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Best Robert Plant Solo Songs: 20 Essential Post-Led Zeppelin Tracks
List & Guides

Best Robert Plant Solo Songs: 20 Essential Post-Led Zeppelin Tracks

From soft-rock hits to folk balladry, the best Robert Plant solo songs reveal what happened when the Led Zeppelin frontman started over.

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Moving on from his journey as Led Zeppelin’s wild-haired talisman, Robert Plant began his solo career with one clear goal in mind: to find a new sound that he could call his own. Always keen to apply his saintly tones to something different, Plant’s back catalogue is rich, diverse and colourful, soundtracking a life as seen through the eyes of a rock’n’roll mystic. From dabbling in 80s synth-pop to experimenting with world music and breathing new life into folk classics, the best Robert Plant solo songs reveal a fearless entertainer with a musically adventurous spirit.

20: The May Queen (from ‘Carry Fire’, 2017)

Celebrating the wonder of nature, The May Queen is the dreamy and acoustic-led opener from Robert Plant’s 11th album, Carry Fire. Unwittingly recalling a lyric from Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven (“It’s just a spring clean for the May queen”), this 2017 single found Plant reflecting on how life was opening up with the coming of springtime, bringing hope and promise for the year ahead.

“There were no spring cleans or anything,” Plant admitted in an interview with BBC 6 Music, but, he added, “the beginning of the year is such a great time, such an optimistic, great time, even for older people”. With glorious swells of viola and fiddle provided by folk musician Seth Lakeman, and instrumental backing from Plant’s long-serving band, The Sensational Space Shifters, The May Queen perfectly captures the magic of the changing season.

19: Angel Dance (from ‘Band Of Joy’, 2010)

Reviving the name of the group he fronted in the 60s before joining Led Zeppelin, Plant’s ninth album, 2010’s Band Of Joy, saw the singer dazzle us with dozens of rootsy cover versions. A key highlight was a version of a 1990 track by Los Lobos, Angel Dance – a rolling folk-rock take on a Latin-rock curio which finds its home among the best Robert Plant solo songs.

“Los Lobos play with such great, cool, Hispanic polyrhythms,” Plant told Mojo. “I kept thinking this song is like a nursery rhyme, but the compulsion of the rhythm seems like it could be a reflection of the way these people deal with their forefathers.” As a gesture of goodwill, Plant even invited the original songwriters, David Hidalgo and Louie Perez, to appear in the video for the single.

18: Rainbow (from ‘Lullaby And… The Ceaseless Roar’, 2014)

Imbued with Robert Plant’s haunting falsetto, the rippling psychedelic hue of Rainbow, the sole single from his tenth album, Lullaby And… The Ceaseless Roar, is a Technicolor journey into the unknown (“I crossed the Seven Seas to you”). As one of the best Robert Plant solo songs of the 2010s, it also pointed the way to a new pot of gold for the singer.

Having had form in referencing Lord Of The Rings author JRR Tolkien in many of his Led Zeppelin lyrics, it’s no secret that Robert Plant was a keen reader of fantasy literature. A slightly more obscure literary reference found its way into Rainbow: Plant gave a nod to the 19th-century Victorian writer William Morris, author of The Wood Beyond The World (arguably the first modern fantasy novel), by including a lyrical reference to Morris’s poem Love Is Enough.

17: Please Read The Letter (from ‘Raising Sand’, 2008)

When Robert Plant joined forces with bluegrass belle Alison Krauss for Raising Sand in late 2007, it was a revelation to hear the iconic duo tackle Americana with such fervour. Producer T Bone Burnett had drawn up a list of idyllic cover versions for the pair to record, one of which was Please Send The Letter – a song Plant had written ten years earlier with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page for their 1998 album, Walking Into Clarksdale.

“I think he was into Jimmy’s guitar because T Bone is a guitarist and Pagey has a sort of international exotica, he can go into those dark places,” Plant remembered. “It’s a song that hadn’t reached its true potential before. Now it’s become something else.” The delightful, mellow ballad went on to win Record Of The Year at the 2009 Grammys.

16: Morning Dew (from ‘Dreamland’, 2002)

Proving Robert Plant’s innate ability to reinterpret other artists’ songs and make them his own, Morning Dew was a longtime favourite of the singer’s for many years. Originally released by folk singer-songwriter Tim Rose in 1962, Plant finally recorded his own version for this 2002 album, Dreamland, teasing the best out of lyrics that evoked all the anguish and despair of a man and woman who are the last survivors of a nuclear apocalypse.

Upon the single’s release, Plant received a visit from Canadian folk artist Bonnie Dobson, who told him she had originally written the song but hadn’t received a songwriting credit. “I helped her and made a bit of a fuss, and she was able to regain her position as the writer of Morning Dew,” Plant revealed during an episode of his Digging Deep podcast.

15: If I Were A Carpenter (from ‘Fate Of Nations’, 1993)

Lifted from his album Fate Of Nations, Robert Plant’s lilting cover of Tim Hardin’s If I Were A Carpenter peaked at No.63 in the UK back in 1993. With stirring string arrangements from Lynton Naiff, Plant’s rendition sees him make yet another graceful foray into folk balladry, reintroducing Hardin’s classic composition to modern-day listeners.

Ostensibly a romantic song asking a woman if she would love him if he were just a carpenter, the melancholic mandolin fingerpicking from Maartin Allcock underscores the song’s biblical subtext by inferring the humility of Jesus Christ. Spiritually much deeper than its lyrics first suggest, If I Were A Carpenter is nothing short of majestic. Not only claiming its place among the best Robert Plant solo songs, it also remains a regular feature in the singer’s live setlists to this day.

14: Darkness, Darkness (from ‘Dreamland’, 2002)

Softly-sung and grief-stricken, Robert Plant’s cover of The Youngblood’s 1969 single Darkness, Darkness saw him take a song originally sung by Jesse Colin Young and transform it into a slow-burning folk-rocker. “I wanted to go back and visit the whole mood,” Plant later explained. “Jesse Colin Young’s voice and many of his songs were not only anthems for us, in the late 60s, but they also still carried brevity and weight.”

With understated keys provided by bandmate John Baggott, from Plant’s then group Strange Sensation, the singer’s vocals emerge like a ghost from the slough of despondency (“I have felt the edge of sadness/I have known the depths of fear”) before the song erupts into a wiry guitar solo from former Cure guitarist Pearl Thompson. Released as the trailer single for Robert Plant’s 2002 album, Dreamland, it reached No.27 on the US Mainstream Rock Chart.

13: Tall Cool One (from ‘Now And Zen’, 1988)

Described by Plant himself as “a little bit somewhere between Iggy Pop and Talking Heads”, Tall Cool One was a successful MTV hit that peaked at No.25 in the US. Inspired by a riff from Johnny Burnette And The Rock’n’Roll Trio and given a bombastic 80s-production, the song provided Plant and co-producer Phil Johnstone with the opportunity to go full-on camp-rock.

Taking inspiration from Beastie Boys’ use of John Bonham drum loops on Licensed To Ill, Tall Cool One also dabbled in samples itself by including snippets of Led Zeppelin songs, while Plant even invited Jimmy Page to play a simmering guitar solo on the track. It “seemed a bit of a hoot” the singer later reflected on what is one of the more unusual contenders among the best Robert Plant solo songs.

12: Calling To You (from ‘Fate Of Nations’, 1993)

Robert Plant’s 1993 album, Fate Of Nations, has been acknowledged as “a big turning point” for the singer, with Calling To You’s Moroccan-flavoured riff signalling his return to hard-rock territory. Going on to peak at No.3 on the US Mainstream Rock Songs chart, producer Chris Hughes brought the best out of the song by giving it a raucously exotic feel.

“I wanted there to be a kind of shimmering, discordant drone on the tonic of the key of that song,” Plant said, inviting violinist Nigel Kennedy to help turn Calling To You into a work of billowing majesty. A political comment on avarice, it’s a rousing rocker that remains one of the best Robert Plant solo songs. “Its lyrical thread is concentrating on greed and the whole deal of how we are all fully aware of the gross personality of man,” Robert Plant told his Digging Deep audience.

11: Little By Little (from ‘Shaken’n’Stirred’, 1985)

When Plant embarked on his solo career in the early 80s, he was still grieving the death of his five-year-old son, Karac, from a virus in 1977, and the demise of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham in 1980. Unsurprisingly, his music addressed these twin traumas.

Released as a single in 1985, Little By Little was a ponderous slice of pop-rock that speaks of coming to terms with grief and overcoming sorrow (“Back at the mirror/Your good friend/Talk to the mirror/Play out the game”). Written with keyboardist Gerald “Jezz” Woodroffe, its upbeat 80s rhythm masks the beating heart of those in mourning, going on to peak at No.36 on the US Hot 100 and topping the US Mainstream Rock Chart.

10: Heaven Knows (from ‘Now And Zen’, 1988)

Soon after hearing songwriter David Barrett’s demo of Heaven Knows, Robert Plant chose to release it as the lead single from his 1988 album, Now And Zen. Topping the US Mainstream Rock Chart, it’s a sleek and catchy pop-rock satire on 80s machismo, mocking the oiled muscle-men dominating the Hollywood film industry at the time, such as Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger (“You were pumping iron whereas I was pumping irony”).

Mischievously lambasting short attention spans and deriding the superficiality of the decade, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page popped up to play a transcendent guitar solo which rightly elevates Heaven Knows to its place among the best Robert Plant solo songs. “People rushed out to buy that,” drummer Chris Blackwell remembered.

9: Shine It All Around (from ‘Mighty ReArranger’, 2005)

Much inspired by the sunshine-pop genre that sprung up from California’s hippie scene during the 60s, Robert Plant set out to record his own winsome summer rock tune with Shine It All Around. Sonically, however, Plant’s work with trip-hop pioneers such as Massive Attack’s John Baggott and Portishead’s Clive Dreamer lent the song a more contemporary edge. “I’d say that’s one of the most structured pieces,” Plant said of the Mighty ReArranger album’s material. “I think we even tried to get it on the radio.”

As the first single released from the record, Shine It All Around peaked at No.32 in the UK and won a Grammy for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance. With Plant’s epic vocals rivalling the exultant heights he reached with Led Zeppelin, Justin Adams’ exhilarating guitar riff easily marks the tune out as one of the best Robert Plant solo songs.

8: I Believe (from ‘Fate Of Nations’, 1993)

As with Led Zeppelin’s 1979 song All My Love, from the In Through The Out Door album, Robert Plant’s 1993 single I Believe sees the singer coming to terms with the loss of his son. “Every now and again, he turns up in songs, for no other reason than I miss him a lot,” Plant said. A jangly guitar ballad, I Believe sets an uplifting melody against lyrics evoking elemental imagery to convey a sense of mourning, Plant consoling himself with an afterlife where his son resides “in the sky”.

Reaching No.9 on the US Mainstream Rock Chart and No.64 in the UK, I Believe is the most heart-rending moment in Plant’s post-Led Zeppelin work, depicting parents stricken with grief at the death of a young child (“Tears from your mother, from the pits of her soul/Look at your father, see his blood run cold”).

7: Burning Down One Side (from ‘Pictures At Eleven’, 1982)

Robert Plant’s debut single after leaving Led Zeppelin was a commercial disappointment, peaking at No.73 in the UK and No.63 in the US. Four decades later, however, Burning Down One Side deserves to be reappraised as one of the best Robert Plant solo songs. Featuring Phil Collins on drums and boasting a strutting Keith Richards-esque riff from guitarist Robbie Blunt, it’s a confident rock’n’roller exhibiting the best of Plant’s vocal talents. The lyrics, recounting the singer’s lack of success at winning back the woman he loves, may lack the depth of some of Plant’s other work, but the song holds up as a hidden soft-rock gem amid the treasure trove of his back catalogue.

6: Tie Dye On The Highway (from ‘Manic Nirvana’, 1990)

Starting with his fifth album, Manic Nirvana, Robert Plant began to grow more comfortable with his reputation as a hard-rock legend. “I spent some time in my career getting a little soft and a little gentle,” the singer said in a 1990 interview. “What I’d like to do is stop confusing the matter and get down to straight, hard – but at the same time – humorous music.”

His 1990 single Tie Dye On The Highway fit the bill perfectly and remains a rollicking live favourite with its blasts of bluesy harmonica and dance-inspired rhythms. Reaching No.6 on the US Mainstream Rock Chart, its Led Zeppelin-esque strut proved the golden god of rock’n’roll still hadn’t lost his shine. “Vocally, I’ve certainly recreated some of the golden days, if you like – but it’s by chance, not by design,” Plant asserted.

5: In The Mood (from ‘The Principle Of Moments’, 1983)

Weathering the sonic changes of the new wave era, Robert Plant’s 1983 single In The Mood saw him dabble in synth-pop with a repetitive vocal hook that ended up peaking at No.39 in the US and No.4 on the US Mainstream Rock Chart. Taken from the singer’s second solo album, The Principle Of Moments, Robbie Blunt’s crystalline guitar work lent the song an almost ambient air, all set to a solid beat from Phil Collins.

To the present day, In The Mood is often played during Plant’s live concerts, suggesting it’s a personal favourite – it remains a diamond-like earworm containing one of guitarist Blunt’s most sparkling guitar solos. With vocals showing a glint of his Led Zeppelin heyday and moving to a minimalist, sashaying rhythm, In The Mood glides into its spot among the best Robert Plant solo songs.

4: 29 Palms (from ‘Fate Of Nations’, 1993)

Ostensibly about a failed love affair, there is some uncertainty surrounding the wistful 29 Palms. Some critics have speculated over whether the lyrics were inspired by a relationship with Black Velvet singer Alannah Myles (“Her velvet glove/Knocks me down and down and down and down”). Plant, however, has neither confirmed nor denied this. “Forget about all the rumours,” he said. “Everything is true and untrue.”

Nevertheless, reaching No.21 in the UK, 29 Palms became one of the singer’s most successful chart hits in his homeland, and stands tall among the best Robert Plant solo songs. The song takes its name from a Californian town on the edge of Joshua Tree, home to many artistic free spirits and bohemian-minded mavericks. “It’s a crazy place,” Plant said. “The story is about a romance that kicked off and ended there.”

3: Hurting Kind (I’ve Got My Eyes On You) (from ‘Manic Nirvana’, 1990)

The lead single from Robert Plant’s 1990 album, Manic Nirvana, was a no-holds-barred, hard-rock powerhouse. Hurting Kind (I’ve Got My Eyes on You) became the singer’s fifth chart-topper on the US Mainstream Rock Charts, speeding its way onto early-90s FM radio thanks to Doug Boyle’s jacked-up guitar riffs and a fuel injection from Chris Blackwell’s drum groove.

In an effort to reassert his place in the rock pantheon, Robert Plant summoned the spirit of Led Zeppelin for his vocals, thundering along like a souped-up Aston Martin and even embracing a singalong chorus that wouldn’t be out of place on a Mötley Crüe record. Deserving to be a bigger hit than it was at the time, Hurting Kind (I’ve Got My Eyes on You) proves Plant could still electrify listeners with the power of rock’n’roll.

2: Ship Of Fools (from ‘Now And Zen’, 1988)

A splendidly vivid five-minute soft-rock ballad, Ship Of Fools sweeps you up in a riptide from start to finish. As if blown out to sea by the wind, Doug Boyle’s beautifully melancholic riffs and Robert Plant’s tender vocals drift along to an extended metaphor about the aimlessness of a broken-hearted lover (“Turn this boat around – back to my loving ground”).

Released as a single in 1988, it reached no higher than No.76 in the UK and No.84 in the US, but Ship Of Fools still rides high among the best Robert Plant solo songs, thanks in no small part to its sweeping atmospherics and Doug Boyle’s poignant Stratocaster solo. By envisioning a lovelorn Robert Plant as a wayward sailor stranded in uncharted waters with a crew that doesn’t care, it only made listeners love him all the more. No live setlist would be complete with it.

1: Big Log (from ‘The Principle Of Moments’, 1983)

It’s easy to see why Robert Plant’s 1983 single Big Log became his biggest hit. Starkly different from his work with Led Zeppelin, and more attuned with the 80s production values of The Police, it saw the singer steer himself in a new musical direction. “I really wanted to know whether or not we can make a big sound that sounds big,” Plant explained in his Digging Deep podcast, “without it being really, really heavy and tough.”

Written at folk musician Roy Harper’s home, Big Log was backed with a Roland TR-808 drum machine and a beautifully eloquent riff from Robbie Blunt. With Robert Plant singing evocative lyrics equating lost loves and broken hearts with distance travelled, Big Log peaked at No.11 in the UK and No.20 in the US, and still holds up as a timeless soft-rock classic that tops our list of the best Robert Plant solo songs.

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