Happy Birthday to Robert Plant, the blue-eyed hard rock English singer whose image and vocals became an absolute archetype for all hard rock that followed with the mighty Led Zeppelin. Plant, who has had a solo career of varying degrees of success since Zeppelin disbanded in 1980 after the death of their drummer John Bonham, turns 65 years old today.
Regardless of the contemporary success Plant has with his recent stints with Alison Krauss which netted him and her a cachet of Grammy Awards, Plant’s main suit is Led Zeppelin. Starting in that band when he was barely out of his teens (along with John Bonham), Plant, with bassist John Paul Jones and guitarist royale Jimmy Page totally dominated the musical planet, if not the universe, with a beefed-up, bombastic, electric amplification of the blues that meshed the sounds of Hendrix and even people like Janis Joplin into an original, instantly identifiable sound that not only endures to this day, but seems to have etched in granite a kind of hierarchy only reserved for artists such as Elvis Presley and The Beatles, in terms of influence, broad appeal, staying power, and an almost universal regard. Their catalog of work remains high atop the apex of rock and roll and will till the ends of eternity.
A large part of what made the inner clockwork of Led Zeppelin tick was Plant’s contributions. Exuding a bold confidence from the very first notes of their self-titled debut record back in 1969, Plant instantly thrusted himself into the shortlist gentleman’s blues game comprised of a scant few at the time like an Eric Burdon or a Steve Winwood. Channeling Elvis and Janis Joplin more than anything, along with the blues vocal inflections of its past, Plant makes his presence felt and then some when he’s strutting around on stage with Zeppelin or on record with chest out iron bell wailing, golden tresses bouncing up and down to the bottom end of the songs. For all of Plant’s vocal indulgences. and there are plenty, he’s still able to move mountains with his approach to singing soulfully; he always goes for that gusto, and it always is able to land a firm ground on all of the songs when he does.
For the scores of Plant imitators in so many bands that in essence were Zeppelin imitators, the crucial points they always seem to miss is to apply the singing in an emotional, intense manner where needed. Plant may not have been born in the shack by the railroad tracks as the famous blues idiom goes, but he sometimes certainly sings like he was on so many memorable Zep songs like “The Rover,” “That’s The Way,” “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” “Tea For One,” “The Battle of Evermore,” “In My Time of Dying,” and especially the very last song on the last real Zeppelin album, 1979’s In Through the Out Door (Coda was released a few years later, but it was comprised of outtakes recorded before In Through the Out Door), in which Plant presents himself in a manner of almost peacock proud sobbing, as he cathartically let out all his bottled sadness and pain due to the loss of his son Karac in 1977, “I’m Gonna Crawl.” At the end of the song, Plant even does a shattering scream, totally unexpected and able to hit an equally unexpected vocal pitch, and one is confirmed and affirmed of the legendary range of Robert Plant and how he did completely earn and prove his right to a piece of the rock and roll monarchy pie.
Since Zeppelin’s disbanding almost 35 years ago, Plant still muscles his way through the musical landscape, sort of always keeping low-key and for the most part, distancing his former band from his style, his sound, and his directions. Rigidly against committing to Zep reunions, much to the chagrin of the millions of fans globally, he last agreed to playing with his former electric bandmates (with John Bonham’s son Jason on drums, sounding eerily like his pops) in 2007 at the O2 Arena, which was by all accounts a thumbs up success, and it sported rumors of reunion tours that never materialized (the O2 Arena show was filmed and turned into a theatrical release entitled Celebration Day, released late last year). The last public meeting of Plant with the surviving members of Zep was when they received Kennedy Center Honors from President Barack Obama early this year. But regardless of the distance Plant keeps, he, like Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, and like all the fans around the planet, remains intertwined and always will be as the co-pilot of that big shrieking, soaring, gliding phoenix that is Led Zeppelin. The music always stays the same (to pluralize one of their tunes), it’s like an image put on an Etch-A-Sketch that doesn’t shake away. It’s seared into the soul and consciousness; Led Zeppelin remains one of the hot klieg lights that shines a laser beam beacon into the musical skyway.
There’s so many great Zeppelin records to help celebrate the birthday of Robert Plant today. Everyone’s got their own favorites, the songs are played constantly, as if every day was Plant’s birthday. Either way, there’s always some celebration going on when the speakers get turned up. Good times, bad times, you know he’s had his share, but the vitality of how Robert Plant plays his musical hand makes sure that we the listener only experience the good times. Happy Birthday, Robert Plant!