5 of Robert Plant’s Best Post-Led Zeppelin Solo Songs

When Led Zeppelin called it day after the death of John Bonham in 1980, many people assumed the remaining three members would eventually reunite to record and tour again with a new drummer. The fact that it never happened could be due, at least in part, to the way lead singer Robert Plant found fulfillment in his solo career.

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What’s been fascinating in following Plant’s post-Zep efforts is how he’s been willing to experiment and follow paths far afield from what fans of his former band might have expected. His most-acclaimed work outside of Zeppelin is likely his collaboration with Alison Krauss on the landmark Americana album Raising Sand. But while his true solo offerings might not have necessarily climbed up the charts (not that Zeppelin was much of a singles band, themselves), there’s consistently compelling music all the way through his impressive solo catalog. Here are five of the best songs from Robert Plant as a solo act.

1. Big Log” from the album The Principle of Moments (1983)

A lot of folks were using synths in the early ‘80s, often for splashy, bold musical statements. But with this song, Plant and his songwriting collaborators (Jezz Woodroffe and Robbie Blunt) found a way to construct something synth-based that was subtle, moody, and evocative. Blunt’s guitar work conjures a feel not unlike something Mark Knopfler was doing around the same time for Dire Straits.

Plant keeps his vocals largely restrained here, until cutting loose with some more demonstrative wails as the song progresses. The title might bring to mind some innuendo, but it was actually a reference to the fireplace in action while Plant and company put the song together. “Big Log” snuck into the Top 20 in 1983, and still burns bright when replayed all these years later.

2. “Ship of Fools,” from the album Now and Zen (1988)

There’s some tough competition, but you could make an argument that 1988’s Now and Zen is Plant’s finest solo album. It featured the self-referential surprise hit “Tall Cool One” and the lovely album-opener “Heaven Knows.” But the album’s best song is this gorgeous ballad, which manages to evoke a Zeppelin-like air of sultry mystery.

Credit some outstanding guitar work from Doug Boyle. “Ship of Fools,” written by Plant and Phil Johnstone, just oozes natural beauty. The title serves as a metaphor for the uncertain journey into unknown waters one needs to make when embarking on romance. You’re just as likely to get dashed on the rocks as you are to land in paradise.

3. “I Believe,” from the album Fate of Nations (1993)

Plant couldn’t quite decide on the direction he wanted to go for his 1993 album, Fate of Nations, as he shuffled through myriad musicians. For this warm-hearted number, he went back to his Now and Zen collaborators Phil Johnstone (songwriter) and Doug Boyle (guitarist). He also returned to difficult subject matter, including the unexpected death of his 5-year-old son Karac in 1977, which had also inspired the classic Led Zeppelin track “All My Love.”

[RELATED: Watch: Robert Plant Performs “Stairway to Heaven” for First Time in 16 Years]

“I Believe” is less pained and more philosophical than that previous track. It doesn’t skimp on the pain of the incident (Look at your father / See his blood run cold), but it also finds room for faith that maybe death isn’t meaningless: There’s so much glory from the story untold.

4. “Harm’s Swift Way,” from the album Band of Joy (2010)

When the album Band of Joy was released in 2010, Plant was coming off the massive success of his collaboration with bluegrass superstar Alison Krauss. He once again teamed with producer T Bone Burnett and employed some of Americana’s leading lights (Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin) to help him out on the record of mostly covers.

Plant dusted off “Harm’s Swift Way,” a relatively unheralded track from the legendary singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt, and set it in a fetching mid-tempo arrangement. He sounds utterly at home singing this song of heartbreak, giving the narrator a kind of world-weary sadness that’s only propped up by Griffin’s sympathetic harmonies.

5. “Bluebirds over the Mountain,” from the album Carry Fire (2017)

If you think Plant has mellowed too much with the passing of time, just listen to this startling reimagining of “Bluebirds over the Mountain,” which, in most interpretations, is a pleasant ditty about a narrator asking for avian help with the return of a lost love.

Plant turns it into something dark and sexy on the 2017 record Carry Fire with the help of the Sensational Shape Shifters, his backing band of later vintage. He also turns to the ace fiddle player Seth Lakeman and legendary Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde to add to the festivities. Toward the end of his interpretation, Plant even cuts loose on some banshee wails that sound left over from the sessions for “The Immigrant Song.”

Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns

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