How the Beastie Boys Inspired Robert Plant’s ‘Tall Cool One’
In 1988, Robert Plant scored a hit with his song “Tall Cool One,” a track which - to the surprise of many - sampled the rocker's previous band.
The song was the third single released from Now and Zen, Plant's fourth solo LP since the breakup of Led Zeppelin. Not only did former bandmate Jimmy Page play guitar on the track, but “Tall Cool One” also included samples of several classic Led Zeppelin hits.
“The Beastie Boys had just been sampling Bonzo (Zeppelin drummer John Bonham),” Plant recalled in an edition of his Digging Deep podcast. “And I thought, ‘well that’s a good idea.’ You can’t get a better drum sound.”
The Beastie Boys had famously used Led Zeppelin samples throughout their 1986 debut album Licensed to Ill. The trio’s “Rhymin & Stealin” used Bonham's bombastic drum beats from “When the Levee Breaks,” while songs “She’s Crafty” and “Time to Get Ill” sampled Led Zep’s “The Ocean” and “Custard Pie,” respectively.
Listen to the Beastie Boys' "Rhymin & Stealin"
“If you think of ‘When the Levee Breaks’ or something,” Plant continued, “this is mic placement, Jimmy Page on acid, it just was so good. So why not use it again? And again and again and again and again?”
“Tall Cool One” sampled the Led Zeppelin songs "Black Dog,” "Dazed and Confused," "Whole Lotta Love,” "The Ocean" and "Custard Pie." But while the Beastie Boys had bravely (or foolishly) sampled other artists without permission, leaving open the possibility of legal action, Plant had no such concerns.
“As I was still with Atlantic Records then, there was no point in suing me because I was already on their label anyway!,” the rocker explained.
The decision was attention-grabbing, though not surprising given Plant’s history as one of rock’s most experimental frontmen. The stylistic choice paid off as “Tall Cool One” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and No. 25 on the all-genre Hot 100 chart. The track’s video also earned heavy rotation on MTV, something Plant thoroughly enjoyed.
“I was on maximum rotation,” the singer boasted. “I was chest to the ear in 1969, king of cock-rock in 1970 and then, by 1988 I was on maximum rotation, which I felt really good about. I had a mullet. Everything was going my way!”
Watch Robert Plant's Music Video for "Tall Cool One"