In rock and roll, one thing's for sure: without Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin would’ve been decidedly less vocal. Okay, sure, Jimmy Page probably would’ve just circled back around to Terry Reid and begged him to reconsider - he turned down the gig before Plant ran with it, you know - but we don’t have to worry about that alternate history, thankfully, because everything worked out just the way it should’ve.
We’ve put together a list of Plant's most epic vocal performances with Led Zeppelin, nine of them in the studio and one live performance to close things out and make it an even 10.
“Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” (from Led Zeppelin, 1969): Written by Anne Bredon, this song was famously released by Joan Baez on her 1962 live album In Concert, but when the LP was released, she didn’t know who’d written it - she only knew it because someone had played it for her - and ended up having it credited to “Traditional.” While the proper credit was eventually added to the album, Jimmy Page owned an early copy of the LP, so it originally ended up being credited to “Traditional, arranged by Jimmy Page” on Led Zeppelin, too, and it stayed that way for the better part of 20 years, because no one involved in the writing of the song was a Zeppelin fan! Just as a side note, there’s a Led Zeppelin drinking game which involves taking a drink every time Plant says “baby.” Do not attempt this game without a designated driver.
“Heartbreaker” (from Led Zeppelin II, 1969): There’s not much that needs to be said about this iconic track, aside from the fact that if it wasn’t such an epic performance by Plant, then it probably wouldn’t have been the opener of as many Zeppelin shows as it was.
“Immigrant Song” (from Led Zeppelin III, 1970): If you’ve ever wondered, the reference to “the land of ice and snow” is in regards to Iceland, where the band played earlier that year. The more important line for fans, however, is probably the one about how “the hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands,” which was borrowed by author Stephen Davis for the title of his classic book about the band.
“Stairway to Heaven” (from Led Zeppelin IV, 1971): Do we really need to say much more about the most famous rock and roll song of all time? Plant’s vocals are as strong here as they are on any of the band’s songs, which is why he’s able to get away with some of those lyrics.
“Over the Hills and Far Away” (from Houses of the Holy, 1973): This track famously evolved out of The Yardbirds’ “White Summer,” an acoustic solo from Page’s stint with the band, and it remained an instrumental until Plant concocted the backing tracks and lyrics. (That would certainly explain why he sounds so vocally comfortable on the song.)
“In My Time of Dying” (from Physical Graffiti, 1976): Built from Blind Willie Johnson’s “Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed” by way of Bob Dylan’s cover version, this track holds the record as the longest studio track ever recorded by Led Zeppelin, clocking in at 11:06.
“Tea for One” (from Presence, 1976): Maybe not the most obvious choice, but this slow, bluesy track was penned by Plant about the loneliness he was experiencing on the road and was literally drinking tea for one in a New York hotel when he wrote it. Well, they do say to write what you know...
“I’m Gonna Crawl” (from In Through the Out Door, 1979): The last song on the last proper Led Zeppelin studio album, it was inspired by Wilson Pickett’s soulful oeuvre, and it was predominantly penned by John Paul Jones, but despite Jones’s synthesizer serving as the skeleton of the song, it’s Plant’s yearning vocal that makes it work as well as it does.
“We’re Gonna Groove” (from Coda, 1982): Intended for Led Zeppelin II but shelved until this odds and sods collection, this track was written by Ben E. King and James Bethea, and it was popular enough with the band that it actually served as the opener for some of their shows in the early days.
“Whole Lotta Love” (Live) (from How the West Was Won, 2003): We decided to close things out by offering at least one live track, and although we were briefly tempted to go with that insanely long version of “Dazed and Confused” from The Song Remains the Same, we instead opted for this still-pretty-freaking-long version of one of Zeppelin’s all-time classic songs. You’d think you’d find yourself going, “Boy, this goes on a bit, doesn’t it?” But you don’t. At all. Because it’s a properly epic performance by one of the best rock bands of all time.