Friday, April 10, 2020

CASE CLOSED

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Othello: Shakespeare. Macbeth: Shake. No, no and no: Arthur Brook/Ovid (R+J); Hecatommithi, a novella by Cinthio (Othello); Holinshed's Chronicles ("The Scottish Play") - but if you said so, you'd sound like an idiot. Because you would be. According to Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun, so frankly, shut the hell up already about Led Zeppelin. The allegations have indeed brought lawsuits, mostly (five to be exact) settled out of court discretely with the evidence truncated, and in the most famous case, "Whole Lotta Love," the song credits amended to include Willie Dixon, who claimed that Robert Plant used lyrics from his song "You Need Love." Here we go: "You've got yearnin' and I got burnin'/ Baby you look so sweet and cunnin'./ Baby way down inside, woman you need love." Willie Dixon obviously was the first person ever to say what guys say in the heat of the moment (wait, did I just steal that from Asia?).

Sorry, I get it, intellectual property, blah blah blah, but this is simply fucking to music - the improv of sex - and it doesn't belong to Plant, nor does it belong to Dixon. The Small Faces' Steve Marriot has a far better case with Plant's lifted stylings, but push to shove reality: Romeo and Juliet: Shakespeare; "Whole Lotta Love:" Zeppelin. This (and only this) is the sexiest, dirtiest song ever recorded and not Willie Dixon's Song of the South rendition. Muddy Waters' take, bluesy and incredible as it is, holds nothing on Zeppelin's. (Not a soul, by the way, has challenged John Williams for lifting the Star Wars Theme straight from Erich Wolfgang Korngold's incidental music for King's Row. Why? Because Korngold's original pales in comparison.)

More importantly, this writer's purview is not that Led Zeppelin (Plant in particular) can claim intellectual ownership of lyrics like those in "The Lemon Song," which clearly reconstruct "Killing Floor" by Chester Burnett (a.k.a. Howlin' Wolf), but that lawsuits and purported plagiarism are absurd when one analyzes both the history of the blues, and its construct. If Plant indeed needs to include  Howlin' Wolf in the credits to "The Lemon Song," then Howlin' Wolf must also qualify "Killing Floor" by including Robert Johnson. By extension, Led Zeppelin, Howlin' Wolf and Robert Johnson must re-credit their sexually explicit "lemon" tracks with the addition of Joe Williams for his 1929 penned tune, "I Want it Awful Bad," which is, if not the original, at least the oldest existing lyrics to take the lemon in hand (so to speak): "You squeezed my lemon,/ Caused my juice to run." To emphasize the details: not Zeppelin, not Burnett, not Johnson, not Roosevelt Sykes ("She Squeezed My Lemon"), not Memphis Minnie nor Sonny Boy Williamson can lay claim to the lyrics of Joe Williams. 



Equally compelling is the "Killing Floor" reference. The killing floor is classic/timeless blues phrasing that initially referred to the slaughterhouse. After the Civil War, many black migrants found work in the slaughterhouses on the "killing floor," a term that came to mean hitting rock bottom. Plant's use of the lyric as a white British lyricist in "The Lemon Song" is ridiculous, but again, it is far from plagiarism.


The point is simple. So much energy and clever naysaying on the web and in print goes into proving that Plant and Page plagiarized the blues greats, overlooking the inherent plagiarism in the genre's construct: blues borrows.

By the way, there really was a William Shakespeare who wrote 37 plays and 154 sonnets. Not a soul among us reads Sir Francis Bacon's Hamlet.