Robert Plant, like pretty much every rock fan, was blown away by Heart’s now iconic cover of “Stairway to Heaven.” The cover happened back in 2012 when Led Zeppelin was part of that year’s Kennedy Center Honors class. The performance was fronted by Ann and Nancy Wilson and featured Jason Bonham, the son of John Bonham, on drums.
Plant was asked what his “stream of consciousness” was while watching the performance in a recent interview with Vulture. He said, in part, “It was just something that I’d never, ever thought I would look at from this gallery. I didn’t ever see myself as smarting around seeing an artist’s impression of it. I knew it was coming — the Kennedy Center told us to expect something — but I didn’t know how it was going to be. It was a spectacular performance. I’m now a voyeur.”
Plant added, “I’m not responsible for it anymore. I’m not in guitar shops being told not to do it. I’m not going down the aisle at a wedding playing it with a flute. I love the song. It came upon me and stripped away all the years of being a part of all that. It just rubbed it right back to the bone. Because maybe it was all over for us a long time before it was all over. It was definitely all over without John. I mean that. We’re talking here about one song from 50-plus years ago. It’s just a magnificent performance to watch and it kills me every time. It kills me in two or three different ways. It’s just like, ‘Oh my God.'”
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The feeling of awe is a mutual one. In December 2020, Vulture asked Ann Wilson about the magical cover. She said, “I actually felt every second of it as a real, not to overstate it, but pretty damn close to orgasmic in terms of bliss. I felt wide awake and alive, and I felt the emotional content of the song all the way down to the ground. It was really authentic. The emotions involved in performing that were wide awake and in the moment.”
Ann also noted, “After the show there was a dinner for all of us, and all of the people who performed were there with the honorees. Robert, Jimmy, and John Paul were having dinner next to us and Robert said to me, ‘I usually hate it when people try to cover ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ But I like your version.’ That meant so much to me, because it could’ve gone any way, you know? I’ve worked with John Paul before, and he’s such a gentleman. He was also friendly and open about it, as was Jimmy. Listen, Robert and Jimmy are the guardians of the Zeppelin gate. You really want approval from them.”
Robert Plant: His 41 Best Post-Led Zeppelin Songs, Ranked
The song marked the beginning of a new era for Robert Plant; ‘Now And Zen’ saw him making peace with his history with Led Zeppelin in a way that he hadn’t previously. He uses his Led Zeppelin symbol (the circle around the feather) in the album’s artwork. More pointedly, Jimmy Page played guitar solos on two of the songs, including this one. It also marked the debut of Plant’s new band; he’d parted ways with his original backing musicians after three albums. “Heaven Knows” was written by his keyboardist Phil Johnstone and David Barratt, who did some of the keyboard programming on the album. Apparently, the pair had recorded the song for their former group who were called The Rest Is History. Someone sent Plant the song, and that led to him wanting to record it, and inviting Johnstone to join his band.
Pearl Jam, obviously, are big Led Zeppelin fans, you can hear that in almost all of their songs. Especially “Given To Fly,” their 1998 single which sounded a bit too much like “Going To California.” Jimmy Page and Robert Plant have both been a bit vocal about that. But Pearl Jam and Plant mended their fences in 2005 when the Seattle band invited Plant to open for them at a fundraiser for Hurricane Katrina relief. Plant joined Pearl Jam for a few songs, including this Elvis Presley cover, which Pearl Jam later released as part of their Christmas single series.
A classic song written by the late New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint (under his pseudonym Naomi Neville). It had been covered by the Rolling Stones, the Who and the Strawberry Alarm Clock, among others, before Robert and Alison got to it. It tells a funny tale of some dude who learns from a fortune teller that he will find love "when the next one arrives." When he comes back the next day, he realizes that he’s in love with the fortune teller. They get married and are as "happy as we could be" and -- bonus! -- and now he gets his "fortune told for free." Plant takes the lead vocals here, and sings it as convincingly as anyone could. You kind of believe that this actually happened to him!
In recent years, Plant has gotten more and more interested in electronic music, but his fascination with the blues is as strong as it was in his Zeppelin days. That clash of different musical cultures tends to make an awesome noise, as it does on this song.
Most of this album is original material co-written by Plant and his backing band, but “Little Maggie” is a “traditional” ballad, like “Gallows Pole.” Even in the 2010s, Plant was bringing classic -- but overlooked -- songs to a new audience.
Robert Plant’s first two solo albums were received warmly, but album #3 -- ‘Shaken ‘N’ Stirred’ -- alienated fans. Plant found something of a “reset” with the Honeydrippers EP. ‘Vol. 1,’ saw him teaming up with Jeff Beck, Nile Rodgers, Paul Shaffer and even Jimmy Page to tackle early rock and roll era songs. This Ben E. King cover wasn’t a hit for the Honeydrippers, but it should have been. And sadly, the Honeydrippers never recorded a ‘Vol. 2.’
After Page guested on two tracks on Plant’s ‘Now And Zen,’ the vocalist returned the favor, singing on the hard rock jam “The Only One” on Page’s solo album. We’re still waiting for the follow-up. Unfortunately, Page isn’t as prolific as Plant. He hasn’t released new music since the Page/Plant ‘Walking Into Clarksdale album in 1998.
Plant definitely tried to put some distance between him and Led Zeppelin on his first few solo albums, but here, about three minutes into the song it starts to sound a bit like a modern update to the jams Zep used to do during “Dazed and Confused.” Which is a compliment, obviously.
Another early song where Plant seems pulled back into Zeppelin’s gravity. Most of his debut album featured Phil Collins of Genesis on drums. But here, he uses Cozy Powell, formerly of the Jeff Beck Group and Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, and he brings a bit of heavy metal (or hard rock) thunder to the song.
Robert Plant was the lead singer of one of the biggest bands of all time, but to his credit, he’s always quick to pay tribute to the much lesser-known artists who inspired him as a kid (and surely, still inspires him as an adult). Plant recorded two songs for this Fats Domino tribute (with two separate bands, no less!). ‘Goin’ Home’ also featured contributions from Tom Petty, Norah Jones and Elton John, among others. Lil’ Band of Gold is a zydeco group, and they really give Plant a New Orleans sound here.
Who is Arthur Alexander, you might ask? Well, he’s the only songwriter to have been covered by the Beatles (“Soldier of Love”), the Rolling Stones (“You Better Move On”) *and* Bob Dylan (“Sally Sue Brown”). Sadly, by the ‘90s he was mostly forgotten and driving a bus for a living. Plant did this song justice, and (as he often does) brought a lesser-known song to a much bigger audience.
A jump-blues song dating back to 1947, Robert Plant (featuring Jeff Beck on lead guitar) took this jam to the top 40; it was a #25 hit. Ironic that while Plant was terrifying the ‘50s generation with Zeppelin, he actually shared a lot of their musical tastes.
After Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’s ‘Raising Sand,’ which won six Grammys, fans (and the record label) surely expected a follow-up. Of course, Plant has become somewhat well-known for not making his artistic choices based on money. Instead, his next project saw him working with a new group of collaborators, including Americana singer/songwriters Patty Griffin and Buddy Miller. ‘Band of Joy’ was an album of unexpected covers, including this one by Richard Thompson. Thompson was no stranger to Plant though - he’d played guitar on the ‘Fate Of Nations’ album over a decade earlier.
A folk-rocky jam that should have been a bigger hit. It’s laid back, but shows that Plant was still good at writing about… similar subject matter that he’d covered in his previous band. Here’s a sample lyric: “Her kiss of fire/A loaded invitation/Inside her smile/She takes me down and down and down and down.”
A lot of ‘Raising Sand’ feels kind of dark, but this Everly Brothers cover sees Plant and Krauss having a blast.
You’d almost think that this one was from Led Zeppelin ‘III.’ There was a lot of production on much of the ‘Manic Nirvana’ album, but this was just Robert and guitarist Doug Boyle (the two co-wrote the song as well).
Plant has always been an excellent song interpreter but only did it sparingly (until the 2000s). This Tim Hardin cover is one of the highlights of the underrated ‘Fate Of Nations’ album.
Americana singer/songwriter Patti Griffin gets a lot of respect, and rightfully so: her songs have been covered by Emmylou Harris, the (Dixie) Chicks and Kelly Clarkson. And in 2010, she joined Robert Plant’s backing group, the Band Of Joy, as a backing singer and acoustic guitarist. He would later sing with her on this song, which she wrote. One of the interesting things about the last few years of Plant’s career is hearing him share the mic, something he rarely did in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.
The second of two songs that Plant did for the Fats Domino tribute album. Here, Plant is accompanied by the Soweto Gospel Choir and a percussionist… and that’s it. Plant’s voice and that of the South African vocalists on this song complement each other perfectly. Songs on tribute albums sometimes get lost, and that’s a shame. You can find this on YouTube, and you should look for it.
Jimmy Page and Robert Plant reunited for 1994’s ‘No Quarter,’ which saw the ex-bandmates revisiting their Led Zeppelin classics in different settings and arrangements. They also wrote a few new songs. The follow up was all new music, and they kept it simple, stripping down to a small band - accompanying themselves with just a bass player (Charlie Jones) and drummer (Michael Lee), Led Zep-style, and using no-nonsense producer Steve Albini. “Shining In The Light,” the album’s opening track, showed that they still had some solid Zep-esque jams in the tank.
‘The Last Temptation of Elvis’ was an Elvis Presley tribute album put together by British music magazine NME and which featured only songs from Elvis’s movies. It was a challenge that a lot of famous Elvis fans were up for: Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen also contributed. “Let’s Have A Party” was written for Elvis to record for the 1957 movie, ‘Loving You.” (What, you don’t remember that one?) Wanda Jackson -- the Queen of Rockabilly -- recorded a cooler version a year later. And Led Zeppelin would quote this song during their extended “Whole Lotta Love” jams. Plant is clearly having a blast revisiting it here.
Robert’s band Strange Sensation was taking him farther and farther from mainstream rock music, but that’s always been his path. Led Zeppelin didn’t cater to the mainstream: the mainstream came to Zeppelin. But in the wake of the dissolution of the Page/Plant project, this song seemed to serve as an answer to, “Will you and Jimmy ever work together again?” Robert sings, “These are the times of my life/Bright, strong and golden/This is the way that I choose/When the deal goes down.”
By 1988, Phil Collins had been gone from Robert Plant’s band for five years. But the drum machine in this ballad totally sounded like something the Genesis-drummer would have programmed. As does the entrance of “live” drums 1:50 into the song. In any case, “Ship Of Fools” is one of Plant’s loveliest ballads.
A descendant of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” “Calling To You” was interpreted by many fans as a message to Jimmy Page… Plant practically name drops his ex-bandmate at the end of the song when he sings, “Just fadin’ away! Oh Jimmmmmmy!” Page had recently recorded a duo album with Whitesnake’s David Coverdale, a guy who had been accused of ripping off Zep more than once. And Plant wasn’t shy about mocking the guy, either, dubbing him “David Cover-version.” Alas, Plant and Page’s next project was their collaboration, ‘No Quarter.’
“Dreamland” was Plant’s first project after splitting with Jimmy Page. The album was mostly ‘60s covers and the highlight was this Bonnie Dobson classic (first made famous by folk singer Tim Rose). If “Morning Dew” sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you’ve heard the Grateful Dead’s version. Or maybe you’ve heard the definitive version by the Jeff Beck Group; their lead singer was an up-and-coming guy named Rod Stewart. Plant’s version is almost as good as that one. And fun fact: British pop singer Lulu covered this song as well, in 1967… and it was produced by Plant’s future bandmate John Paul Jones.
A lot of artists cover songs to do a new spin on a beloved classic. Give Robert Plant and Alison Krauss credit for digging deep and looking in dusty corners for material for their first album together. “Rich Woman” is a cover of a 1957 song by Li'l Millet and his Creoles. It’s fair to guess that most fans hadn’t heard the original, but the song was the perfect choice to kick off ‘Raising Sand.’
A cover of a lesser-known song by legendary L.A. band, Los Lobos. Released in 1990, Los Lobos’ original is rock meets mariachi. But Plant’s Band Of Joy takes the song from the west coast to the mountains via their use of a mandolin.
A cover of legendary Americana singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams. One of the first releases from Plant and Krauss’s long-awaited second album shows that the duo has lost none of their chemistry.
The opening track from Plant’s second album was the label’s first choice for a single. Plant rejected that plan: he didn’t want to be labeled a “hard rock” singer, so they went with “Big Log” and “In The Mood” as singles instead, which worked out pretty well.
Afro-Celt Sound System combines electronic music with traditional Gaelic and West African sounds. They recorded for Peter Gabriel’s RealWorld record label. That combination seemed to appeal to Plant - much of his recent music seems to combine similar influences. He certainly gave the group a great vocal performance here, and again, exposed them to his much bigger audience.
‘Shaken ‘N’ Stirred’ wasn’t well-received by most of Plant’s fans - it was very synthy, and seemed influenced by the Eurythmics and Talking Heads. “Little By Little” though, was one song that broke, topping the Mainstream Rock chart, thanks to a good amount of MTV play.
This cover of a 1959 song by Phil Phillips (it was his only hit) became Robert Plant’s highest-charting song ever, hitting #3 on the pop charts. Yes, *ever*. Led Zeppelin's biggest hit single only reached #4 (“Whole Lotta Love”).
Co-written by Plant with the members of his backing band the Sensational Space Shifters -- guitarist Justin Adams, guitarist Liam "Skin" Tyson, keyboardist John Baggott and bassist Billy Fuller, “The May Queen” sort of felt like a trip-hop song played on acoustic instruments.
Robert really got the Led out here, so to speak. Not only did he use Jimmy Page on the track, he also sampled a bunch of Zeppelin songs, including "Black Dog,” "Dazed and Confused,” "Whole Lotta Love,” "The Ocean" and "Custard Pie,” and also borrowed from "When the Levee Breaks.” The song, somewhat surprisingly, hit #25 on the pop charts, higher than most Zeppelin singles except for “Whole Lotta Love” (#4), “Immigrant Song” (#16), “Black Dog” (#15) and “Fool In The Rain” (#21).
Robert Plant’s original solo band gets short shrift: that crew, which included guitarist Robbie Blunt, Paul Martinez on bass, Jezz Woodroffe on keyboards and -- making time between Genesis and his budding solo career -- Phil Collins on drums. Of course, at the time, they were being compared to Led Zeppelin, which was just unfair. They had their own sound and put out a lot of great music, including this jam.
An incredible song that, for some reason, was left off of ‘Pictures at Eleven.’ For years, it was available only as a B-side, until it was released on the soundtrack of the 1985 film ‘White Nights.’ This song seems to imagine what Dire Straits would sound like with a more exciting singer and a more exciting drummer (Phil Collins plays drums here, and he makes his presence known).
The first single from ‘Walking Into Clarksdale,’ this jam saw the quartet of Page, Plant, bassist Charlie Jones and drummer Michael Lee accompanied by some keyboards (programmed to sound like a hurdy gurdy) and electronic beats, in hopes to give the ‘70s legends a ‘90s sound. It worked: it topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, and got them airplay alongside Garbage, the Verve, Smashing Pumpkins, U2 and Foo Fighters.
Coming off of the reissues of the Led Zeppelin catalog, there might have been a temptation to take the tens of millions that surely would have been offered to go on a Zep tour. But instead, Plant showed that he not only aged gracefully, but that he also aged interestingly. Not every solo song of his will hold up to the Zeppelin catalog, but you can never accuse Plant of cruising on fumes. He’s always trying new sounds and he always has something to say. “Rainbow” is nearly as lovely as “Thank You,” and holds up to -- and is better than -- some of the songs on the last two Zep LPs.
Whoever had the idea to re-record an album track from Jimmy Page and Robert Plant’s ‘Walking Into Clarksdale’ for ‘Raising Sand’ deserves a lot of credit. Of all the songs in Plant’s back catalog to revisit, this wasn’t an obvious one. And yet, it worked so well, easily topping the original. This won Record Of The Year at the Grammys in 2009, and propelled ‘Raising Sand’ to win Album of the Year. It was a good Page/Plant song, but it’s the definitive Plant/Krauss song.
This was a crucial song for Plant in the early days of his solo career. He wanted to be seen outside of the shadow of Led Zeppelin, and songs like this, which sounded nothing like his former band, helped him to get there. This song was his first solo top 40 hit, reaching #20. In 2004, bass player Viktor Krauss covered the song for his ‘Far From Enough’ album. You may not have heard of him… but the guest vocalist on the song was his sister, Alison, who would go on to record with Plant three years later. Weirdly, Plant and Krauss didn’t perform this song on their tour, but they did play “In The Mood.”
The first song and lead single from Plant’s solo debut. It did really well at radio, hitting #3 on the rock radio charts… and it gave the format new music from a former Zep member for the first time since the band broke up. Like most of the first two albums, the song featured Phil Collins on drums, but that wasn’t Phil’s most important role in the song (although his drumming is excellent). Without him, the song, and the album, may not have seen the light of day. According to the book ‘Robert Plant: A Life,’ Plant’s record label didn't want ‘Pictures at Eleven’ released, nor did Plant's manager, Peter Grant, who had also managed Zeppelin. As powerful as the new music was, everyone who made money off of Plant clearly wanted something that sounded more like his former band. Plant felt that Grant was trying to damage his solo career so that he’d get back with Jimmy Page. Collins, already in the midst of splitting his time between Genesis and his solo projects, helped convince the singer to stick to his guns and release the album. And *that* might be why Jimmy Page seemed so eager to blame the awful Zeppelin reunion set at Live Aid on Collins’ drumming. He may have just had an ax to grind (no pun intended).