IN MAY 1978, a rather silly record by a group with a rather silly name was released by in the San Francisco Bay Area. After making a splash in that market, radio stations around the country picked it up for their playlists. Had things been left to themselves, it might have been a hit, as novelty records still had a chance in the Top 40 at the time. Hell’s Belles, it might have been the “Judy in Disguise (with Glasses)” of its time!
Or it might have been a novelty that found its way into the dustbin of pop music history, forgotten and ignored except Dr. Demento. Instead, the biggest bloody band in the world decided to obliterate this record, turning it into a minor legend in rock & roll history.
The group was Little Roger & the Goosebumps, which featured Roger Clark and Dick Bright. The record was Gilligan’s Island (Stairway), a “vanity pressing” released on the group’s own Splash Records (SPL-901). It featured the lyrics to the theme song to Gilligan’s Island, a CBS television series that ran for three seasons (1964-1967).
This article was originally published as “Little Roger and the Goosebumps Take a Stairway to Gilligan’s Island and Superior Court” in 2014. I deleted about 500 words from that article, added 500 new words, and rewrote the rest.
This picture sleeve was not manufactured by Splash records for the single. It was made by Roger Clark using a photocopier after he had been ordered by the court to cease manufacturing the record. Supposedly, he made only fifty sleeves for personal use.
They’re here on Gilligan’s Island
Here are the lyrics:
Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip
that started from this tropic port aboard this tiny ship.
The mate was a mighty sailing man, the skipper brave and sure.
Five passengers set sail that day for a three-hour tour.
A three-hour tour.
(Makes me wonder.)
Now the ship’s aground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle, with Gilligan, the skipper, too.
The millionaire and his wife.
The movie star and the rest.
They’re here on Gilligan’s Island.
The weather started getting rough,
and the tiny ship was tossed.
But for the courage of the crew
the Minnow would be lost.
Now the ship’s aground upon the shore
of this uncharted desert isle.
And they’re here on Gilligan’s Island.
These lyrics alone might have attracted attention for their sheer novelty effect. What made the record unique was that these lyrics were set to the music of the most ubiquitous record on FM radio—Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven. The Goosebumps used Zep’s arrangement and performance, making the record a brilliant piece of satire.
For the session, the band was Roger Clark and backed by Earth Quake. It was that band’s Robbie Dunbar who provided the stunning Page-like guitar solo.
Stairway to Superior Court
Alas, satire is a form rarely appreciated by those being satirized, as it required a generous sense of humor but one’s place in the scheme of things. Led Zeppelin was not noted for having any sense of humor about itself.
Apparently, both Jimmy Page and Zep’s manager Peter Grant saw Gilligan’s Island (Stairway) as an affront to Led Zeppelin’s image and an infringement of their intellectual property right—even though satire is protected under the First Amendment as not being an infringement on those rights.
Little Roger & the Goosebumps’ fifteen minutes of fame were brief. Within weeks of its release, the group received a cease and desist order from a law firm representing three clients: the publisher of Stairway To Heaven, Atlantic Records, and Sherwood Schwartz. Schwartz was the producer who had created Gilligan’s Island.
In a 2018 interview with Jeff Tamarkin, Clark claimed that:
“The legal issue involved whether ‘fair use’ included this kind of manipulation, complicated by the fact that two songs were defiled. The lawyers were thorough enough to have eliminated an end run by roping Sherwood Schwartz into the complaint. We were not in a position to fight and were ordered to turn over or destroy all copies, tapes, and pressing parts.” (Best Classic Bands)
The group was in no position to fend off such a suit and acquiesced. Thus did a group and a record pass into one of the lesser levels of rock and roll mythology.
“It was Led Zeppelin’s publishing company who kept the song from growing into a hit due to Little Roger’s failure to seek permission prior to releasing the record. The plaintiffs ordered the record to be taken off the market and all copies destroyed.” (Tangent Sunset)
Those British guys with no sense of humor: John Bonham, John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, and Jimmy Page at Chateau Marmont in May 1969. (Photo by Jay Thompson.)
Making fun of the ’70s
In 2007, Roger Clark was interviewed by Paul Kilduff for The Kilduff File on The Monthly magazine website. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation:
“We were a really popular club band that did four sets a night of original material. [Gilligan’s Island (Stairway)] was just was a throwaway gag to fill space when we got bored by the end of the night. We were selling out clubs all the time before we had fucking ‘Gilligan’ happen. ‘Gilligan’ just got us attention outside the Bay Area.
[Gilligan’s Island (Stairway)] totally derailed a band that seemed to have some momentum in the public. This seemed to be legitimate and all of a sudden it became the joke that ate my band.
We had this sort of trash medley that we did at the end of the night where we would just do dozens of songs slammed together. All these little snippets that would give you whiplash.
And we needed to refresh it so we were, ‘Okay, let’s throw Gilligan’s Island in here,’ and the guitar player starts playing it. We didn’t sit down and conceive of this. It was an accident of boredom in rehearsal.”
I think the accidental bullseye was that the people who thought Stairway To Heaven was profound also happened to be pot-smoking fans of Gilligan’s Island. It was an opportunity for people who didn’t think it was profound and thought it was all bogus, it gave them an opportunity to poke fun at it by playing it.
I mean, the thing that happened in a business sense that made it so big was we were making fun of the ’70s in the ’70s, as opposed to waiting till the next century.”
I wanna live with a Kennedy girl
In 1980, Little Roger and company recorded Kennedy Girls, a spoof of Neil Young’s Cinnamon Girl. Supposedly, Young gave his blessing to the project in return for a copy of Gilligan’s Island (Stairway).
In 2000, the original recording of Gilligan’s Island (Stairway) was reissued on the LAGUNA TUNES compilation, where it was re-titled Stairway To Gilligan’s Island.
The first label above is almost identical to the second: both are dark blue with silver print. But the first one has “(32961)” on the right side beneath “VOCAL.” This appears to be the rarest version of the two, although that doesn’t mean it’s the first pressing. The third record is almost identical to the second except it is a lighter blue and has white print. This may be the pressing that the group kept pressing after the cease and desist order.
The Avid Record Collector
I could not determine how many copies of Gilligan’s Island (Stairway) sold or otherwise escaped the destruct order. In the past three years (2017-2019), only six copies in at least near mint condition (NM) have sold on eBay with an average price of $35. Unfortunately, most of the sellers did not mention which of the three pressings they were offering for sale.
According to one eBay seller, Roger Clark made fifty picture sleeves by hand with a photocopier. These were not made for sale but for Clark’s use. The sole documented sale on Popsike was in 2013.
Supposedly, a 12” bootleg of Gilligan’s Island (Stairway) found its way onto the collectors market after they pulled the record from retail sales. I could not find any evidence that this record exists.
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is the dock and bar at Gilligan’s Island, also known as Cayo Aurora. It is a tourist attraction and part of the Biosphere Reserve of Guanica and managed by the Department of Natural Resources. This photo was found on the Wyatt Sailing website, which documents “The adventures of LA and Susan Wyatt and their sailing kitty LuLu.”
Finally, in 2005, Robert Plant was interviewed on National Public Radio and claimed that Gilligan’s Island (Stairway) was his favorite cover of Stairway To Heaven!