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POP EYE

February 14, 1988|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

PLANT SIZE: In the current issue of Rolling Stone, ex-Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant complains bitterly about the current crop of groups ripping off his old sound. First he blasts Whitesnake ("a Led Zeppelin clone"), then the Cult ("a post-Zep flashback").

All we can say is this--we'd love to be at the Plant homestead when he first gets a listen to Kingdom Come, a new metal band on PolyGram whose lead vocalist sounds so much like Plant that when a KNAC deejay recently introduced the group's new song, "Get It On," he quipped: "This is not who you think it is."

Kingdom Come's appeal is pretty obvious. As Charlie Logan, a programmer at WYMF-FM in Tampa, Fla. said of the new tune: "It's the best Zeppelin song since, well, Zeppelin's 'Physical Graffiti.' "

The reaction at KNAC has been much the same. "We've had a real positive response to Kingdom Come's song," said program director Tom Marshall. "It's certainly a good Zeppelin imitation. In fact, a lot of listeners thought it was a Zeppelin track."

The band's first single is so hot--or at least so reminiscent of Zeppelin glory days--that radio programmers began playing it before it was even released, much to the delight and dismay of its record company.

"We put 'Get It On' on a sampler tape that I gave to some key radio programmers at a recent convention--and before I knew it I was getting calls that WRIF-FM in Detroit was playing the song right from the sampler tape," said John Brodey, PolyGram's v.p. of album promotion.

"Suddenly everyone had a copy of the tape, even third-generation ones. So we've had to rush out hundreds of test-pressings, so you could at least hear the song right. It's really been nerve-racking--and we've had to throw most of our marketing concepts out the window. Originally, we were going to release the album in mid-March. Now we've had to move it up to the end of February to take advantage of all the hoopla."

It's easy to see why Brodey describes PolyGram's sales dilemma as "a little bit scary."

With no records in the stores, the label has no sales figures, which labels customarily use to fuel additional radio play. By the time the album finally comes out, radio may have moved on to the next group, leaving the label without the kind of blanket airplay which stimulates record sales.

Meanwhile, PolyGram has cleverly capitalized on the similarities between Kingdom Come and Zeppelin. "We figured that radio would either have us hung, drawn and quartered or they'd throw us a parade," Brodey said. "So far we've gotten a great reaction." (That's no exaggeration--the Kingdom Come single was the second-most added new record in the album-rock tip sheets last week, trailing only the Plant song, "Heaven Knows."

How is Atlantic--which expects its Plant album to be a major seller this year--handling all this? PolyGram execs claim that Atlantic is running scared--and was forced to move up its Plant single release a week to keep Kingdom Come from getting an early jump on rock radio.

Not so, says Judy Libow, Atlantic's vice president of promotion. "We found that imports of the Plant song were leaking into a lot of markets, so we decided to rush the record out before we had a bunch of radio programmers who were irate because their competition had the record before they did."

Otherwise, Libow struck a gracious note. "I hope Kingdom Come is a big record--it can only help the business in general," she said. "But I think Robert's record will stand on its own. He has a unique style as a solo artist. And we like to think around here that when it comes to Zeppelin, the original is always the best."

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