Robert Plant was to go through several significant transformations before becoming the golden-haired frontman of Led Zeppelin. In 1968, following the split of his once-promising group The Band Of Joy, it seemed quite possible that he’d wind up homeless and unknown.
“I had nowhere to live,” Robert once recalled, describing his days performing with another of his early bands, The Blueswailers: “The keyboard player’s dad had a pub in Wolverhampton with a spare room. The pub was right over the road from Noddy Holder’s father’s window cleaning business, and Noddy used to be our roadie. We used to go to gigs with Noddy Holder’s dad’s buckets crashing around on top of the van! And that is when I met Pagey.”
Music acted as something of a bonding agent for Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. When Page was recruiting for Led Zeppelin, he attended one of Plant’s concerts and was blown away by his immense vocal ability. In order to establish if Plant would make a good addition to his new outfit, Page sat down with the 19-year-old musician to discuss their respective record collections. Decades later, with Plant’s Led Zeppelin days far behind him, he sat down again to dig through those very same records.
Plant’s collection is a fascinating document of his musical development. In the early days, he was listening to a lot of folk music and classic blues from America. During their first meeting, Plant and Page bonded over records like Muddy Waters’s ‘You Shook Me’ and ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ by Joan Baez. “We both liked her,” Plant exclaimed, before adding that Fairport Convention’s ‘If I Had A Ribbon Bow’ “was a great song”. Plant’s tastes also covered the likes of Larry Williams and Don & Dewey, almost perfectly aligning with Page’s own.
As Plant continued to explore his vast record collection, it became clear that much of his red-blooded stage presence had been influenced by the records he had listened to when he was still a boy: “I remember Johnny Ray. His voice and Presley’s had a similarity – and in fact Presley was influenced by him and did his song ‘Such A Night’ on his Elvis Is Back album,” he commented. “Ray’s masculine whimper was remarkable, really. When you were holding your dad’s hand and looking up at all the men around on the street, nobody was making that noise.”
Another recurring artist in Plant’s collection was the great Buddy Holly, who the young musician first saw on the popular TV show Sunday Night At The London Palladium. He remembered how Holly’s Fender Stratocaster made a lasting impression on him: “Nobody had really seen one in Britain. It was an incredible symbol of what I hadn’t got my hands on yet. But I was still only ten and hadn’t bought a record yet, though I used to do Elvis impersonations behind the curtains in my living room, especially the ballad ‘Love Me’ from Elvis’ Golden Records Volume 1.”
Then, in 1960, PLant experienced his first taste of true American rock and roll: “At Christmas 1960 I was given my first Dansette Conquest Auto Major, in red and cream,” Plant began, “I’ve still got it and used it until Led Zeppelin II so I didn’t hear the stereo effect on ‘Whole Lotta Love’ for about six months! When I opened it up, on the turntable was ‘Dreamin’ by Johnny Burnette, with ‘Cincinatti Fireball’ on the B-side, something I’ve always wanted to record. And then I got my first record token and went out and bought ‘Shop Around’ by The Miracles.
“On the B-side was ‘Who’s Lovin’ You’, a remarkable ballad. Smokey’s wife was in the band, and I’ve got the Hi! We’re The Miracles album on Tamla where they’re all holding letters up on the cover. Smokey has the most remarkable voice. I love the wail and the whimper, and in my own white boy way I sing like that – the adamance and the pleading, the miserable, moaning, weakboy stamping his authority on the next line. It’s a style that’s vanished now.”
Around 1962, Plant also became fascinated by modern American blues, which, by the time he was in his adolescence, was just beginning to make its way up from swinging London, burning a path toward’s Plant’s hometown in the midlands. Reminiscing about the records he was buying at that time, Plant said: “One of my favourite records is Bo Diddley’s ‘Say Man’, on the back of an instrumental called ‘The Clock Strikes 12’, which had electric violin. I bought it in a department store record sale. ‘Say Man’ was a conversation between two guys about how ugly their women were, set to a Latin American beat. Also bought in a department store sales was ‘I Love You’ by The Volumes, ‘I Sold My Heart To The Junkman’ by Patti Labelle and The Blue Belles, and probably the last great doo-wop song. ‘My True Story’ by The Jive Five on Beltone. That’s another one I’ve got to do.”
Now in his 70s, Robert Plant is still an avid record collector and owns a dizzying array of LPs and seven-inches. At the time of the interview, Plant was 41 and seemed just as hungry for fresh sounds as ever. “I’m as earnest now as I ever was,” he explained. “Sinead O’Connor – ‘She captivates me, wins my heart, wins my whole being!” Certainly, Robert Plant’s extensive record collection is an important document of his development as a musician and music lover. From Joan Baez to Little Richard and Sinead O’Connor, Plant is clearly a man for whom music’s beauty lies in its variety.
As part of the reflective interview, Plant revealed a select few albums that he considered to be his personal favourites. See the list, below.
Robert Plant’s Favourite Records:
- The Phantom: ‘Love Me’
- Faith No More: Introduce Yourself
- Tom Verlaine: ‘Five Miles of You’ on LP Cover
- Ray Charles: ‘What’d I Say’ on LP The Right Time
- The Incredible String Band: ‘Swift As The Wind’ on LP The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter
- Howlin’ Wolf: ‘Going Down Slow’ on LP Chess Masters
- This Mortal Coil: ‘Song to The Siren’ on LP It’ll End In Tears
- Robert Johnson: ‘Traveling Riverside Blues’ on LP King of The Delta Blues Singers Volumes 1 and 2
- The Cure: ‘Lullaby’ on LP Disintegration
- Elvis Presley: ‘A Big Hunk O’Love’ on LP The All Time Greatest Hits
- Led Zeppelin: ‘Kashmir’ on LP Physical Graffiti