There’s no love lost between members of The Who, with Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend disagreeing on virtually everything that there is to discuss. Whether this is political arguments, opinions about songs by The Who, or even their contrasting views on Led Zeppelin — the pair don’t see eye to eye. Townshend has been scathing on multiple occasions about the Zep, whereas Daltrey has nothing but fond memories to share about his time on the road with the group.
In 2019, Townshend was speaking Toronto Sun, and he talked about the growth of his band’s sound over the decades. Instead of answering the question straight, Townshend saw this as the perfect opportunity to squeeze in a jab at Zeppelin: “It doesn’t sound like The Who from those early heavy metal years. We sort of invented heavy metal with (our first live album) Live at Leeds (1970). We were copied by so many bands, principally by Led Zeppelin, you know heavy drums, heavy bass, heavy lead guitar,” said Townshend after unleashing his scathing tongue.
In 1995, Townshend was far more cutting of the record-breaking quartet: “I don’t like a single thing that they have done, I hate the fact that I’m ever even slightly compared to them. I just never ever liked them. It’s a real problem to me cause as people I think they are really great guys. Just never liked the band,” he patronisingly said.
The Who released their debut album in 1965 and established themselves as one of the most prominent bands globally by the time Led Zeppelin burst onto the scene at the end of the decade. Despite both being key pillars in the history of the London music scene, The Who had graduated from the capital’s clubs by the time Zep had formed. In the States, Zeppelin supported his band, Daltrey would become mesmerised by their wild live show.
Daltrey watched on from the side of the stage, taken aback by their brilliance. He later told Classic Rock: “When Led Zeppelin first came out I thought they were fantastic, They supported us on one of their first gigs in the States. I thought they were brilliant.”
“Throughout our early history, we used to do loads of gigs with Hendrix and Cream, that three-piece-band-and-a-singer formula,” Daltrey continued. “We were well-schooled in that, but Zeppelin took it to another level. There was a power there. They were like Cream, but with a lot more weight. Jack Bruce of Cream was really a jazz and blues singer, but Robert knew how to rock.”
“All of a sudden, there was a new form of music,” Daltrey added. “The music scene was starting to get a bit tired. Even Hendrix was starting to get tired then, moving into jazz. Zeppelin regenerated it.”
If you thought Daltrey’s appraisal on Led Zeppelin couldn’t get any higher, think again. On Johnnie Walker’s BBC Radio 2 show in 2019, Daltrey went as far as naming Robert Plant as his Rock God. Explaining his decision, The Who singer said: “Well, I was friends with Jimmy Page in the ’60s, I knew them from the very early years. It was Keith (Moon) who came up with the name Led Zeppelin. I became very good friends with Robert Plant, and we still are today. They supported us on one of their first US gigs in Washington or Baltimore. I know it was Maryland.”
Even if his recollection of the show’s location is on the foggy side, his memory of Led Zeppelin’s performance is crystal clear as it’s left an imprint on his mind for over half a century. Daltrey then continued his adoration for Plant, “I love his solo stuff too,” he added. “He’s always exploring. I love the African influences on the music that he does solo. He’s never dull, that’s what I like about Robert. He’s got incredible courage, Robert. I know a lot of people say, ‘He copied you, you had long curly hair, then he comes along with long curly hair’. No, he didn’t, Robert was Robert, and I just wish I could have been as tall,” Daltrey self-depreciatingly added.
Daltrey’s dismissal of Led Zeppelin copying The Who is a beautifully thinly-veiled dig at Townshend, but, apart from that, the singer’s thoughts are as genuine as it gets. It’s also worth noting that Led Zeppelin’s debut was out before Live At Leeds, which further proves that the album wasn’t the catalyst for Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Bonham, John Paul Jones discovering their style.
At least, Daltrey can diplomatically enjoy Led Zeppelin’s greatness for what it is and admire the brilliance that they created as a four-piece, which makes for a refreshing change.