Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Listen to Gilligan's Island Stairway To Heaven

To play piano by ear is to play with creativity.  Click on this rare song to listen while you're reading this.  It's better than Zepplin, lasts half as long as the original and uses the art of imitation and creative license.  The overall affect is for the listener to say "Hey, they ripped the theme from Gilligan's Island.  I thought I heard that before . . . " but it's not the truth.  Far from it.  It's the nature of music to be misleading and this song really takes you on a fun ride.

But let's be realistic on this song.  The cadence to the Gilligan lyric is easily altered to conform to the cadence of Stairway.  The Gilligan theme style is a sea shanty that somehow conforms to the ethereal, slow-burn chord progression of Stairway.

Outside of a common chord progression,
the songs are nothing alike. 

The nature of music says you can take any song's lyric, rhythm and chord progression, modify it slightly and spit out a completely different version of the same song.  Such is the case for Gilligan.  Think of other songs that this applies.  The Byrds singing Dylan songs.  Joni Mitchell's Woodstock vs. Crosby Stills and Nash version of the same song.  There are many many more instances where the differences from the originals are like night and day.

Led Zeppelin sued Little Roger and the Goosebumps over this song to cease and desist.  It's funny to note however, that Robert Plant called this his favorite cover of their famous song.  


Joseph Pingel is a pianist, teacher and musicologist.  Click here to get the free companion book to this blog.  See his other sites at and 

© 2011 Keyed Up Inc


  1. Ironic that Led Zeppelin "borrowed" the majority of their music--and even claimed authorship! One example: a listen to "Taurus" by Spirit confirms that Jimmy Page lifted the "Stairway" intro from that song. Led Zeppelin had earlier toured with (opened for) Spirit.

    Unfortunately, it took the Supreme Court 16 years after "Gilligan's Island (Stairway)" to establish that a commercial parody can qualify as fair use under the Copyright Act of 1976. That is to say, starving artists like Little Roger and the Goosebumps didn't have the resources to protect their rights against the big guns of a group that built their fortune on plagiarism. Go figure.

  2. There's an obvious connection to two measures of the guitar pattern in Taurus. Besides that, the two songs are nothing alike to my ears. He borrowed the lick but it was fair use. To say they "built their fortune on plagiarism" in this isolated case, I don't see.

    Your comment on the legal scenerio is on point. I agree 100% with your assessment that deep-pockets unfairly run roughshod over the rights of artists unable to defend themselves.

    Copyrights and trademarks are vigorously defended, right or wrong in ANY challenge. Such are the tactics of Disney, Microsoft, ASCAP and others that dominate their markets.

    It thwarts creativity but there are some dragons better left unparodied. They cheat and you're just going to lose. Really good comment. Thanks Sam.