Jurors in a Los Angeles courtroom received a rock ‘n’ roll history lesson on Tuesday, as Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant testified about the development of their signature song “Stairway to Heaven.”
Plant and Page are accused of ripping off the 1968 Spirit song “Taurus” while writing “Stairway,” released in 1971. During Tuesday’s testimony, jurors were played four early recordings, providing insight into what would eventually become one of the best-known anthems in rock history.
In one recording, Page could be heard playing the song on acoustic guitar while teaching the tune to Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. The recordings continued to flesh out the band’s efforts to build “Stairway,” with the fourth of the 46-year-old recordings showcasing Plant singing not-yet-completed lyrics over the acoustic track.
Taking the stand, Page told the court that he began writing the song in May 1970, bringing the musical bits he had assembled to rehearsal and recording facility Headley Grange, where the group worked on music as a band.
Page recalled that Led Zeppelin chose the studio because Fleetwood Mac had recorded there. He recalled the group eating, sleeping and playing music at the facility, its living room wired up with microphones.
The 72-year-old guitarist added that he was attempting to compose something “symphonic and anthemic and layered” that would break the rules for rock music. Page described the song as a “very ambitious” work designed to be “a piece of music that would go through many moods and changes.”
The defense then played the full studio version of the song for the court, as Page and a number of court attendees nodded their heads to the music, before resting its case.
Earlier in the day, Plant offered his own memories of working on “Stairway.”
“I sat with Jimmy by the fire and he began playing,” the Zeppelin frontman testified. “I had a little couplet that fitted into what he was playing.”
Asked about the opening lyrics of the song, Plant said, “I was trying to bring in the beauty and remoteness of pastoral Britain.”
Plant also acknowledged that he sang “Stairway” out of tune a lot before the final version of the song was nailed down.
Tomorrow, the trial, which began on June 14, moves to closing arguments. The jury will then receive instructions before moving to the deliberation phase.