Heavy Rockers: Misunderstood Originators Or Blatant Lazy Rip-off Cliché Merchants?

a judges gavel judge court

Whatever Happened To My Rock n Roll Part 6

I’m putting heavy rock on trial! Have Your Say!

Twenty five years on from the peak of heavy rock’s commercial popularity in 1988, this series asks why heavy rockers no longer dominate the charts and seeks to highlight the crimes that Heavy Rock is accused of, and give you the cases for and against.

At the end of each debate, you will have the ability to vote either “guilty” or “not guilty”, according to the evidence. And because this is a democratic process, you may also introduce your own evidence, in the comments section at the foot of the page to sway the jury.

By the end of the process we should perhaps have a clearer view of what went wrong with those eighties rock bands, and the pitfalls new bands might do well to avoid…

The Accusation: Heavy Rock Bands Are Blatant Lazy Rip-off Cliché Merchants…

The Prosecution:

Exhibit A: Rival Sons

In 2013 a new album of classic rock was released by a band called Rival Sons. I’m not looking to pick on this band in particular, but it seemed as though their album might have been released in 1988 or even 1976. One track on there, “Manifest Destiny Pt 1” sounded like Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” so much, that if Mr Nugent came home from a a particularly strenuous day of Democrat baiting and bear strangling (or vice versa) and heard it on the radio, he might take out the frustrations of the day by coming after them with his bow and arrow.

The lyrics to track “Wild Animal” (it’s about a girl, incredibly enough – rather than, say, a gazelle or mongoose) would have been cliched in 1988, and 25 years later just sound embarrassing.  The first track has a huge whiff of Led Zep‘s cover of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”, making it a copy of a cover version. And this perhaps sums up the problem that heavy rock faces. Isn’t so much of it, including this record, stuffed to the gills with clichés? All the eighties crotch-grabbing lyrics sound half-hearted and old fashioned. When Led Zep did that macho stuff it was just a small part of Plant and Page‘s stage persona. Unlike some rock acts I could mention, it wasn’t the entire basis of their act.

Led Zeppelin themselves purloined a number of old blues songs, including Leadbelly’s “Gallis Pole”, Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Bring It On Home”. This was fine, because a) Led Zep continued a blues tradition of playing established songs as well as contributing their own, b) they acknowledged their influences (sometimes – they were criticised when they forgot themselves) and c) transformed the source material into something new and relevant.

Exhibit B: Whitesnake’s “Still of the Night”

When Whitesnake based “Still of the Night” so blatantly on Led Zep’s “Black Dog” it felt less like passing a torch than a blatant steal. Or, as Mr Coverdale might have put it with his own neat simile, he was “like a thief in the night”.

Whitesnake even added an atmospheric bit in the middle not a million miles removed* from the mid section of Led Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love”. And did guitarist Vandenberg really get a violin bow out on the video? This did not go unnoticed by Robert Plant who reportedly “fell off his bed laughing” and remarked at the time about David Coverdale “He’s spent years trying to be Paul Rogers, now he is trying to be me”, calling him “David Cover-version“.

This criticism appear to pique Coverdale, who in turn responded “I wouldn’t send him cat food if he was starving…” Presumably Plant food would have been more appropriate?

Then, in 1988 came Kingdom Come.

Fronted by ex-Stone Fury vocalist Lenny Wolf, Kingdom Come were an extraordinary clone of Led Zeppelin. Their debut album blatantly stole from Zeppelin to the extent that it was possible to sing the opening line to Led Zep’s “Kashmir” to “Get It On” whilst Wolf’s voice mimicked Robert Plant in a deliberate way**. Thanks to sneaky promotion – the track was sent anonymously to US radio stations in advance – it was reported that some people mistook it for a much-clamoured-for Led Zeppelin reunion. Amusingly Wolf claimed in Kerrang! Magazine that he’d never heard Led Zeppelin…

I saw Kingdom Come at Hammersmith Odeon, supporting Magnum. They came onstage and were about to start their first song when some wag shouted at the top of his lungs “Led Zeppelin!” at which point the crowd dissolved into fits of giggles. To give the band their due, they recovered and the drummer in particular pounded his drums with such brutal ferocity that he earned applause from the crowd. Although they were copycats, at least they did it with panache. To help the uninitiated understand the difference between Led Zeppelin and Kingdom Come, (or Kingdom Clone as they became known) I have produced the following graphics:

Exhibit C: Pictorial representations of Led Zeppelin’s and Kingdom Come’s Influences.

Led Zeppelin's influences

And here’s Kingdom Come’s influences:

led zep, led zeppelin, Lenny Wolf

It’s similar to a criticism of Oasis v The Beatles:

The Beatles Influences

And here’s a full list of what influenced Oasis:

Oasis' influences

The whole phenomenon was summed up in the end by Gary Moore in his song “Led Clones”. You know things are getting bad when someone actually writes a song about it.

In conclusion, eighties rock just hasn’t a) stood the test of time in the way that (say) Led Zep did or b) moved with the times in the way that Bowie did. As a result, it is like that other eighties icon: the Rubik’s Cube. Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Poison, Whitesnake et al may have sold millions, but they are now merely a colourful reminder of something old, which happened a long, long time ago.

* By which phrase I mean “almost exactly the same as”.

** We can safely say that because his phrasing was very different to his earlier voice

  • The defence puts its view forward in the next post!
  • In the meantime, it’s Time To Vote!
  • Do you think heavy rock suffers from being derivative and unoriginal? Is it all merely a massive cliché? Has heavy rock moved with the times?  Is it still original and exciting?
  • Vote GUILTY if you think heavy rock is cliché ridden and has failed to move with the times.
  • Vote NOT GUILTY if you think heavy rock is still as relevant as it ever was.
  • SWAY the jury by sharing your views below!

Record #251: Kingdom Come – Get It On





12 responses to “Heavy Rockers: Misunderstood Originators Or Blatant Lazy Rip-off Cliché Merchants?”

  1. mikeladano Avatar

    What about 80’s rock like King’s X? Galactic Cowboys?


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Both good points – I thought I’d wait until the defence put its point across before replying!


  2. Marcel H. Avatar
    Marcel H.

    Based on the few exhibits presented one would say ‘guilty’ but given the enormous scope of heavy rock and all exhibits that can be found opposing the exhibits presented here one would have to plead ‘not guilty’. Since there are way more non rip-off bands than rip-off bands I will vote ‘not guilty’


    1. Phillip Helbig Avatar

      Right; the examples are cherry-picked. By the way, is it “Led Clones” or “Zep Clones” and/or did Page have a track with a same/similar name?

      Consider that Händel never heard any music by J.S. Bach, nor vice versa. It is possible that Wolf had never heard (of) Led Zeppelin and still sounded similar.

      What about Gary Moore? Did he rip off a German guy or not?


      1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

        Moore’s was Led Clones. Plant was always pretty scathing of the many clones out there. Given Wolf had spent time in the US it is inconceivable he hadn’t heard Led Zep on the radio in my view, although had he been raised in the UK it would have been quite likely – they never got on the radio!
        Moore? Ripping off a German guy? Not heard that one before…


    2. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      I think that’s the key isn’t it? As long as the music evolves it’ll be just fine. Thanks for your thoughts.


  3. 80smetalman Avatar

    I’ll vote when I read the defence’s case. But I will put forward one piece of evidence for the defence. All the generic sounding Stock, Aiken and Waterman pop from the late 80s.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      That’s a great argument! Although just because one other genre is highly derivative doesn’t mean rock isn’t…


      1. 80smetalman Avatar

        True it doesn’t mean that rock doesn’t. What it does mean that most genres do a bit of ripping off. I know now what Metalchurch meant in their song “The Human Factor.” Exhibit 2 for the defence, all the rap artists who incorporate bits of famous songs from the 70s and 80s in their material. I still haven’t forgiven Eminem for ripping off the classic Aerosmith “Dream On.”


      2. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

        I know where you’re coming from there. I can take a sample or two, but the whole guts of the song? Nah – come up with your own stuff!


  4. genxatmidlife Avatar

    Not sure what to vote on this one. I agree that there were plenty of bands in the 80s who “borrowed” significantly from the major rock acts of the 70s (most frequently Zepplin), but this is something I think the vast majority of genres do. For example, if I hear one more anthemic refrain, my head might explode, but I had no issues with U2, who knew how to apply it. Your point about Zepplin is right — when they borrowed from their influences, they offered an element of their own take in the music, the way that so many jazz artists do so well.

    I think it’s rare in any era and any genre that someone who is truly original (influences or not) gets access to a broad audience who can appreciate them.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      That’s a good point about anthemic choruses. Perhaps every genre goes through a “tired” stage (or the record companies intervene)…
      I think that’s also true – originality is rare. It’s great so see an artist who can do something original with their influences.
      Thanks for your thoughts.


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