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Music

Is Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant really the 'Golden God'

You might be puzzled by what we mean in the alliterative ‘golden god’. For those unaware, the term made its way into the pop culture lexicon in 2000 after a now-iconic scene in Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical film, Almost Famous. In the scene, Billy Crudup’s rock star, Russell Hammond, proclaims, “I am the golden god!” to onlookers below as he stands atop a house’s roof, tripping balls on acid. 

The funny thing about this scene is, not only is it one of the film’s most memorable moments, a hedonistic ode to the halcyon days of 1973, but it is also a direct reference to an actual event. The first person to utter this aureate phrase was Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant. An appropriate title for one whose hair literally evokes the image of Jason’s Golden Fleece, Plant ascribed himself the embellishment at a party for Zeppelin drummer John Bonham in 1975. 

It turns out he claimed this holy title as part of the general vibe of the party. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he claimed that the phrase was “even more nonsense” than what was happening around him. He recalled: “I think it was in the middle of some ridiculous moment, maybe even Bonzo’s birthday party somewhere up in Beverly Hills, where somebody had made John a three-tier birthday cake.

“John was showing it round the room,” continues the singer, “and he showed it to somebody, I think it was George Harrison, who karate-chopped the cake. Bonzo decided that there was something that needed to be done about that, and there was all sorts of scuttling, and it was just another one of those boyish prank-type of events going on.”

He continued: “And it just seemed that the only thing that was missing was somebody to actually round the whole thing up with even more nonsense. So I just opened my arms and just proclaimed that. And then I think a piece of cake sadly lodged somewhere on the end of my nose or something.”

Plant described it as “sheer comic entertainment”, and the moment was captured in an infamous photograph depicting the Led Zeppelin frontman standing on a balcony high-up at the Continental Hyatt House Hotel in L.A.. The picture is profound in the way it matches the explicit meaning of his phrase, giving Plant an aura of an ancient “god-king”, such as Xerxes or any Egyptian Pharoah.

As today (August 20), is his 73rd birthday, it got us wondering, is Robert Plant really the ‘golden god’ of rock? One would wager that he is, literally and metaphorically. The golden tip of the esoteric spear of Led Zeppelin, without Robert Plant’s unmistakable vocals, the band would certainly not have been the same.

A tall, striking individual, he has a wide, unique vocal range that has never been matched. Duly, this is something he is acutely aware of. His remark about the uncanny similarities between the singer of Greta Van Fleet’s voice and his own said it all, “he borrowed it from somebody I know very well.”

Another reason Plant can be regarded as the ‘golden god’ is his lyrics. Mystical, philosophical and spiritual his lyrics are what reinforced the magic exuded by Led Zeppelin. An almost shamanic focal point for the band, his lyrics touched on everything from the dense works of J.R.R. Tolkein to ancient Welsh mythology. 1970’s ‘Immigrant Song’ was explicitly influenced by the Norse mythologies of Iceland, and combined with his otherworldy wail, Plant’s lyrics set the song up as one of the band’s most enduring pieces.

Later, in his solo career, Plant would become increasingly interested in world music, mainly African vogues, and these would augment his already mystical sonic profile. Subsequently, it is not ridiculous to posit that his vast array of lyrics have more density to them than any other singer’s in rock history.

In fact, it was actually Plant who helped to inform the now-outdated “rock god” archetype. Plant went one step further than his contemporaries with his long, flowing hair and often bare-chested performances. In his Led Zeppelin days, as is well documented, he was a particularly flamboyant performer. Covering every inch of the stage with every sort of movement adorned with elaborate, colourful clothing Plant gave Led Zeppelin audiences the feel as if they were attending some kind of hallucinogenic rite.

(L-R) John Bonham, John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page (Credit: ZUMA/Alamy)

The love for Plant runs so deep that in 1974 he was voted the’ best chest in rock’ by readers of Rock Scene. In his native black-country wit, he responded: “I’m really greatly honoured although it’s hard for me to be eloquent on the subject of my chest.” In short, Plant took the visceral performances of Iggy Pop et al. and the mystique of frontmen such as Jim Morrison and tied them all together. He embodied a hybrid of every other frontman.

There is another huge reason why one would argue that Plant really is rock’s ‘golden god’. If you trawl through the vast annals of his personal and Led Zeppelin’s history, you find that Plant’s life isn’t covered in the mire as was the case with his contemporaries and bandmate Jimmy Page. Yes, he partook in some hard-partying and some of the required television destruction back in the day, but that seems to be the extent of his off-stage antics. 

With Plant, there’s none of the weirdness, perversion or massive excess that we associate with Jimmy Page. You find that he has actually endured quite a lot. The death of his five-year-old son Karac, two near-fatal car crashes, divorce, and the death of his best friend John Bonham. In fact, he nearly quit music and trained to become a teacher after the death of his son in 1977. Retrospectively he said: “I lost my boy. I didn’t want to be in Led Zeppelin. I wanted to be with my family.”

It was none other than Bonham who convinced Plant to carry on with the music. One can only begin to imagine how his death three years later in September 1980 devastated Plant. Years later, he said: “He was a very, very dear friend of mine, that I miss every day.” It is actually Plant’s feelings over Bonham’s death that has held the band back from ever truly reuniting. According to Bonham’s son, Jason in Billboard, Plant stated, “I loved your dad way too much. When your father left us, left the world, that was it for Led Zeppelin.”

It is the way Plant has bounced back from unimaginable trauma and carried on a wonderfully long and prosperous musical career that truly cements him as the ‘golden god’ of rock ‘n’ roll. He has managed to keep moving forward, regardless of what’s going on around him and produced work that is of quality unique to himself. This is a monumental feat. There is no filth relating to his character, and he remains, even in his ’70s, a captivating performer with a personality to boot. So on his 73rd birthday, why not jump back into Robert Plant’s vast catalogue?

Listen to ‘Immigrant Song’, below.