Few singers can stand toe to toe with Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and come out on top. One of the rock scene’s premier vocalists, Plant has etched his name into the annals of music history with his pioneering career that spans five decades. Yet, even he was left agog by one performer, one singer, and one esteemed songwriter: the freewheelin’ troubadour, Bob Dylan. In fact, there was one song by Dylan that changed Plant’s life forever.
Bob Dylan got his break way before Plant had become a singer. Picking up some noted fame in 1961, Dylan’s rise to becoming the voice of a generation was a meteoric one. Thanks to his searing wit, crystalline ideals and creative innovation, Dylan was already the walking talking embodiment of the new generation of performers before he ever found himself an audience. Dylan’s songwriting influence can never be underestimated; whether that be John Lennon or Robert Plant, the folkie inspired everyone around him.
For John Lennon, the inspiration came after a chance meeting in New York spiralled into one of those nights spent passing joints and putting the world to rights. What transpired was a new songwriting direction for The Beatles as Lennon took Dylan’s sage advice to make pop music more personal. For Plant, who was still in proverbial nappies at the time of the aforementioned meeting, he would have to take his inspiration, like so many other kids, directly from the airwaves.
Speaking to The Guardian, the former Led Zeppelin singer recalled how Dylan and, in particular, his song ‘Masters of War’ from The Freewheelin Bob Dylan changed the game. “Something happened when Dylan arrived. I had to grapple with what he was talking about,” he said. That’s because the 1960s in America and the 1960s in Britain were two very different places. Of course, London would be the swinging culture’s capital, but outside of the Big Smoke, Britain was still struggling with a post-war dip. Dylan provided a much-needed escape for Plant.
The folk singer also provided a reminder of the huge wealth of talent over in America and that the singer needed to get some education. Plant continued: “His music referenced Woody Guthrie, Richard and Mimi Farina, Reverend Gary Davis, Dave Van Ronk and all these great American artists I knew nothing about. He was absorbing the details of America and bringing it out without any reservation at all, and ignited a social conscience that is spectacular”.
This notion, in particular, is how Dylan found such fame. His material wasn’t concerned with music halls or dancefloors; it was about education and innovation. It refused to be censored or adulterated and encouraged all those who heard it to take a stand. “In these Anglo-Saxon lands, we could only gawp,” remembered Plant, “Because we didn’t know about the conditions he was singing about”.
“Dylan was the first one to say: hello, reality,” Plant added. “I knew that I had to get rid of the winkle-pickers and get the sandals on quick”. He did and saw himself turn into the archetypal rock hippie. Soon enough, after failing to become the frontman for The Who, Plant crossed paths with Jimmy Page, and his position within Led Zeppelin was guaranteed within just a few notes.
But, if Robert Plant hadn’t have heard Bob Dylan’s song ‘Masters of War’, chances are, he would never have picked up the mic.