Flashback: Robert Plant Revisits Led Zeppelin on ‘Tall Cool One’
Robert Plant rolled out dates this morning for his inaugural American tour with his new band Saving Grace. They first played live last year opening for Fairport Convention at tiny venues across England, and this May, they’ll hit U.S. theaters like Town Hall in New York City and Lincoln Theater in Washington, D.C.
Fans who show up expecting to hear Led Zeppelin classics will likely be disappointed. At their gigs last year, the group played Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” Moby Grape’s “It’s a Beautiful Day Today,” Donovan’s “Season of the Witch,” and Carole King’s “Too Far From You.” It’s a show that hits many corners of the classic-rock canon, but never once did it touch on Zeppelin.
It was a big change from the show that Plant took across America just last year. That one was basically half Zeppelin songs including “Black Dog,” “Going to California,” and “Ramble On.” These renditions may have not sounded much like their album counterparts, but that’s been his approach for quite a while now.
This sort of back and forth between embracing his Zeppelin legacy and shunning it goes all the way back to Plant’s first solo tour in 1983. He booked himself into arenas and it was his first time playing in the States since Zeppelin came here in 1977, but many fans were disappointed that the show didn’t feature a single song by the band. It wasn’t until the very end that he surrendered and played “Whole Lotta Love” a single time.
The Shaken ‘n’ Stirred tour of 1985 didn’t feature even a one-off Zeppelin tune, but three years later he suddenly had a complete change of heart. Not only did he play a bunch of Zeppelin songs on the tour, but he brought Jimmy Page into the studio to play on the single “Tall Cool One.” That song sprinkled in samples of the guitar riffs in “Black Dog,” “Dazed and Confused,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “The Ocean,” and “Custard Pie” along with lyrics taken from “Black Dog” and “When the Levee Breaks.” It was almost a Led Zeppelin megamix. And if that didn’t violate enough of his principles, he sold the thing to Coke for use in a commercial. Check out the video right here.
The gambit hoped the song reached Number One on the Mainstream Rock chart and got it some love on MTV. It seemed like the closest he was willing to get to Led Zeppelin, but in 1994 he teamed up with Page for an MTV concert special, live album, and a world tour. Four years later they recorded an album of originals, Walking Into Clarksdale, and supported it with another big tour. But Plant pulled the plug once it was done and walked away from Page until the 2007 Led Zeppelin one-off show in London. They left about a billion dollars on the table by not touring in the wake of that event, but Plant’s decision has given him the freedom to explore musically without being bogged down in the Seventies. The past is a fun place to visit every once in a while, but if you stay too long you sometimes get trapped there.