#1. Robert Plant
Led Zeppelin might be the greatest rock band ever, and Robert Plant is definitely one of the most important and influential rock singers of all time. And yet he tops our list as the quintessential accidental genius. Maybe the best way to explain how is to compare him with his band mates.
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For example, he looks the least convincing in a spacesuit.
Prior to Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were both successful, sought-after studio musicians, steeped in training and capable of playing in a multitude of styles. Jimmy Page was also the lead guitarist of the Yardbirds -- a band whose lead guitarist slot has also been filled by guitar greats Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. Beyond mere musicianship, both men possessed diverse songwriting chops. Jimmy Page penned the music to the paint-peeling "Immigrant Song" and the ballad-like "The Rain Song." Not to be outdone, John Paul Jones wrote the music to "Black Dog" and "All of My Love." Lastly, while drummer John Bonham didn't have Page and Jones' studio credentials, you'd be hard-pressed to find any best-drummers compilation lists where he's not in the top five. The point is, you can see each of these men playing in other bands, tweaking their playing and doing whatever they need to do based on circumstance.
But Plant's time in Zep was more about Plant simply being Plant. And lucky for us, because all those magic ingredients above probably wouldn't have amounted to greatness unless Page had asked some dimwitted lunatic from West Bromwich to howl above the din. Robert Plant's contributions to Zep are a monumental achievement. There is no modern rock vocal without him. But he's still an accidental genius.
"Get on with it, d-bag."
First off, Plant's not much of a songwriter, never really drafting much in the way of actual music during Zeppelin or after. He's also not much of a lyricist. Has he written some of the most important rock lyrics of all time? He sure has. Are they awful? They sure are. For the most part, Plant lyrics are a confused lot of Tolkien-based stream-of-consciousness pretense that sound great as long as you don't think about them. References to suns that refuse to shine and lands of ice and snow. Big, bold, stupid lyrics that are awesome, but not created by a master craftsman so much as spewed by a halfwit who would have never risen above the role of dungeon master under different circumstances. Don't bother trying to figure out what a stairway to heaven is or what that bustle in the hedgerow might be. Your investigations will not be rewarded.
And frankly, he's not the greatest singer either on a purely technical level. Even at the time of the 1976 concert film The Song Remains the Same (from the '73 tour), he couldn't cop his "Ramble On" vocals, delivering them instead as a half-assed pseudo-Elvis. And then there are those rumors that he employed Alvin and the Chipmunks-esque technology to hit some high notes on the albums. If you listen to the end of the Song Remains the Same album, there certainly appears to be truth to that.
So yes, Plant deserves his legend status in the same way that a meteor flaming out of control across the sky before crashing down to Earth with tremendous impact deserves notoriety. Not so much for what it has done as for what it is.
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