Robert Plant’s prestige among rock fans is hard to match. A bona fide legend, his role as the leading figure of Led Zeppelin and, by proxy, the leading man of the 1970s cast him not only as the proverbial ‘Golden God’ but as the archetypal rock star. Wailing his vocal cords and shimmying his low-slung hips, Plant’s turn as lead singer for the monstrous rock band has ensured he will remain legendary forever. However, a few institutions can dwarf his impressive rock and roll stature.
Desert Island Discs is one such institution. When Plant joined the iconic radio programme to discuss the eight songs he would take with him to an inescapable desert island, he delivered not only a reem of tracks which have inspired and influenced him, but he took part in one of Britain’s finest broadcasting traditions. Below, we look back at the one song Plant said he would cherish more than any other.
The programme has been woven into the dense tapestry of British pop culture for years. It’s a time-honoured tradition that has seen Prime Ministers and rock stars alike walk through its studio doors. Created by Roy Plomley back in 1942, the format is always the same; each week, a guest is invited by the host to choose the eight records they would take with them to the aforementioned doom-laden beach.
As well as their eight discs, a complimentary collection of the complete works of Shakespeare and a bible, the star in question also gets to choose one luxury item and one book. It offers a crisp insight into the life and times of our most notable figures in Plant’s life. During the conversation, he opened up about his father, his mother, the impact of Birmingham Town Hall and how he still missed one of the most influential figures in his life, John Bonham.
The loss of Bonham was huge for Plant. He not only lost his bandmate, and later the band itself, but his best friend. He told Lauren Laverne about that treacherous time: “I drove down with him on the day of the rehearsal, and I drove back without him. He was an incredible character and so encouraging for me, despite the fact he was always sending me up and taking the mickey out of me and all that. I loved him desperately.”
The singer continued: “We were really kids, and we grew up not having a clue about anything at all. Just the two of us, sort of loud, confident and mostly wrong. It was really good. We covered most of the squares on the board as time went by, so I do miss him.”
His parents were also positive influences on Plant’s pursuit of musical fame. While the singer used cycling to get a little closer to his father, he called his mother “suitably and joyously combustible… like a big fizzy bottle of pop… She loved songs, and she had a great voice. She used to dance around the house, twirling and swirling and singing these remarkable songs, whether it would be Kathleen Ferrier or the Skye Boat Song, and she was hysterical. She was very funny. Good Black Country stock.”
The Midlands helped to shape some of heavy metal’s finest acts. Not only can the area boast of Led Zeppelin’s dynamic duo, but it also lays claim to the other forbears of the genre, Black Sabbath. in truth, the area provides a multicultural experience that few could attain in Britain at the time. It gave the town a sense of purpose. Coupling that with the abundance of acts arriving at Birmingham Town Hall, Plant was perhaps destined to reach the heights he did. He told Laverne: “Birmingham Town Hall had several years of these remarkable visitations from musicians like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter… Howlin’ Wolf to me, he’s… magnificent, strong, powerful, and his lyrics – I think a lot came from Willie Dixon to make his songs absolutely otherworldly.”
One of those names would feature in Plant’s list of essential records, as he picked out Howlin’ Wolf classic ‘I Ain’t Superstitious’. Elsewhere in the programme, Plant also picks out notable rock acts such as Crosby Stills, Nash and Young’s triumphant protest anthem ‘Ohio’, as well as the Eddie Cochran’ Pink Peg Slacks’. However, when he was asked to save only one of the eight songs from being washed out to see, Plant had only one choice in mind.
Taking from the titular 1956 film, Mario Lanza’s ‘Serenade’ would be the only disc Plant truly concerned himself, telling Laverne: “When I was invited to do this programme, I started looking at something would say wouldn’t be ‘Nelly The Elephant’, it wouldn’t be ‘Runaway Train’, it would be something that made stop and feel goosebumps, and this was the first song that did that to me.”
When asked why he would choose this track over his other picks, Plant noted: “It’s so evocative and it carries so much presence and beauty, and it just lifts at the crescendos that are… I mean, imagine singing along with that until you got it right?”