They say there’s a story behind every song. Sometimes those stories involve lots and lots of lawyers. Songwriting and music publishing has always been where the real money’s at in the music business, especially these days as physical record sales continue to fall. Whether we’re talking about stolen melodies, un-credited lyrical contributions or samples used without permission, the following songs landed their performers in court and in most cases paying the price for their alleged artistic appropriations. These are the most litigated songs in music history.
The Songs: Led Zeppelin “Whole Lotta Love” / “Bring It On Home” (1969)
The Plaintiff: Willie Dixon
The Case: Overlords of ‘70s hard rock, Led Zeppelin opened and closed their landmark second album II with two barnstorming numbers that soared into the stratospheric upper reaches of amplified proto-metal. However, both songs owed pretty sizable debts to two Chicago blues classics written by Willie Dixon, staff writer, producer and bassist at the legendary Chess Records. While the classic rock radio staple “Whole Lotta Love” merely lifts lyrics from Muddy Waters “You Need Loving,” “Bring It On Home” uses parts of the Sonny Boy Williamson original as it’s intro and ending.
The Judgment: Never ones to deny their artistic debt to their blues heroes, Led Zeppelin put their money where their mouths were and settled with Dixon out of court in 1987 after he brought a plagiarism suit against them. Both songs now credit Dixon as one of the composers however the band continues to take criticism for its alleged borrowing of many a musical motif. They must cry all the to the bank.