As the “Stairway to Heaven” trial reminds us, Led Zeppelin‘s business practices – especially when it came to giving proper songwriting credit for songs that were partly or wholly lifted from other sources – were often as suspect as their dalliances with groupies.
But that (in through the out) door has also swung both ways. One of the most influential bands of their era, Led Zeppelin have inspired countless copycats during the past four decades – some of whom have taken their Zep worship to brazen (and borderline actionable) extremes. Call it karmic payback, or call it the natural evolution of rock & roll, but as long as there are new generations of listeners discovering Led Zeppelin for the first time, there will be new bands striving to conjure up some Zoso-style magik.
Here, then, are a dozen examples of (mostly) well-known artists who have drunk deeply from the Zeppelin well. Some of them incorporate lessons learned from the masters into their own style; some could pass for actual Led Zep recordings; and most actually sound more like Zeppelin than any of Page or Plant’s post-Zep projects. So if Zeppelin lose the “Stairway to Heaven” case, perhaps they can make some of that money back by suing a few of these folks.
Formed by Ronnie Montrose – a brilliant session guitarist with a flair for bluesy hard rock – and fronted by Sammy Hagar, a previously unknown singer with blond curls and powerful pipes, the original Montrose lineup was certainly cut from Zeppelin-esque cloth. “We could have been the American Led Zeppelin,” Hagar (who was fired by the guitarist after two albums) lamented in 2011, and “I Got the Fire,” a smoking track from 1974’s Paper Money amply backs up his claim. Montrose’s cascading blues licks, Hagar’s slap-back-drenched wail, Denny Carmassi’s thundering drums and the song’s cocky rock & roll thrust could convince any unsuspecting listener that the song is really an outtake from Led Zeppelin IV.
Though they were often touted (and occasionally derided) as “the American Stones,” Aerosmith actually felt a much deeper artistic kinship with Led Zeppelin. “We learned the arena-rock sound from their records,” guitarist Joe Perry told Rolling Stone in 2007. “Jimmy Page was so young when they made their first record, but he’d spent so much time in the studio, he had the whole thing mapped out in his head. He was like Eisenhower looking at Normandy Beach.” The band’s way with a swaggering groove was clearly Zeppelin-derived as well; recorded just weeks after the release of Physical Graffiti, “Sweet Emotion” could easily be the slinky second cousin of that album’s “Trampled Under Foot.”
Ann and Nancy Wilson have worn their affinity for Led Zeppelin on their frilly sleeves ever since Heart began; several of their hits (like 1977’s “Barracuda”) have featured Zeppelin-esque guitar riffs; they’ve covered several of the band’s songs on stage (including a mind-blowing rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors concert); and they even called upon John Paul Jones to produce their 1995 acoustic live album, The Road Home. Ann wouldn’t even be averse to stepping in for Plant, should a Zep reunion require it. “Hypothetically, if they ever needed a lead singer and Heart was not active at the moment, then, sure, I would [audition for Led Zeppelin],” Ann said in 2014. “I would go and play with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones any day of the week.” While many bands have successfully aped Zep’s priapic blues-stomp, Heart’s mandolin-driven “Dream of the Archer” (from 1977’s Little Queen) is the closest anyone’s ever come to replicating the spooky Brit-folk vibe of “The Battle of Evermore.”
With his brash vocals, clanging guitar riffs and arena-shaking beats, Squier ably filled the immediate hard-rock void left by Led Zeppelin, who’d disbanded following John Bonham’s death in September 1980. Don’t Say No, Squier’s breakthrough 1981 album, went triple platinum partly because of “Lonely Is the Night,” which sounded like a more radio-friendly reinterpretation of the 1976 Zep track “Nobody’s Fault but Mine.” “I was very humbled by the ‘one-man Led Zeppelin’ comparisons,” Squier reflected in a 2006 interview. “They were a band of staggering proportion and incredible vision.” As the impressive push-and-pull dynamics (and Bonham-esque drum punctuations) of “Lonely Is the Night” attest, Squier spent many hours painstakingly dissecting that vision.
“Love Removal Machine,” the first single from 1987’s Electric – the Cult’s Rick Rubin-produced hard-rock makeover – is often tagged as an AC/DC rip-off, but more than a little Zeppelin thievery can be found in there, as well. Ian Astbury’s “Baby, baby, baby, baby” wail makes him sound like a dead ringer for Robert Plant, while the furious Billy Duffy guitar flurry that follows the song’s “Misty Mountain Hop” boogie riff could have been lifted wholesale from Jimmy Page’s “Communication Breakdown” solo. Ironically, the band had recorded their previous album, 1985’s Love, at London’s Olympic Studios, specifically because Zep had worked there on their first two records. “Everybody [at the time] wanted the most modern, technologically advanced gear,” Duffy recalled in a 2012 interview. “And we’re going, ‘Led Zeppelin!’ and we’re talking to the house engineer – ‘Tell us about Jimmy Page, what did he use?'” But it wasn’t until Electric that their Zeppelin-y tendencies truly came to the fore.
Soundgarden were the most Zep-influenced of Seattle’s grunge acts – a fact that was initially obvious to everyone but themselves. “When we first got together, we were listening to a lot of post-punk and progressive hardcore, stuff like Bauhaus and Black Flag, after practice,” guitarist Kim Thayil explained to Rolling Stone in 2015. “Yet our friends are pointing out how our music has elements that remind them of Sabbath, Zeppelin and the Doors, and we started getting that a lot: ‘Zeppelin, Zeppelin, Zeppelin,’ and we were like, ‘OK, let’s check some of this out. …’ Eventually, after practice we’d be like, ‘Let’s check out Led Zeppelin IV. Let’s listen to Houses of the Holy.’ Like, ‘Yeah, I guess I can kind of see that a little bit.'” One listen to the roiling “Hands All Over,” from their 1989 album Louder Than Love, and you’ll see it too.
It’s hard to think of a more blatant Led Zeppelin rip-off than “Get It On,” this German band’s lone U.S. hit, which thumped its way to Number 69 on the Hot 100 in the spring of 1988, and which so flagrantly mimicked “Kashmir” that various wags in the press began calling them “Kingdom Clone.” But instead of copping to the imitation, guitarist Danny Stag insisted to anyone who would listen that Jimi Hendrix, not Jimmy Page, was his main guitar influence. “I used to scratch my head in disbelief when people compared me to Page,” he said in 1989. “I think younger people are missing the Hendrix part of my playing, because they aren’t as familiar with him as they are with Page.” Zep’s head honcho wasn’t fooled, however. “Obviously it can get to the point where it gets past being a compliment and it can be rather annoying,” said Page at the time, when asked about his old band’s influence on late-Eighties hard rockers. “When you’ve got things like Kingdom Come, actually ripping riffs right off, that’s a different thing altogether.”
After already perilously skirting Zep plagiarism with 1984’s “Slow an’ Easy,” David Coverdale’s hard rock ensemble went all the way over the edge with this over-the-top single from their blockbuster self-titled 1987 album. “Still of the Night” lifted its main riff from Physical Graffiti‘s “In My Time of Dying,” and threw in a spacey middle part that sounded suspiciously similar to the psychedelic breakdown in “Whole Lotta Love” – complete with Robert Plant-like howls of squeezed-lemon ecstasy. Coverdale (who would later team up with Jimmy Page for 1993’s Coverdale/Page LP) was deeply miffed when Plant started referring to him in the press as “David Cover Version,” but the sobriquet was certainly well-earned. One suspects that Coverdale still doesn’t completely get it, however. “If I had sold 100 million records emulating anybody,” he said in a 2011 interview, “then there’s something wrong in the universe.” Well …
Led Zeppelin has been a huge deal for Lenny Kravitz since he was 11 years old, when his family moved from New York to Los Angeles. “Listening to rock & roll, as opposed to Motown, went along with the setting I was in,” he recalled in a 2002 interview. “It was guys on the beach, ditching class and going to this little field behind a church, playing Zeppelin IV on a boom box, smoking weed and talking about skateboarding and surfing. It was new for me, and being at that age and playing guitar, it gave me something to look towards.” So it’s understandable that Zep elements have repeatedly cropped up in his songs, most obviously on 1995’s “Rock and Roll Is Dead,” which struts along on a “Bring It on Home”-like riff and a seriously Bonham-esque groove.
The best part of 2008 guitar-hero doc It Might Get Loud is watching Jack White trying not to lose his shit when Jimmy Page busts out with the “Whole Lotta Love” riff in front of him. “I sort of don’t trust anybody who doesn’t like Led Zeppelin,” White says in the film, as if his penchant for fuzzy, ever-so-slightly-out-of-tune blues riffs hadn’t already outed him as a diehard Page disciple. He can also muster a pretty respectable Plant yelp when he feels like it, such as on “Icky Thump,” the title track from the White Stripes’ 2007 album, whose early-Zep wallop is evident even under several layers of analog-synth squiggles.
When Wolfmother burst onto the international scene in 2005, listeners either hailed the Australian band as new heroes of stoner rock or dismissed them as “hipster metal” – but everyone seemed to agree that they sounded a lot like Led Zeppelin, especially on the hard-charging “Woman.” Still, leader Andrew Stockdale claims their Zep-isms were completely unintentional. “I’m blown away by that comparison, because I wasn’t going for that,” he said in 2014. “You can hear it in the demo for ‘Woman.’ … I was going for this Earth Wind & Fire high-pitched vocal thing like the song ‘September.’ I was trying to get the ‘dooooeeee dee dooooo’ and that turned into a rock & roll wail.” Nevertheless, the surviving members of Led Zeppelin were sufficiently impressed, tapping Wolfmother to play “Communication Breakdown” at a 2006 tribute concert held to commemorate their induction into the U.K. Hall of Fame.
You know who really loves Led Zeppelin? Dave Grohl! “They were the perfect combination of the most intense elements: passion and mystery and expertise,” the Foo Fighters leader wrote in Rolling Stone. “I think [John Bonham] will forever be the greatest drummer of all time. You have no idea how much he influenced me. I spent years in my bedroom – literally fucking years – listening to Bonham’s drums and trying to emulate his swing or his behind-the-beat swagger or his speed or power.” The Foos have covered several Zep songs live, but their Zeppiest original track is “Rope,” from 2011’s Wasting Light, which gets the Led out with a riff that sounds like “The Song Remains the Same” crossed with “The Wanton Song.”
Bonus Track: Quo Vadis
Relatively few people have ever heard this obscure French band’s bizarre 1972 ode to the glory of Led Zeppelin, and that’s a damn shame. Not only do they totally nail the “Whole Lotta Love” groove and Page’s biting Led Zeppelin II guitar tone, but the song’s chorus – “Whoa-ah! Led Zeppelin! Whoa-ah! Rock & Roll!” – summarizes Zep’s enduring appeal more aptly than any number of subsequent books and essays.