Look, I know.
I know, you don’t even have to say it.
From the surface, there really isn’t much anyone can do to defend Greta Van Fleet. Sure they can handle their instruments well, and lead singer Josh Kiszka can carry a pretty tune…but, there’s a bit of an elephant in the room:
(Elephant in Question)
I’m sorry, but I can’t mince words: At first glance (or listen, rather) Josh Kiszka is an obvious Robert Plant clone, from his crooning, nasally falsettos to his garish, flamboyantly fringetastic stagewear.
“Highway Tune” from their 2017 EP From the Fires, sounds suspiciously similar to Led Zeppelin’s “The Rover”. GVF’s guitar riffs emulate the iconic style of legend Jimmy Page, and on stage, the band’s theatrical presence feel more like a game of dress up than true rock star flair.
And I mean come on, this certainly couldn’t have been a coincidence:
As critics would say, Greta Van Fleet’s entire aesthetic and sound chases a nostalgic, silhouetted fantasy of baby boomer culture that’s been peddled into a watered-down, awkward Gen-Z costume.
…They’re not that bad.
They’re not even bad at all.
Honestly, for all the Led Zeppelin comparisons and classic rock rip-offs they’ve been branded as, Greta Van Fleet still remains a promising—and rather talented—band. And I think despite the first impression they give off, they certainly don’t deserve all this unabashed criticism.
For one thing, these guys are just kids. (Of course, I’m well aware that I’m only a year or so older than the oldest member, but that’s besides the point). They’re young, and clearly still exploring their sound and the music they want to produce.
Of course the styles that inspired them the most would influence the sound of their debut album. Of course they would emulate their favorite idols through their music and fashion sense. What musician hasn’t fallen trap to that?
Imitation is the highest form of flattery, and it’s only with experience that there comes a mastery of subtlety. While Greta Van Fleet doesn’t exactly lean towards subtle, they certainly aren’t blatant copy-cats. Not in the slightest.
Upon further listening, one can easily distinguish Kiszka’s voice as being far more complex than a simple “dollar store Robert Plant”. There’s strong hints of Geddy Lee, smatterings of Ronnie James Dio, and even a flair towards Janis Joplin in some songs.
As for the instrumentals? I feel Greta Van Fleet takes cues from not just Led Zeppelin, but all the iconic rock bands from the 70’s, infusing the nostalgic musical stylings of that decade with a refreshing, modern, almost indie pop-esque spin that allows it to be palatable to fickle Gen-Z tastes.
The reason this band has blown up so quickly—and gotten so much scrutiny—is not simply because they’re considered a glorified Led Zeppelin cover band. It’s because, whether anyone likes it or not, they’re actually really good at what they’re doing. And their frontman can Sang with a capital S. Maybe not quite to the levels of such glories like “Dazed and Confused” or “The Wanton Song” (Greta my babes, I’m sorry, but you do not have the range), but there’s still potential.
Really, through just what they’ve shown us already, Greta Van Fleet has proven that they have a lot of room to grow into something that will certainly be memorable, and quite possibly even iconic in the years to come. Why else are they making such a splash in the music world right now? They’re breathing life into something that has been more ghostly than relevant in recent years, and honestly are helping to bring rock—both classic and otherwise—back into mainstream tastes.
And before all you frou-frou, pretentious, vinyl-sniffing “music aficionados” come in and tell me “Wah! You’re wrong! GVF is trash, and you obviously know nothing about the glories that is true classic rock!!1one!1!”
And take a gander at these eight bands that suffered similar scrutiny when they first debuted. All of them were touted as “rip-offs” and “weak copycats” yet somehow, oddly enough, they each managed to make quite a name for themselves. Household names, in fact.
8. Whitesnake (rip offs of: Led Zeppelin)
Greta Van Fleet wasn’t the first band to come under fire for taking too much inspiration from Led Zeppelin. Back in the 80’s, when arena rock and 80’s hair metal was reaching the peak of its popularity, lead singer David Coverdale found himself facing constant scrutiny against his band, Whitesnake.
Coverdale (who actually was the former frontman of another super popular 70’s band, Deep Purple) pushed back against the accusations—and most notably the Robert Plant comparisons—and insisted regularly that while Whitesnake were inspired by many a popular rock band, they were still one of a kind.
Critics begged to differ though: songs like “Still of The Night”, “Trouble”, and especially “Slow n Easy” sounded so suspiciously similar to popular Led Zeppelin hits, that Plant eventually took to calling Coverdale “David Cover Version.”
Still, Whitesnake didn’t fizzle out completely under the weight of criticism; they managed to give us iconic hits like “Is This Love?”, and “Here I Go Again”, which are still being overplayed on radio, Film/TV, and the odd cleaning commercial.
And to newer generations like myself, Whitesnake remains far removed from any Led Zeppelin comparisons, and is considered more of a cheesy hair metal band than any rip-off artist. Just sayin’.
7. Godsmack (rip offs of: Alice In Chains)
One can argue that Godsmack’s inspiration is so blatant, it could even be called an obsession. I mean, for one thing, the band’s name alone is taken from Alice in Chain’s song “Godsmack” from their album Dirt.
And let’s not get started on the musical similarities; since the band’s inception, critics have compared frontman Sully Erna to AiC frontman Lane Staley, with Godsmack’s instrumentals and riffs being regularly scrutinized as derivative of classic Alice In Chains works.
Still, nobody seems to be complaining too hard, as Godsmack took the flak in stride, eventually expanding their sound and becoming one of the most popular bands in the post-grunge/metal sphere.
And they also gave us some bangin’ hits like “Straight Out Of Line” and “I Stand Alone”.
6. Avenged Sevenfold (rip offs of: Metallica)
This band’s caused quite a ruckus in the metal sphere. Since its humble beginnings, fans and critics alike have torn down Avenged Sevenfold for embodying the spirit of classic metal bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden, and even Megadeth too closely. Between songwriting, suspiciously similar guitar rifts, and even the vocal stylings of frontman M.Shadows, folks just can’t help but raise an eyebrow at how closely the band emulates some familiar rock icons.
This all culminated in the controversy of A7X’s 6th studio album Hail To The King. Nearly all the songs on that album held striking similarities to not only Metallica, but AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, and many others. Machine Head frontman Rob Flynn even mockingly congratulated the band for their “latest covers album” in an amusing and highly critical post on his Facebook page.
Regardless, Avenged Sevenfold has seemed to do just fine, cementing a permanent spot for themselves in metal circles, and making considerable effort to experiment with the various subsets of the genre and their own musical stylings to produce a style that is admittedly quite unique and very much recognizable as their own.
5. The Beatles (rip offs of:Buddy Holly)
If it weren’t for Buddy Holly and his band The Crickets, there wouldn’t even be The Beatles.
From the name “The Beatles” itself (which the band members were inspired to pen after admiring the double meaning of Holly’s own band’s name), to their earliest music, which borrowed heavily from familiar Buddy Holly stylings and instrumentals, the Beatles were never shy about their love for the iconic singer.
In fact, before they started writing their own original songs, the Beatles started off primarily covering some of Holly’s best hits, continuing to pay homage to Buddy Holly throughout the rest of the career.
But obviously, this inclination towards Buddy Holly’s style didn’t last forever, as the Beatles would go on to become one of the most iconic bands in history, with some of the most memorable (and highly original) songs ever.
4. Nirvana (rip offs of: The Pixies/Melvins)
Some might argue this as being an over-exaggeration, but spoken from Kurt Cobain himself: “I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it [smiles]. When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily I should have been in that band — or at least in a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.”
And to be fair, in much of their earlier work, particularly in Bleach and certain tracks on Nevermind, the influence does seem to be quite blatant. Riffs and vocal stylings that favored fellow grunge band Melvin also heavily featured in Nirvana’s earlier work. Cobain regularly cited both bands as influences (and was a close friend of Melvins frontman Buzz Osborne) so this should have come at no surprise. Nevertheless, critics during the band’s earliest years dismissed them as nothing more than a generic garage band that would undoubtedly fade into obscurity.
Well. Clearly, that was wrong.
And regardless of the intention behind the music, it certainly can’t be said that Nirvana is remembered as being a rip-off of anyone. As they exploded onto the music scene and cemented their iconic sound, Nirvana would end up going on to becoming one of the most prolific bands in rock history.
3. Muse (rip offs of: Radiohead)
Alright, I’m gonna be honest here and admit that when I was but a wee lass, I had no idea Muse and Radiohead were different bands. Obviously the distinction’s a lot more clear to me now, but back when Muse came out with their first few albums, particularly Showbiz and the Origins of Symmetry, the Radiohead influence was so blatant it was nearly ridiculous. Critics seemed to agree with this sentiment, slamming Muse’s first albums as cheap knockoffs of Thom Yorke & Co, and continuing to spark heated debates about the band’s credibility to this day.
But in spite of the criticism, Muse did grow as a band, and expanded their style to incorporate a much more experimental sound that proved to be distinctly theirs and theirs alone. They also managed to prove naysayers wrong by remaining a super successful and popular band that’s given us awesome hits like “New Born”, “Hysteria”, and “Uprising”.
We’ll forgive their little foray into the Twi-hard fandom with “Supermassive Black Hole”, because however you may feel about Twilight, you gotta admit it is quite a catchy song.
2. Aerosmith (rip offs of: The Rolling Stones)
The band that gave us awesome hits like “Dream On”, “Crazy”, “Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” and so many others found themselves battling many an accusation of imitation when they were first starting out in the industry.
Many early critics of Aerosmith blasted them for being nothing but a “Rolling Stones knockoff”. And Aerosmith’s first albums Aerosmith and Get Your Wings, while not blatantly similar in tone to The Rolling Stones, did seem to bear significant influences that sharp-eared Stones listeners could certainly pick up on. And frontman Steven Tyler did seem to share many similarities with Stones frontman Mick Jagger, both in physical appearance and stage presence.
But, as with the other bands mentioned on this list, Aerosmith grew from their “imitating”, transforming whatever musical influence they may have relied on into something that was utterly new and entirely unique. And after such classics like Toys in the Attic and Rocks, Aerosmith undoubtedly cemented themselves as true rock icons.
1.Led Zeppelin (rip offs of: Damn Near Everybody)
That’s right! Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. The irony shouldn’t be lost that Led Zeppelin—easily one of the most “ripped-off” and emulated bands ever—are guilty of shamelessly ripping off others throughout their entire career.
Even “Dazed and Confused” which I mentioned earlier was a rip-off. As well as “Whole Lotta” Love”, “The Lemon”, even the iconic “Stairway To Heaven” (which they actually had to go to trial over) . Honestly, there’s so many, I can’t be bothered to list them all. But if you don’t believe me and think I’m a hater (which I’m not, LZ remain my problematic faves) check out the various websites and online publications that have dedicated entire articles listing the songs they’ve ripped off.
And don’t even get me started on the fact that Led Zeppelin’s entire sound was heavily influenced by black blues musicians, whom they hardly ever credited (and only ever did once they got sued *bloop*).
I think it’s safe to say that, when it comes to music, nobody is innocent of never having “borrowed” or emulated another musician’s style and tone. As long as they eventually grow from it, and learn to carve out their own sound in this wide plethora of artists, then that’s good enough for me.
Greta Van Fleet already seem to be distancing themselves from their “Led Zeppelin sound” in their debut album Anthem Of The Peaceful Army (no matter what any salty Pitchfork review says). And as musicians who are already showing keen craftmanship in their abilities to adapt and explore their sound, I’d say Greta Van Fleet’s future looks pretty promising.
So let’s all just relax, get off our pedestals a bit, and enjoy the absolutely killer music that’s coming out, hmm?