You all know that one of my greatest heroes is Robert Plant. He was and remains a stone fox of a fellow, has managed to remain a half-decent human being in the face of depravity of Zeppelin-sized proportions, has a healthy sense of humour towards the nonsense of Zeppelin-sized proportions. Most importantly of all things, he has always strived to make the music he loves, album sales be damned. The music is the thing, right?
He’s also, as I’ve always said, one of the best blues singer-screamers this country has ever produced, black, white, green or red.
I have, in some ways, also spent a certain amount of time ‘apologising’ for Led Zeppelin. “Yeah, they were overblown, but…” “Yeah, his voice is high and scratchy but…” or a really big one: “Yeah, The Zep did nick a riff or ten from old blues songs, but…”
I’ve always been able to justify the stealing of blues stuff the same way they do: It’s what the blues guys have always done anyway and they did new things to them and yeah, some of them got stiffed money wise but their music got to more people than it otherwise might have…
The same old stuff the minions do for their sometimes undeserving overlords. I did it because I loved Zeppelin, because I (mostly) believed in what I said. They did take old music and make something newer and exciting. Harder.
Then as you might know, I recently found myself listening to a pre-Zeppelin band called The Small Faces. They never made it that big in America, but their lead singer Steve Marriott founded Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, and you shoulda heard of the Pie. They were the kinds of Mod back in the day, and in fact were so popular that Steve’s famous mod haircut got copied by lots of people and wigs were sold down Carnaby Street claiming to be ‘Steve Marriott wigs’. They were mod and pop kings and even brought Australia and New Zealand to an outraged standstill while on tour with their mod rivals The Who.
Steve Marriott was another of Britain’s truly great soul singers. I mean, this boy was about as short as me and had more power in his lungs than most turbo-charged cars. That voice could move mountains. I’ve liked the Small Faces for a very long time, but only putting the Essential Collection (less All Or Nothing, unfortunately) onto my now-fucked iPod kicked me into real gear. That and getting the book of Steve’s life.
Then I got Tin Soldier: The Steve Marriott Anthology the day it came out. Three discs spanning Steve’s entire career, from his early prodigal days with the Small Faces (he was 21 when he quit, I believe. This after Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, one of the top five psychdelic albums. Seriously.) and through his superstar stadium-playing days with Humble Pie to the last fifteen years of his life spent with a revolving door of bands usually playing pubs and clubs.
Tin Soldier included some Small Faces stuff I hadn’t heard before. Including the following song:
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking you’ve heard it somewhere before, that they must have stolen it from somewhere. Sure. They nicked it from the same place as these guys did:
FYI: The Small Faces broke up while Robert Plant was still pissing on people’s shoes. They couldn’t have stolen it from LZ unless they were actually time-travelling hedonistic gits.
It’s not the song so much that galls me, although it does. Musicians have been nicking songs off each other all the time. A whole bunch of bands did Hey Joe all around the same time Jimi Hendrix did the definitive cover. One cover version of a Beatles song came out before the Beatles one did.
It’s not that. It’s not even that the guitar part was stolen by Bowie for Jean Genie. It is the performance of the vocal part. It is almost exactly the same as that which would make Percy a legend a few years later.
It’s not just that Robert’s band stole the song, it’s that Robert stole the way to sing it. He did that and the song was HUGE. I mean, Led Zeppelin II made those guys into the plane-using groupie-shagging superstars they were and the record did it on the back of Whole Lotta Love…. and the damn thing was stolen off Steve Marriott!
Robert Plant is a legend and a hero already who has been able to live life at a high standard since the early 1970s. I won’t deny he’s had his share of sadness and hard times… but Steve Marriott watched Rod Fucking Stewart take his band, knock the ‘Small’ part off the name and become massive. He watched Peter Fucking Frampton leave Humble Pie and destroy the middle class’ collective soul with Frampton Comes Alive!. He watched Roger Daltrey rule the world from a similar stature and less voice. He watched Robert Plant take that performance, right down to the fucking phrasing, and become the 1970s’ most tightly-jeaned singing star.
Steve, by the way, thanks to horrible management during the early Small Faces’ days (Don Arden, Sharon Osbourne’s evil fucker of a dad) and incompetent-turned-horrible-management-record-company Immediate (Andrew Loog Oldham, the old Stones maanger), spent most of his career either nearly-broke or entirely broke. He even wrote a song about it called ‘Theme from Skint’. (Skint is cock-er-nee for totally and completely broke.)
I don’t believe Steve ever really cared all that much about money- he was happy so long as he could get up on a stage (any stage- stadium or pub, he didn’t care) and sing and play his guitar. He was about the music, and that is something I respect eternally. However, he was screwed over time and time again. The Small Faces’ catalogue is now in better hands and the rights have been returned at last to the people in the band. Too late for Steve (died in a fire in 1991) and Ronnie Lane (died of MS-related pneumonia in 1998). Incidentally, the people I work for, The PRS, helped the band in their fight for their rights.
I’m getting off the point. The point is this: Robert Plant is/was/ever will be my hero but he plagiarised one of my other heroes. Granted, I’ve never had the same level of affection for Steve, but what I lacked in affection I always made up in oodles of respect. He has to be heard to be believed, I’m telling you.
So what do you do when faced with the truth of where your hero got one of his greatest/most famous performances from? Well, you find it very hard to listen to a song you once loved. It’s hard to hear, hearing inside your head another blue-eyed soul screamer doing the same thing, and not as high or scratchy. I’ve lost so much respect for Robert on a musical level, and that’s so important to me.
It’s one thing to spout shit about fairies and Tolkein. It’s another to steal off your contemporaries in such a blatant way. I can only surmise that the Small Faces version wasn’t heard widely at the time, cos there’s no way the old git from the Midlands would’ve got away with it.
And now I wonder about everything else he does and has done. Sure, Perce has marched to the beat of his own Arabic drums for years now and I’ve always liked that about him… but it has me second-guessing him. How original is the stuff he’s doing? Is it just that I haven’t heard what he’s stolen already? Or if it is original, is his determination to be so different a reaction to a previous time in his life when he did the worst thing a singer can do to another one?
I’ve rarely said this about any of the horrible little bastards who occupy my life and iPod, but here it goes: I’m disappointed in him. I’m so fucking dismayed. Sure he was young and inexperienced and all that other bollocks, but so was Steve when he recorded it.
You stole what he did, Robert. I wonder if you have ever felt bad about it. Should we be lucky enough to converse, I will ask you. I don’t care if it offends you, because I need to know. You’re my hero, man. Jim Morrison sexually assaulting Janis Joplin, Philip smacking his wife… somehow these things matter less. What you did was about the music. You stole it, became a massive star and he died in a fire when on the brink of a potential come back. I wonder if you ever met, ever talked about it. You stole it and I can’t ever forgive you for it. Sorry.
However, I did just see the pictures of Robert at the Polar Music Awards in Sweden (one with Anni-Frid from Abba, oddly) and he is still a stone fox. A stealing one.