by Stuart Penney
No. 2 - Robert Plant - The Solo Singles
Continuing our occasional series of disappointment and squandered opportunity, here’s the story of the time I foolishly passed up the chance to buy both of Robert Plant’s impossibly rare (and now insanely valuable) pre-Led Zeppelin solo 7” singles for just a few pennies. But first, a little background.
Before joining Zeppelin, Plant had a brief and unsuccessful solo career, during which he recorded a pair of decidedly MOR singles for CBS:
Our Song / Laughin’, Cryin’, Laughin’ (CBS 202656) Released March 31, 1967
The CBS press release for “Our Song” reads: "A new solo singer from Birmingham, Robert Plant makes his debut on CBS with "Our Song.” Robert used to sing with groups like The Listen and Black Snake Moan but recently decided that his soul-sound voice could be used to better effect as a solo artist."
The A side is a cover of an Italian song, “La Musica è Finita.” It first appeared at the January 1967 Sanremo Song Festival where it was performed twice by two different singers - Ornella Vanoni and Mario Guarnera - and ended up in 4th place. And, should anyone still care about this kind of thing, the winners of the festival were Iva Zanicchi and Claudio Villa with the song "Non pensare a me."
One of the co-writers of “La Musica è Finita” was Umberto Bindi who also penned "Il Mio Mondo." An English language version of the song became a May 1964 UK chart topper for Cilla Black as “You're My World.”
The English lyrics for "Our Song" were written by Tony Clarke (1941 - 2010). Between 1967 - 1978 Clarke produced seven albums for the Moody Blues and oversaw the recording of the 1965 live debut LP by John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers.
Long Time Coming / I’ve Got A Secret (CBS 2858) Released July 14, 1967.
The heartfelt A-side ballad was first released (as “It Took A Long Time Coming”) in early 1967 by American singer Laura Lynn on the UK President label (PT 104).
“I’ve Got A Secret” is a cover of a song by St. Louis soul outfit The Sharpees. It originally appeared as the A-side of a 1966 single on the Chicago based label One-derful (4843).
Predictably, since Plant was a total unknown at the time, both records flopped and sank without trace. I can’t say how many copies were sold, but I’d guess there was a pressing run of around 500 copies each, most of which would have been returned to the record company unsold (or flogged off cheap, as we shall see). As often happens with records which become hugely collectable years later, “A" label promotional copies (as shown here) are more plentiful than stock copies. It’s likely a hundred or so promo pressings were sent out to UK radio stations and the music press for review, outstripping actual over-the-counter sales.
Fast forward to mid-1969 and the record department of Boots the Chemist in High Street, Sheffield. That’s right, the record department. In a chemist. Alongside the beauty products and medical requisites Boots also sold records back in the 60s and 70s. But just like Woolworths before them, they had scant knowledge and very little interest in the music they stocked. As often happened, the girl who might serve you at the record counter in Boots (or Woolworths) was, in all probability, selling cosmetics the week before. So, any questions regarding the new releases by Dr. Strangely Strange, Third Ear Band, Principal Edwards Magic Theatre or Captain Beefheart would inevitably be met with the blankest of blank stares.
But despite that, Boots record department was always worth a visit for a couple of reasons. Their chart singles were usually a little cheaper than the dedicated record stores and they also tended to heavily discount slow selling titles, so there were often bargains to be had. It seems the record company reps could talk the buyers at Boots head office into ordering anything, no matter how obscure, with the assurance it would be a big seller. Naturally, other than the big-name artists, this was seldom true, and the stores ended up with a lot of dead stock which was invariably knocked out cheap (seemingly below cost price) just to get it out the door.
And so it was that one day in mid-1969 while browsing the discount bins I found new old stock copies of not one but both of the aforementioned Robert Plant solo singles in Boots’ Sheffield store marked down to 1s/6d each (that’s 7½p in new money). A full-price single was 6s/8d (33p) at that time.
I pulled the records from the box, still in their correct orange CBS die-cut sleeves, and carefully turned them over to read the B-sides. After noting the 1967 release dates, I silently mused “Robert Plant. Hmmm. That name looks familiar. I wonder if this could be the singer with Led Zeppelin. I didn’t know he’d made records before joining the band.” At this point I should have quietly handed over my three shillings (15p) for both records like any sane person would have done and walked away merrily whistling “Communication Breakdown.”
But I didn’t do that. Oh no. Instead, I inexplicitly put the records back in the discount box and kept on browsing. Finding nothing else of interest, I left the store without a second thought.
Today those Robert Plant singles can sell for up to £1,000 each in mint condition and their value will surely increase in the years ahead.
Caveat emptor: in recent years we've seen unofficial (ie counterfeit) copies of "Long Time Comin'" in orange vinyl and "Our Song" in white vinyl for sale. Even these can sell for £40 or more.
For the sake of completion, I should also mention that Plant had previously appeared on a 1966 single by Midlands band Listen. The A-side "You'd Better Run" is a cover of a song by the Young Rascals while the B-side "Everybody's Gonna Say" is a Listen original. During the recording the band was replaced by session musicians leaving Plant as the only Listen member to appear on the record.
You'd Better Run / Everybody's Gonna Say (CBS 202456) Released November 26, 1966.
Footnote: Boots the Chemist was established 1849 in Beeston, a suburb of Nottingham by John Boot. It was built into a household name by his son Jesse with stores all over Europe and the Far East. As of August 2019, Boots had 3,063 branches across six countries. In 2007 Boots the Chemist Limited was re-branded Boots UK Limited.
The first chemist branch outside Nottingham opened in 1884 in Sheffield. The branch at 4-6 High Street, Sheffield was opened in May 1898 and is still there today in the same location. Needless to say, it’s been a long time since they sold recorded music.
More Record Trivia:
Robert Plant wasn’t the only hopeful with a record in the shops on Friday March 31, 1967. The very same day “Our Song” was issued, the UK CBS release sheet listed the following singles:
CBS 202610 - Paul Revere and the Raiders - Ups and Downs / Leslie
CBS 202642 - Guy Darrell - Crystal Ball / Didn't I
CBS 202645 - Romeo Z - Come Back Baby Come Back / Since My Baby Said Goodbye
CBS 202652 - The Executives - Sensations/Smokey Atmosphere
CBS 202653 - The Harry Roche Constellation - Casino Royale (Have No Fear, Bond Is Here)/In the Pad of the Mountain King
CBS 202654 - Roger Bloom’s Hammer - Out of the Blue / Life's A Gamble
CBS 202655 - Gene Latter – Always / A Woman Called Sorrow
CBS 202656 - Robert Plant – Our Song / Laughin’, Cryin’, Laughin’
CBS 202657 - Joan Regan – No One Beside Me / A Love So Fine
CBS 202658 - Dr. West's Medicine Show And Junk Band - Gondoliers, Shakespeares, Overseers, Playboys And Bums / Daddy I Know
CBS 2668 - Stan Butcher His Birds And Brass - Somethin' Stupid / Janie
Of those, only Paul Revere & the Raiders had a realistic chance of becoming a hit. But despite making the lower reaches of the US charts “Ups & Downs” failed to sell in Britain. Joan Regan was a big name in 50s UK pop but her time had passed by 1967 and “No One Beside Me” was roundly ignored.
More interesting was Dr. West's Medicine Show & Junk Band’s “Gondoliers Shakespeares, Overseers, Playboys And Bums.” They scored a minor US hit with their follow-up “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago” and while both singles failed to sell in the UK, band member Norman Greenbaum went on to score a worldwide #1 in 1969 with “Spirit In the Sky.”
A few months later the UK CBS release sheet for July 14, 1967 looked like this:
CBS 2843 - Gene Latter - A Little Piece Of Leather / Funny Face Girl
CBS 2846 - The Statler Brothers - Ruthless / Do You Love Me Tonight
CBS 2847 - Lynne Randell - Ciao Baby / Stranger In My Arms
CBS 2858 - Robert Plant - Long Time Coming / I’ve Got A Secret
CBS 2859 - The Buckinghams – Mercy, Mercy, Mercy / You Are Gone
UK born Lynne Randell emigrated to Australia as a child where she became a successful pop star, touring America on the same bill as the Monkees and Jimi Hendrix. “Ciao Baby” was her biggest hit, reaching #8 in Australia and becoming a hugely sought-after Northern Soul classic.
“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” started life as a jazz instrumental by Cannonball Adderley. Among several vocal covers was this one by “Kind Of A Drag” hitmakers The Buckinghams which flopped in Britain but reached #5 in the US.