it that is part of me, part of the band, part of everything? So I did. He thinks of musical influence like the process of sending off a carrier pigeon. Theres a little idea on the leg of a beautiful bird that lands and leaves a little trace. You pick it up, you pass it on.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss Your Long Journey

Raising Sand (2007) was the record that changed everything for Plant. He discovered Krauss one night in his car, the radio singing to him in the darkness as he came from a pub on the Shropshire borders. I remember pulling over and writing the name down: who the hell was that? In 2004, they sang live together at a Lead Belly tribute in Cleveland, Ohio, and Plant got Krausss number from her manager to see if she wanted to collaborate. Their first phone conversation was odd. She whispered: Oh hi, barely speaking, then said shed call me back, quickly putting down the phone. The reason was more prosaic than pretentious. She was putting her kid to bed!

Your Long Journey is a song by bluegrass singer Doc Watson, written for his dying wife. I picked this one over them all, because its killer beautiful. Its also a great example of how much Krauss was in charge of the record, says Plant a new experience for him. I was basically tutored by Alison. Shes a very precise singer whos done more duets than you can shake a stick at, and I was thinking: help, Im a rock singer, no matter what I do. But, of course, Im not: Im just a guy that sings songs. Shed also tell him off. Shed hit the talkback button from the control room, lean into the microphone and say: Robert, why dont you sing the same thing twice? But his voice developed here, and he learned to train it, he says. Any other vocal training rituals? Usually cider.

Robert Plant Silver Rider

In the early 2010s, Plant was living in Austin, Texas. He came across the band Low in the citys Waterloo Records he knew the owner, who would put things aside for him and then on the radio. Radio is alive in America, it really is. And the way this bands voices came out of it: their pathos, the beautiful melodies, the way she [Mimi Parker] hangs on every vocal line after shes finished it was so sexy and so dark. Covering Lows songs Silver Rider and Monkey on his next album, he sung the latter with Patty Griffin, which created its own story. The singing was so sensual we ended up singing itto each other, and then moving in.

Plant and Griffin parted ways in 2014, but his heart still sings for her. Shes such a tiny, beautiful character, but shes just enormous in her passion and her writing. Her writings staggeringly beautiful.And her voice its heavenly but its wild, and thats what she is. Shes heavenly and she carries such power. You hear that here.

Robert Plant Embrace Another Fall

This is a song about coming home to the UK, which Plant did after he and Griffin split up. Its also about guilt. Guilt about leaving. I couldnt hack it. The word fall also refers to autumn, and the emotions Plant felt on returning to the dark and mists and clouds of the Severn valley, realising he wanted to be back near his children, old haunts and old friends. I had really missed the simplicities of that life. I mean, in a few weeks, I shall be at a cider farm outside Bromyard with a bunch of Polish people who shake apple trees all day and a friend who sells cider. Thats much better for me than being a rockaday Johnny in America, you know. Theres no respite there.

He says this with authority: hes seen many people fall into rocks trappings. I mean, I was lucky to meet Elvis at one point, and he was just such a charismatic, funny guy, able to take the piss out of himself. He saw fame for what it was. But as time went on, he got so bored. He was so trapped. Its so important to unhitch that ridiculousness.

Embrace Another Fall also features a last verse in Welsh, from a folk tale about a nightingale inadvertently shot in a battle, whose body is brought back on the instruction Owain Glyndr, the last Welsh Prince of Wales. Plant has always been fascinated by Welsh mythology, and is happy to be back near that country too so much so that hes an active member of the Glyndr society. Its basically me and a load of retired teachers in a coach looking for his grave. He apes a perfect lilting Welsh accent. Lets pull into this layby, boys, its time for sandwiches!

Robert Plant Heaven Sent

This new track is influenced by Plants interest in pathos in classical music, and beautiful pieces like Greckis Symphony No 3, when composers linger on one small movement of sound, to create these great atmospheres. Its a song about folly, Plant says, then laughs. Im quite often singing about my error. I just dont quite ever get it right. But if I did, Id probably be having a pipe and slippers and watching a box set of The Office, you know? A wanderlust, a longing to do other things, still drives him on, he explains. But at the same time Im carrying fire, because it hurts. Im scarring other people and scarring myself. But no matter how much scarring I do, or how much I run from circumstance, Wolverhampton Wanderers are still at home to Millwall on Saturday, you know? And when I finish talking to you, I shall be heading to play five-a-side back home with my friends, until the defibrillator turns up. Youve got to carry on.

Show me a happy writer, and Ill show you a bad one, Plant adds, smiling. A little part of me is always bearing that in mind. And still looking at lifes rich old pageant, to coin a very well-known phrase, just to see how its going.

  • Robert Plants album Carry Fire is out now on Nonesuch/Warners

Robert has curated a longer primer to his work, featuring the above alongside other favourite tracks from across his career; you can listen and subscribe to it in Spotify below

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Via his cult compilations, Lance Barresi has dug up rare and oddball hard rock and heavy psych cuts that provided the soundtrack to the hippy comedown

In the age of music overload, when its possible to access millions of songs via YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music, is it really possible to find something new? Something unheard, from rocks recesses? Lance Barresi, the man behind the Brown Acid compilations, claims that not only has he dug up undiscovered gems, but that they sat under the noses of collectors and collators for decades.

Starting in 2015, Barresi, along with Daniel Halls RidingEasy Records, began pulling together five collections of rare and weird tracks from rocks past. The music all comes under Barresis umbrella term Brown Acid, with the tracks loosely fitting into three sub-genres: hard rock, heavy psych and proto-metal. Theyre labels that have confused the snobbiest of musos.

When I go to record shows, even guys who have been selling records for decades you start mentioning these three sub-genres and theyre like: What, what do you mean? Its befuddling that these records exist but theyre also virtually unknown even to people who have been dealing with records their whole life.

As the compilations came together, Barresi began to notice a pattern. The tracks all fell between 1968 and 1975, as garage rock began to give way to a harder, darker sound. Very rarely is something we include on Brown Acid heavy enough to come before 1968 and rarely is anything that comes later than 1975 or 1976 in the right ballpark either, says Barresi.

Sometimes there are things like Blown Frees The Wizard, which is from 1980. It just hits that sweet spot because its from a rural town in Texas that was just behind the times and the band werent trying to be contemporary. They were just playing the same music that was popular a decade before that.

Brown Acid started out of necessity. Barresi, who set up the Permanent Records store in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles where he opened more branches, was playing hard rock at his weekly DJ gig in Eagle Rock on the outskirts of east LA. The problem was that he couldnt find enough of the sounds he was looking for: rough and ready hard rock with a fuzzy psych or soul edge. He began asking friends for tips on similar music and mining YouTube for potential songs to play out.

That led to unearthing tracks via a network of hardcore collectors, often going off scarce information found on record sleeves or on online forums. Once he found the band members and got their authorisation, he put out The First Trip in 2015. But finding them was the hardest part.

Barresi says one typical case was Captain Foams Richard Bertrand, the front man of a little known Ohio two-piece who released one sought-after 7-inch in the late 60s. Anyone I called in Ohio named Richard Bertrand was not him, he remembers. I was hitting wall after wall for a long time. Id been looking for someone in Ohio when he was actually in California. Eventually I found him on LinkedIn, of all places.

Altamont signaled the end of the 60s and ushered in a darker period in American life. Photograph: Ronald Grant

Similar amateur detective work was necessary to find nearly all the bands on Brown Acid. Barresi describes the compilations as a set of unknown hits you cant believe failed to connect back in their heyday due to various unfortunate circumstances. Most of the bands on the compilations arent one-hit wonders, but one-record wonders who made just one 7-inch that might never have been sold or made it beyond a DJs promo bag.

A lot of the records were used by bands to showcase their abilities, so the B-side will be a really terrible ballad or a bad cover of Crosby, Stills and Nash or something, says Barresi. Generally speaking, these bands only had one crack at it and it didnt go well, and then they called it quits and moved on to something else.

That element of misfortune, as well as the quest for more of the music he loved, fueled Barresis search as he wanted to give these musicians another chance to have their tracks heard. You can be amazing and be in the wrong place at the wrong time and not have anything take off, he says. Im just happy to give these guys who I think deserved more than they got another chance at success. However little that might be, at least their music will be able to be heard by a new generation of people.

Its phenomenal at all that some of these 45s even exist, because they dont need to exist they just happened to be created, he says.

Theres been a glut of deep-dive compilations over the last five years that have shone light on the darkest recesses of rocks back catalog. Now Agains Function Underground: The Black & Brown American Rock Sound 1969 to 1974 focused on African American rock musicians whose music wasnt defined as rock and operated in a world between nascent soul, funk and heavy rock. Numero Group have collated two collections that overlap with Brown Acid. The brilliantly named Darkscorch Canticles feature wizard rock bands who replaced hippie pastoralism with mythology, armored conflict, sorcery, and doom (not to be confused with Harry Potter-inspired wizard rock). Acid Nightmares, meanwhile, touched on some of the same heavy psych and short-lived stoner bands that also found their way on to the Liverpool Psych festivals collections.

Axas Composite: Sam Morris/RidingEasy

Barresi says the compilations are mining a transitional phase of rock created during a time when the hippy optimism gave way to a post-trip hangover that Joan Didion captured in Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Its not all pot smoke and love, he says of the period. In 1969 you have the Manson murders, you have [the disastrous Rolling Stones gig at] Altamont, while Vietnam is ruining everyones good vibes and the music starts to get a little bit heavier and less flowery.

The music got real dark, real quickly during that era. When everyone was first discovering the Beatles and garage rock and weed and LSD its all fun and games, and then you start to realise the dark side of that and it gets ugly.

Barresi hopes that Brown Acid will do for hard rock, proto-metal and heavy psych, what Nuggets did for garage rock, and bring it to a wider audience of collectors and music fans. He sees it as plugging a gaping hole in rock history. It perfectly fits the void between [the garage compilations] Nuggets, Pebbles, Boulders and [the punk compilations] Bloodstains and Killed By Death, which seems really natural to me, but obviously no one thought of it.

Its like a bastard child of rock music that no one really paid attention to. There are all these amazing records from the late 60s to the early 70s that exist that really didnt have a place to be filed under.

Whether proto-metal or heavy psych or even wizard rock become the next genre to see a wider scale resurgence is debatable, but Barresi plans to continue with the compilations and believes theres a lot more music to be unearthed. Weve only just discovered the tip of the iceberg, says Barresi. You keep digging that hole thinking youre going to hit the bottom and all that happens is the dirt underneath you just gets weirder and weirder.

Brown Acid: The Fifth Trip is out now on Riding Easy Records

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Whats the best-designed album sleeve? The Beatles White Album or Kraftwerks Autobahn? Miles Daviss Tutu or Pixies Doolittle? Designers of modern album covers including Peter Saville, Vaughan Oliver and more pick their favourites

The Beatles The White Album (1968)

Photograph: Alicia Canter for the Guardian

Chosen by Jonathan Barnbrook, creator of the sleeves for David Bowies Heathen, Reality, The Next Day and Blackstar

Richard Hamiltons sleeve was really radical and ahead of its time and it still looks contemporary. By contrast to Peter Blakes vivid artwork for the Beatles previous album, Sgt Peppers, it was a plain white sleeve with the band name just embossed, almost invisible. There was a stamped number, which made each one unique. My parents had it first, but I thought it looked boring until I studied art. Once you understand the context, it gets really interesting. We think of design as for the present moment, but while music doesnt change, peoples feelings and relations to it do. So the sleeve becomes a reflection of that. It placed an avant-garde idea into the mainstream the cover is a blank space on which you can project your fantasies. A few years ago, this guy had a record shop selling nothing but old copies of the White Album. People had drawn on them, made coffee cup rings on them or whatever and each one was different, because it had lived a life. On the vinyl edition of Blackstar, you can see the record and, over time, watch it decay. Its trying to say: Thats reality.

Grateful Dead Aoxomoxoa (1969)

Photograph: Alicia Canter for the Guardian

Chosen by Roger Dean, designer of more than 100 fantastical album covers, most famously for Yes

By the end of the 60s, we had people walking on the moon and Concorde zooming across the Atlantic in three-and-a-half hours. The future seemed right around the corner. At the same time, there was this incredible psychedelic movement going on. It felt as if everything could be different. The musicians were making new worlds. I was obsessed with designing the future, but the graphic designers of the day were hardwiring it into our existing culture with their decades-old design and fonts. Thats why Rick Griffins cover had such a powerful effect on me, and is still my favourite sleeve. He had changed the use of lettering completely but it was still legible. The painting looks as if it comes from a completely other world. It seemed to be saying to me that the rules were bullshit, that we could do anything we wanted. As an art student, this was like being given the keys to a prison door. I didnt copy it, but it allowed me to do my own thing. The album is OK, but the cover is blisteringly amazing. When I look at it, I see freedom.

Kraftwerk Autobahn (1974)

Photograph: Alicia Canter for the Guardian

Chosen by Peter Saville, famed for his work with New Order, Joy Division and Factory Records

Autobahn was the first album I ever bought, after I heard the single on the radio. In 1974, as a teenager who had never been abroad, listening to the full 22-minute title track while staring at the autobahn symbol on the sleeve felt like being taken on a journey. I was on a European highway, in a soundscape crafted by classically trained musicians, seeing cathedrals and power stations, villages and skyscrapers, ancient and modern, in time as well as distance. It was a continental tour from gothic to postmodern, from the dark ages to Brigitte Bardot with the pulsebeat of a speeding vehicle. All defined in a simple symbol. As a fledgling visual artist, this was my first lesson in semiotics. I realised that visual codes acted as keys to unlock the huge range of potential awareness in an audience. Four years later, when I was asked to do the poster for the first night of the Factory club, I noticed an industrial warning sign on a workshop door at art college: Use hearing protection. Id been thinking Factory … new music … industrial city and realised: Thats it! My Autobahn moment.

Hawkwind In Search of Space (1971)


Chosen by Malcolm Garratt AKA Assorted Images, designer of classic artwork for Buzzcocks, Magazine, Duran Duran and Simple Minds

At my grammar school, you displayed your allegiances via the album you carried under your arm: Deep Purple in Rock, Genesiss Nursery Cryme and so on. The longhairs were outsiders, but to be ever more apart, you carried Hawkwind. The designer, Barney Bubbles, was a genius. This wasnt just a square of card. It unfolded out to a rough hawk shape. On the front, there was this post-psychedelic, pre-electro, sci-fi mandala. On the back, there were no track titles, just a completely blurred picture of them playing live (which seemed to replicate the Hawkwind live experience) and the words: Technicians of spaceship Earth, this is your captain speaking, your captain is dead. Coming with a booklet of countercultural images and texts, it really broke convention for album packaging. It inspired me graphically, with its geometric shapes and fluorescent colours, and I became immersed in an alternative lifestyle and took psychedelic drugs. On one trip in Scotland, I was convinced I could see aliens landing, I experienced synaesthesia and distinctly remember listening to this album through my teeth. When the Sex Pistols came along, I realised this outsider attitude applied equally to another counterculture, punk.

Iggy Pop Lust for Life (1977)

Photograph: Alicia Canter for the Guardian

Chosen by Vaughan Oliver, who defined the visual aesthetic of the 4AD label in the 80s

I wanted to design record sleeves from the moment I went to see a Roger Dean lecture in Durham when I was 15. His sleeves werent about how the band looked, but the use of imagination. In my work, Im keen on the ambiguous and the mysterious. This sleeve is the complete antithesis of my philosophy, but I like its innocence and directness. Im not a fan of the graphics, but this image given what Iggy was going through in 1977 with heroin addiction is just extraordinary. Andy Kents photograph isnt the depiction of a wasted rocknroller one might expect. Iggys a beautiful man, aged 30, but its like a high-school photograph and totally fits the words Lust for Life. I bought it when I was at Newcastle Polytechnic, probably because of David Bowies involvement. The sleeve seemed confrontational and unexpected. Iggy looks like a childrens TV presenter or someone about to present the weather forecast, but the record inside is raw and harrowing. Its the absolute opposite of everything conjured up by the sleeve. I love that.

Pixies Doolittle (1989)

Photograph: Alicia Canter for the Guardian

Chosen by Tash Willcocks, Manchester-based illustrator behind sleeves such as Elbows Asleep in the Back

I was brought up in a house in Cornwall where no one listened to music. When I was a teenager, my friends bought this album and showed me it. In 1989, I had never seen anything like it. The combination of Simon Larbalestiers photography and Vaughan Olivers design and typography was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I thought: Whatever that is, thats what I want to do. I had always been a messy person, but suddenly everything made sense. I realised that in art and design, you can get your hands dirty, make mistakes and embrace them. Before this, to me, a record cover meant a boyband on a sleeve, which made me want to puke, but here was something I could emotionally engage with. It gave me no answers, only a million questions. Why are the letters like this? Why is the print over the top of everything? I cant even remember playing it, just staring at it and it taking over my brain. It gave me permission to be me, which has influenced everything in my life.

Rammellzee Vs K-Rob Beat Bop (1983)


Chosen by Tony Hung, artist behind Blurs The Magic Whip

Jean-Michel Basquiats artwork brought this great hip-hop 12in from 1983 to my attention in a record shop in Manchester. The cover is typically Basquiat. In the context of a record sleeve, he brings something unconventional, bold, playful, thought-provoking, raw and engaging while maintaining an unlaboured feel. All the surfaces including the record labels are something to behold, and perfectly suit the music within. Despite being 33 years old, this work feels more potent than ever, when much of our daily eyeline is bombarded with overstylised, computer-perfected, market-led noise. Armed with just a paint stick, Basquiat effortlessly cuts through it all. Its life-affirming. It reminds me I am a human being and to be a human being, to be instinctive, and that with just primitive tools, we can still make joyful and fulfilling work.

Joy Division Unknown Pleasures (1979)


Chosen by Dan Hillier, winner of the 2014 Best Art Vinyl award for the cover of Royal Bloods debut album

I was five or six when this came out in 1979, and didnt know anything about Joy Division, but its one of those images that has always been about. When I was younger, I didnt know what it was or understand it, but something about the graphic always appealed. I later found out that Peter Savilles sleeve design depicts a frequency wave from the first known pulsar, but it could equally be a landscape or depict musical frequencies. My experience of the music on records has always been influenced to some degree by the cover art, and this is dark and bleak and jagged, which is perfect for that album. After Royal Blood used my Pachamama image for their album, their manager and I agreed we would have preferred not to have words on the cover. On the front of Unknown Pleasures, theres no band name or text, so no marketing or conventional enticement. It has something akin to the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey about it, like a communication from somewhere unknown. Its mysterious, dark and self-contained.

Led Zeppelin Houses of the Holy (1973)

Photograph: Alicia Canter for the Guardian

Chosen by Carson Ellis, award-winning illustrator and sleeve designer for the Decemberists, Weezer and Laura Veirs

This has been my favourite album cover for as long as I can remember. Hipgnosis did lots of the great 70s sleeves and this is weird, timeless and iconic. I recently did a cover for an album of Zeppelin covers called From the Land of Ice and Snow and redrew the Houses of the Holy image in my own style. So Ive spent a lot of time with it. Its a photo collage image of nymph-like, mermaid-like, naked children actually a brother and sister climbing Giants Causeway, in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Zeppelin combine blues with fantasy and JRR Tolkien, and all that is on the cover. It seems to signify otherworldliness, something primal and social taboos. Theres something vaguely sexualised about the children, but whatever sexuality its alluding to is subtle enough that you can shrug it off. On the cover of the Decemberists What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, I drew a stylised, flat depiction of a naked woman, with tiny pink dots for nipples. I was told that big stores wouldnt stock it. They were the most benign, non-sexual nipples that anyone ever had.

Miles Davis Tutu (1986)

Photograph: Irving Penn

Chosen by Cey Adams, designer of Def Jam Recordings sleeves from the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and Jay Z

This is one of Miles Daviss last recordings, in his avant-garde period its named after Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Its just a stark photograph by Irving Penn of Miles looking straight on, and the edges are faded black [the cover was designed by Eiko Ishioka]. I was taken by the fact that an artist could have a cover without his name on it, and Miles Davis was obviously so popular that he could do that. Miles always had very powerful features, and the texture and detail in his face shows the journey of his career and how much he put into it. I was drawn to the album by that intense, beautiful stare. I modelled my career on Miles in terms of wanting to push boundaries. For example, Public Enemys Fear of a Black Planet was conceptual art, which no one had done in hip-hop before. However, I was so moved by the Tutu cover that when the time came to do LL Cool Js greatest hits album, All World, I applied the same idea to an Albert Watson photograph of LL. There was type on the front, but it was on a shinkwrap that peeled off. It was my homage to Tutu.

Parliament Motor Booty Affair (1978)


Chosen by Joe Buckingham, designer of various De La Soul sleeves including De La Soul Is Dead

Ive always liked album sleeves that double as construction kits. I had a Jefferson Airplane album that you could take apart and build into a fully three-dimensional cigar box. The inner sleeve was an image of marijuana, and that sat in the box, so it looked as if it was filled with grass. In this field, though, this Parliament cover is king and is still my all-time favourite sleeve. It was a gatefold with a pop-up element. If you laid the album flat, this fantasy castle popped up along with various characters you could cut out and stand up in the castle. There were tons of illustrations, and the cover featured a giant bird coming down on the albums Sir Nose character. There was just so much to look at in Overton Loyds artwork. It really piqued my imagination. I think subconsciously the starkness and simplicity of the cover image against a white background seeped into how I designed De La Soul Is Dead.

Marvin Gaye Here, My Dear (1978)


Chosen by Scott Sandler, Grammy-nominated designer of artwork for everyone from Def Jam to Lil Wayne to the Rolling Stones

I love this because of the story behind it and the way the cover works with the music. In the mid-70s, Marvin Gaye had had two enormous albums in Whats Going On and Lets Get It On, but was going through an acrimonious divorce from Anna Gordy. They agreed a deal whereby she wouldnt get any money, but would get all the proceeds of his next album, which looked guaranteed to be the biggest record ever. Instead, he sabotaged the deal by making a wilfully uncommercial album, full of songs about their relationship, although its now seen as another classic. Gaye gave Michael Bryan, the artist, very specific instructions, so the cover features the singer looking like a Greek god. The artwork includes the words love and marriage and judgment and it unfolds to a picture of him handing her this itsy-bitsy, teeny-tiny record. Thats dark, but mostly a record just features a photo of the band. This is a total concept, a snapshot of his state of mind and an amazing art piece.

U2 Boy (1980)


Chosen by Alison Fielding, Beggars Banquet Group creative director, who has designed for the Prodigy, the Specials and the Horrors

When I was about 13, I heard I Will Follow when I was listening to the John Peel show on headphones. I thought it was amazing, and immediately went to this little local shop that sold TVs as well as records, and ordered it. At that point, I had no idea what it would look like. When I got it, I just thought it was so beautiful, I stared at it for hours. I dont care much for the graphics, but its very evocative of a time in my life that shaped my love of music, and theres something almost Mona Lisa-like about the photograph on the sleeve. Does it capture innocence, or something darker? They used the same boy two albums later for War, by which point he has a split lip. So theres a narrative developing. When I was about 13 or 14, I had this big blue Adidas bag for school, and I wrote U2 on it in really big lettering in ballpoint pen, but messily and badly. That was my first attempt at graphics.

Bjrk Homogenic (1997)


Chosen by Rochelle Nembhard, who worked on the acclaimed cover for Petite Noirs La Vie Est Belle

I like covers that relate directly to the musician, more than abstract images. I like some abstract images, but those covers could be anyone. Homogenic is a piece of art, and the fact that she used Alexander McQueen to design it was amazing. Its a fusion between African and Asian the African necklaces and the Asian dress that stands the test of time. I love all Bjrks covers for that reason they all show an aspect of her. The visual aspect of music, the album cover, is important, because it is a picture of the music, depicting the sound. It should be so much more than just a one-dimensional image it has to be the face of the music. Thats what I was trying to do with Petite Noir, working with the artist Lina Viktor. I knew she had the type of imagery that would translate into his music and stand the test of time.

Scritti Politti Work in Progress EP (1979)


Chosen by Matthew Cooper, designer for Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, Hot Chip and many more

I love the DIY aesthetic of the first edition of Elvis Presleys first album, later homaged by Ray Lowry for the Clashs London Calling sleeve. The wonky type looks like it has been cut out and stuck on by hand. Theres another musician awkwardly cropped in the photo of Elvis. Nowadays, the record company would ask you to Photoshop him out. The immediacy of the image and graphics make a statement of intent: Here I am. Many years and genres after that was released, the same aesthetic inspired me when I came across this EP of Scritti Polittis second John Peel session in Chick-A-Boom Records in Sutton Market, some years after it came out in 1979 on Rough Trade Records. The sleeve was just a plastic bag with two bits of photocopied paper in it. One of them listed the entire costs of making the record, including 65 for 5,000 plastic covers. The other photocopy was of a bag of crisps, a badge and some sugar. It demystified the entire process and I realised that I could do something similar at the local library. So I took loads of stuff down and started photocopying it.


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With The Complete BBC Sessions out now, the Led Zep guitarist talks recording against the clock, the struggle to get on TV and his plans for a new band

Just when you thought it was all over the eight studio albums and the Coda compilation remastered, reissued and expanded here come Led Zeppelin again. This time its with The Complete BBC Sessions, expanding on the 1997 edition with nine further tracks. Its sometimes forgotten, as guitarist Jimmy Page points out, that back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, they were a John Peel band: a couple of the sessions on the set were recorded for Peels Top Gear show, and he was the MC for a 1971 In Concert performance. Ive heard feedback about him liking us, and I didnt know if he did at the time, Page says now, and when we played at the Bath festival for the first time [in 1969] we played on the John Peel stage, so there were connections all over the shop.

You and John Paul Jones must have already done scores of BBC sets as session musicians, before Zeppelin ever went to record for the corporation

Jimmy Page: I dont think we actually did them together, but individually we surely must have done. I know that I played in the Aeolian Hall [where many live performance for the BBC were recorded] and certainly [the BBC studios in] Maida Vale, for solo artists Tom Jones was one of them. I knew what equipment to take in, and John Paul Jones and I both had scaled down equipment which was useful. The recording was against the clock. The key thing to say is, some people say it took a while to break in England.

Radio 1 at this point offered a toehold to underground music, through shows like Top Gear, didnt it?

We didnt do singles, so how were we going to get on the radio? We went in there and just really wanted to capture the energy. Or hope they would. Which they did. There was Top Gear. But one of the shows we recorded for was Chris Grants Tasty Pop Sundae, so that gives some idea of what it was all about and the climate then. We also did a World Service show, which again was purely about getting on the airwaves.

Given your perfectionism in the studio when you were making albums, was it trying to have to record a session in an afternoon?

It wasnt even a whole afternoon! Wed do those things within an hour and a bit, the tracks and then the overdubs. You do the track, then Robert does the vocal, then you do the overlays youre pinpointing the bits that you want to be heard as the textures. So you had enough control to be able to do the overdub. But you basically had one pass at putting on the extra stuff. It never stressed me because the whole thing about those songs was that the early songs we were already playing, and some of the later ones were freshly recorded, so we were used to playing them. In those days you could include things in your set that youd just recorded, even though the album might not be coming out for many, many months later. You couldnt do that now because it would be straight on YouTube.

Did you ever meet BBC engineers and producers with incomprehension when they insisted you couldnt send the dials into the red?

We might have done, but I think Ive forgotten. The one thing I do remember is that there were some good engineers there, and youd go back to do another session and ask, Wheres the engineer we had last time? Oh, hes been promoted hes a producer now. On a music programme? No, no, no hes on the World Service. I always found that a bit odd, but that was the BBCs whole tradition.

Was TV not a route open to you, or did you just prefer to do radio?

We did a pilot of an arts programme, which Ive forgotten the name of we did Communication Breakdown. There was an antiques dealer called John Jesse on it. But I dont remember any more than that. TV wasnt really catering for our sort of bands apart from Top of the Pops, and we werent gonna fit on that. Apart from Whole Lotta Love that was on every week!

Did the BBC offer you sessions, or was your manager Peter Grant out hustling them?

I think Peter Grant, because of his connections with Mickie Most and his bands Hermans Hermits and that sort of thing. He knew all the programmers.

You were fortunate to be working at a time when the confluence of technology, cultural change and the spread of the underground made it possible to achieve such stature, is that right?

I think youre absolutely right. It was a very, very healthy time for bands and for music in general. In those days the record companies would put a lot into A&R and finding new bands. It was definitely of its time, Led Zeppelin, and Im happy that its of its time.

For a few years now, youve been promising a new band. Any sign of that coming together?

Things got in the way of my overall gameplan, which would have been to be playing now. But thats got to be next year, because I dont have the time. Im not going to rush it. Its pretty obvious its going to be next year. I want to do it and do it properly.

Last time we spoke, my final question was to ask you to tell me something about Led Zeppelin that had never appeared in an article. You said you wouldnt, but you would someday. Go on then.

Thats not fair! Maybe next time.

  • The Complete BBC Sessions is out now on Rhino.

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Los Angeles jury finds Robert Plant and Jimmy Page did not steal the most famous passage from the 1971 anthem from the band Spirit

Led Zeppelin has defeated a lawsuit that accused the band of stealing the opening riff in Stairway to Heaven, and cemented its place in rocks pantheon.

A jury in Los Angeles on Thursday cleared Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of pinching arguably the most famous riff of the most famous anthem in rock.

The singer and guitarist were in the US district court for the climax of a six-day trial that gripped the music industry and put the bands history and credibility under a forensic microscope.

Plant, 67, and Page, 72, denied lifting Stairway to Heavens opening passage, which evokes Renaissance folk music, from an LA-based psychedelic band called Spirit.

The estate of Spirits guitarist Randy Wolfe, also known as Randy California, had sued for recognition and a share of the proceeds on the grounds the 1971 mega-hit ripped off Taurus, an instrumental composed in 1967.

Wearing sharp suits with their hair pulled back in ponytails, Plant and Page left court without speaking publicly, but issued a brief statement later that said they were grateful to the jury and look forward to putting the matter behind them.

Francis Malofiy, the estates attorney, said he was sad and disappointed by the jurys decision.

The reality is that we proved access, but they could never hear what they had access to, Malofiy said. Its bizarre.

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Lead singer took the stand during the copyright trial in which he and fellow songwriter Jimmy Page are accused of stealing a riff from Spirits song Taurus

Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant testified on Tuesday that his memory of encounters more than 40 years ago is dim, though his recollection of the creation of the bands epic Stairway to Heaven was quite clear.

Plant told a packed courtroom that he did not remember hanging out with members of the band Spirit after a Birmingham, England, show in 1970, though he said he and his wife were in a bad car wreck and he has no memory of the evening.

I dont have a recollection of almost anyone Ive hung out with, Plant said as the courtroom roared with laughter.

Plant took the stand in a federal courtroom in Los Angeles during the copyright trial in which he and fellow songwriter Jimmy Page are accused of stealing a riff from Spirits song, Taurus, for Stairway to Heaven.

The estate of the late songwriter Randy Wolfe, also known as Randy California, is suing Page, Plant and their record label for copyright infringement.

Spirits former bass player previously testified to drinking beers with Plant and playing the billiards-like game snooker after a show at Mothers Club in 1970.
Plant had a much sharper memory of creating Stairway at Headley Grange in England, where he said his goal was to evoke an image of pastoral Britain.

Plant said he was sitting by a fire in the building when Page played the introduction to the song. Plant said he had a couplet that might work that began: Theres a lady whos sure all that glitters is gold and shes buying a stairway to heaven.

From there it started rolling pretty fast, he said.

The other band members would make contributions and Plant would occasionally retreat to a bedroom with a notepad to work on more lyrics for what became an eight-minute song.

Lawyers for Page and Plant have asked the judge to throw out the case before it goes to the jury. Judge R Gary Klausner did not entertain that motion Tuesday morning.

Musical experts for the Wolfe estate have said there were many similarities between Taurus and Stairway, but a defense expert testified Friday that the main similarity was a common descending chord sequence used as a musical building block for 300 years.

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