Monday, July 5, 2010

Opinion: A proper settlement for 'Dazed and Confused'

Here's a fun little game called "The Dazed and Confused Payoff Game."

To play it, first go find yourself a Led Zeppelin bootleg with a 35-minute live version of "Dazed and Confused."

The Seattle '73 version would do.

Before you start listening to it, take 35 dollar bills in your hand -- one for each minute the song elapses -- and sit down at a table. Have two half-dollars or four quarters handy just in case you need them later in the game.

After each minute of the song passes, take one dollar out of your hand and place it on the table. If what you just heard for the past minute was written by anyone in Led Zeppelin, the dollar goes on your side of the table. If what you just heard for the past minute was written by Jake Holmes, the dollar goes on the opposite side of the table. You are the judge.

If you are stuck on which party wrote the music you just heard for the last minute, or if you think it might have been a part written by Jake Holmes but amended significantly by anyone in Led Zeppelin, then the dollar goes in the center of the table between the two stacks, to be divided evenly when the music's over. This is where that dollar's worth of change might come in handy.

When the music's over, count up the amount of money in each pile and compare. Which pile has more money? You'll probably be sitting right in front of it. Led Zeppelin always wins!

And that, kiddies, is how you play "The Dazed and Confused Payoff Game." Have you had fun?

Oh, you'd prefer the adult version? The drinking game is played with a friend. One of you will be Jake Holmes, and the other will represent Led Zeppelin. Every time a minute's worth of Jake's composition is heard, Jake takes a drink. Every time it's a minute's worth of Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin takes a drink. Every time it's a minute worth of both, social!!!

In the end, Led Zeppelin can always drink Jake Holmes under the table. Did you ever have any doubts about that?

Played properly (and in moderation), this game should serve as a long way of concluding that, over the course of 35 minutes, probably a maximum of three minutes' worth of the song was written at all by Jake Holmes.

Furthermore, in my judgment, even those three minutes of his material were amended significantly by at least one member of Led Zeppelin, both musically and lyrically.

So, Jake Holmes is suing Jimmy Page and other defendants over alleged copyright infringement on "Dazed and Confused." He's got a point, if he's talking about a few minutes' worth of stuff and only a part of the whole. What he's suggesting isn't unprecedented, that Led Zeppelin used a previously existing song as a starting point for something original and didn't see fit to credit the author of the starting point.

At this point, let's switch gears and think of "Bring It On Home," the closing track on Led Zeppelin II. The song opens with a direct quote from another "Bring It On Home," a song written by Willie Dixon but famous for being performed by Sonny Boy Williamson. Robert Plant's even doing his best Sonny Boy imitation on both the vocals and harmonica. Jimmy Page is all over that guitar part, too.

But when that quote ends, a heavy and original electric riff kicks in, the full band blows down the doors, and it's a whole different song. I mean, legally, it's a whole different song from Led Zeppelin almighty. Willie Dixon didn't write this, nor should he be entitled to it. That's why attorneys have designated this to be a whole different song called "Bring It On Back."

If you didn't know that, check the back cover of How the West Was Won. Or watch the credits feature on Led Zeppelin DVD sometime. It says it right there: This version of "Bring It On Home" written by Willie Dixon incorporates "Bring It On Back" by John Bonham, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Good for them!

The track ends with another brief quote of "Bring It On Home" as a tagline.

Now that this has been proven to work, they've established a model by which "Dazed and Confused" can be properly credited to its respective authors.

In "Dazed and Confused," only the sections near the beginning and end are anything like the Jake Holmes composition. Led Zeppelin plays so much more that's original and ought to be credited as such to Jimmy Page, if not also Robert Plant and/or John Paul Jones and/or John Bonham. The attorneys may be able to make a legal distinction between the Jake Holmes portions and the Led Zeppelin portions, and the Led Zeppelin portions could be retitled.

"Bring It On Back" sets the precedent. They could call the de facto Led Zeppelin composition "The Meat and Potatoes." The title is irrelevant. The point is Jake Holmes wrote a portion of what Led Zeppelin played for six minutes and 26 seconds on their debut album, but didn't write another portion of it. When that portion he didn't write was expanded to over a half an hour onstage, he still didn't write that either.

Holmes deserves credit, absolutely -- just not for everything. Make a legal distinction, give to Jake what is Jake's, and all will be well with the world.


  1. Cute idea; too bad it doesn't hold water. You're confusing composition and arrangement; following your logic, no jazz recordings from the last 50+ years should credit the original composers because the players - be it Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, or whoever - have so transmogrified and extended the original intent of the composer as to create a new work, cut from an entirely different cloth than the original classic tune as envisioned by Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, and others. And yet, credit them they do; there may be some examples to the contrary, but the overwhelming majority of jazz performers have done the honorable and legal thing and credited the true songwriters in their recordings.

    So, why should LZ be excused. . . because their live versions were longer? Because they added parts and changed lyrics? Even the most tone-deaf casual music fan can hear the relationship between the two studio recordings; the more dedicated LZ fan, upon learning of the history of the song and Page's knowledge of it, should be taken aback. It did not have to be this way, of course. The obvious example in rock, "All Along the Watchtower," is how it should be done and how LZ should have done it. The Doors' version of "Alabama Song" is another. LZ and JP - and, of course, Peter Grant, who could be the real culprit here - did NOT do it right, have failed to correct it for over four decades (a fact which also seemed to inexplicably sail over the Atlantic Records/Warner Music Group legal department's collective heads), and are now being brought to task for it, and no little parlor game can change that.

    Of course LZ's version trounces Holmes' original; who is disputing that? The fact remains that if Holmes had not composed "Dazed and Confused," and Page had not heard it and subsequently performed it with The Yardbirds (sticking much closer to the original lyrics), we would not have the same recordings and performances that we revere today. To leave Holmes uncredited for this long is wrong, and it needs to be corrected.

  2. I have to agree with Anon here. I am a huge Zep fan, since I was a kid but fair is fair. Regardless of where Zeppelin took this song live or even in the studio the basis of the melody and the main riff comes from Jake Holmes. With out the original version D&C as we know it, i.e Zeps version just, would not exist. I feel that Zeppelin fans have to let go of all of this. I heard all the "why now" and the "live this and that" arguments but they are just wrong. It matters little. It was taken and credit should have been given. I think to argue otherwise is similar to the parent who just won't admit their kid is doing bad. Let it be and let's move on. The fact that he wasn't credited was a mistake but it doesn't take away from the majesty of Led Zeppelin.

  3. Hmmmm. I'll go ahead and agree with what both of you have said. It's hard to argue against it. But I do have two other questions to keep the discussion rolling (hopefully without anybody else chiming in "why now" and "live this and that" arguments that have already been refuted).

    1. What do you think of "Bring It On Back"? Was it a correct move in or around 2003 to redesignate the 1969 track retroactively as an original composition with a new title since Willie Dixon's "Bring It On Home" distinctively served only as the intro and outro?

    2. Joe Bonamassa's 2008 live album From Nowhere in Particular has a track called "Django" that's just short of 18 minutes and goes into a medley including ZZ Top's "Just Got Paid," then the instrumental sections of "Dazed and Confused," and finally back to "Django." Notably, "Just Got Paid" is listed and properly credited in writing. "Dazed and Confused" is neither listed nor properly credited in writing. But just who should be credited? Note that the portions of the song Bonamassa credited were never part of Holmes's original but obviously (and by your own contentions) grew out of Jimmy Page's jam based on Holmes's original. In this case, Bonamassa's jam did not grow out of anything Holmes wrote. It grew out of something ZZ Top wrote but was based on a recitation of a Led Zeppelin recording. So, who is to be credited when this happens?

    Sorry if this doesn't interest 99% of people out there.

  4. The comparison between "All Along the Watchtower" and "Dazed and Confused" is a faulty one. "All Along the Watchtower" has no altered lyrics, "Dazed and Confused" does have altered lyrics. Holmes deserves a co-credit, but not credit alone The only people who haven't let go of this issue are the detractors. Most Led Zeppelin fans and 99% of the public couldn't careless about the it.

  5. From what I understand, intellectual property, as a body of law, wasn't very well defined or enforced in the mid to late '60s. These days, it is extremely well defined yet perhaps even more difficult to enforce because of the Internet, with its file-sharing and downloading. No one should be more conscious or aware of intellectual property issues, lost royalties, copyright infringements, etc. than the members of Led Zeppelin themselves, who have been bootlegged more than any other rock band. I agree that Mr. Holmes (or any musician, writer or other artist whose original work forms a base for the subsequent artistic expressions of others) should be given credit where and how credit is due. I trust in Led Zeppelin's empathy for the artist(s) who inspired them and their respect for their band's roots to do the right thing, as many here and elsewhere have acknowledged they have done in the past. Some will say they didn't do it soon enough or until they were legally obliged to. Just remember the times - the flurry of touring, the infancy of IP law as mentioned and how extraordinary it was that blues-based music was finally even being heard, borrowed or going mainstream in those unfortunate and worst days of racial tension. It's never too late to do the right thing. And the right thing is hardly ever the easy (or most popular) thing. It's sad to think that 99% of people out there may not care. We all should.

  6. Thanks for responding, Steve. It's certainly a thorny issue, and it's true that most people, god love 'em, can't really be bothered with it, and that's alright. The details are for the IP lawyers to work out; I'm only responding as a musician and music lover.

    1. "Bring It On Back": Actually, yeah, this was one possible approach that I presume the Dixon estate was happy with. The other would have been to say something like, "Written by Willie Dixon, arrangement by Led Zeppelin." Perhaps the "D&C" issue could have been handled with "Written by Jake Holmes; arrangement and additional lyrics by Jimmy Page" (he wrote them, not RP, right?). Thing is, I doubt royalties are paid for "arrangements", though I could be wrong. Like I indicated in my first post - and maybe I'm remembering this from "Hammer of the Gods" or maybe I'm just guessing - Peter Grant's knowledge of how to make the real cash in the music biz (i.e. publishing) could have been VERY instrumental in creating this problem in the first place, with JP a somewhat innocent (though obviously willing) bystander.

    To put the trickiness of the composition vs. arrangement issue into perspective, one need look no further than "White Summer." While the song is traditional ("She Moves Through the Fair"), the "arrangement" is all Davey Graham, and it was the arrangement that JP adopted. JP even went so far as to adopt the same alternate tuning that Graham did (DADGAd), which was not very common at the time. Of course, it's not a complete rip, and neither Graham nor JP likely ever played it the same way twice. Two versions of it appear on YouTube in not very good fidelity:

    This also gets into the difference between folk/blues songs and popular songs and the cultures that surround them. While Holmes may have fancied himself a folk musician, the song he wrote and the idiom he was working in wasn't really the folk or blues, and the popular music tradition generally dictates that copyrighted songs be credited properly for royalty purposes.

    2. I've no idea why Bonamassa didn't credit JP; he probably should have, and if he had, he would likely have HAD to credit it the way LZ's own releases currently do: to Jimmy Page. That may very well not be something that would be up to him to decide, though his choice to exclude it is somewhat questionable. On the other hand, quotations of other songs in extended solos goes back a long ways, so I suppose it would depend upon how much the band really plays the arrangement, or whether it's just some short quotes on Bonamassa's part (I haven't heard the recording myself). JP himself quoted Bach's Bouree in E Minor live more than once, though that would obviously be in the public domain.

  7. To the other Anonymous, no, it's not an air-tight analogy, and the idea of co-crediting - like is now done with "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" - would not be out of line. But how about the example of jazz musicians, who usually exclude lyrics entirely? Listen to a live recording of Coltrane playing Rogers and Hammerstein's "My Favorite Things"; his quartet omits the B part of the song ("When the dog bites. . . ") entirely, completely rework the harmony, and take it into the stratosphere. . . yet they still credit it to Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II, the later of which only wrote the lyrics, which don't even appear! Coltrane's arrangement was completely removed from the original composition, yet it was likely unthinkable for them to not credit the original composers; the least JP/LZ could do is a co-credit, if not follow suit completely and give all credit to Holmes.

    As for your other assertion - that the only people who "haven't let go" of this are "detractors" - well, I'm hardly a detractor: LZ was going to be my first big concert as a kid (I was 12). I had a ticket for their concert at the Superdome in New Orleans, my home town (where I still live), which was cancelled due to the death of Karac Plant. So, please. . . there are MANY who care about this who also love LZ to death.

  8. One solution to this is Jimmy record an album of Jake Holmes covers with all royalties going to Jake, in exchange for dropping the court case. I myself would like to hear Jimmy re-do "Lonely" with a theremin workout in the mid-section. That song is crying out for an epic reworking. And turn "So Close" into a light-and-shade acoustic number ala "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You"-in style. How bout it Jake and Jimmy? It's a win win situation.

  9. "if not follow suit completely and give all credit to Holmes." - I doubt it will happen. There is enough of Led Zeppelin's own stamp on the song, even if you choose to disagree. I believe that if it does go to trial, the judge will weigh it up and see it Page/Holmes (unless Page can provide some evidence or previous agreement we do not know of yet, which is always possible). It's more than likely this suit will be settled out-of-court between the legal parties negotiating on behalf of their clients.

  10. Until this legal action started I'd been aware of the theft allegation, but had never heard the Holmes original. So went in search online and was stunned at how similar it is, first, to The Yardbirds' version and, ultimately, Zeppelin's. In heated discusssions with my Zep-averse wife I have long-argued that 60s musicians had the right to take ancient blues motifs and bend them into new shapes without credit - as blues musicians had done in the decades before. But Dazed and Confused doesn't seem to fall into this category. If anyone can trace an earlier example of this descending riff, then it's a different story. But it would appear Page heard, Page liked and Page stole - wholesale. And I can see why -- the Holmes version is an acoustic/psychedelic treasure which deserves much wider currency. Credit is due.

  11. Page did not steal wholesale. I'm a Jake Holmes fan and even I can hear they are similar but not the same. Jake did say before in an interview "Let him have it", so to backflip on this is odd for him - I would say lawyers talked him into it.

  12. The Paganini argument above is also one of many interesting comments made in this article published today:

    Also, the mentions of classical music reminded me of this: Ten years ago next month, I was recording an album with a band I was in at the time. One of the two songs I had any part in writing was something I titled "Adrienne." I wrote the instrumental music and left the vocals, including the lyrics and the vocal melody, to the singer.

    I knew even at the time that for the verses, all I had done was take the arpeggio from J.S. Bach's Prelude No. 1 in C major from Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier, and used that arpeggio style to play the chords from Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14 in C♯ minor "Quasi una fantasia", op. 27, No. 2, which we all know and love as "Moonlight Sonata." So the verses, instrumentally, were Beethoven's chords but played the way Bach would have played them.

    And for the chorus, I thought I was writing something original. But no. It wasn't until some time later that somebody pointed out to me that my chorus had ripped off the chorus from King Crimson's "In the Court of the Crimson King." I couldn't really plead ignorance or coincidence as that CD had been in my CD collection for at least a year or two. Another time, somebody pointed out that my chorus resembled "Circle of Hands" by Uriah Heep. Now there, I could plead ignorance or coincidence as I know I had never heard that song before.

    So many times in my life I have played something off the top of my head and discarded it because it was in my estimation too similar to something else. I have been very discouraged as a songwriter. I am not discouraged as a performer, however. It's great when I am playing "No Quarter" on piano somewhere and people notice it when I subtly switch into something like Steve Winwood's piano solo in "The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys" by Traffic for a few measures and then switch back.

  13. Just another money grab by Holmes. This is the same dude that wrote jingles for polluting companies like Union-Carbide and British Petroleum without batting an eyelid.

  14. You want to criticize Jake Holmes for being successful in a niche occupation? Characterize a guy as money-grabbing based solely on his career choice? Easy for someone to do while hiding behind the cloak of anonymity.

    Doesn't anyone use names anymore?

  15. Bonus points if you can present me either jingle.

  16. Of course what everybody here refuses to acknowledge is the fact that if Zeppelin deserves an arranging credit, what does Jim McCarty - the Yardbirds drummer - who actually did the arrangement with Page, get?

  17. so, what does Jim McCarty - the Yardbirds drummer - who actually did the arrangement with Page deserve?


Comments are moderated prior to publication. Comments will not be published if they are deemed vulgar, defamatory or otherwise objectionable.