10 Best Robert Plant Songs
The best Robert Plant songs feature a blend of youthful exploration and aged wisdom that make it easy to see how naturally he pulled off the very impressive feat of escaping his former band Led Zeppelin‘s shadow. On the occasion of his birthday (Aug. 20, 1948), we attempt to honor the singer with a look at not necessarily the most popular, but rather the more unique and artistically representative songs of his illustrious solo career.
Obviously, with the size and diverse nature of his recorded work, this list could look completely different if we started over from scratch tomorrow. We hope you enjoy, if not fully agree with, our list of the 10 Best Robert Plant Songs:
‘Tie Dye on the Highway’
Throughout his career, one of the things that makes the best Robert Plant songs so unique is how easily he toggles back and forth between rock god and hippie-dippie modes. On this track, he blends his two sides in a particularly effective manner, confidently riding atop a wave of surging guitars and soaring on the dreamy chorus. Lyrically, ‘Highway’ finds him fondly looking back on the Woodstock era: “Say you will come back with me…”
Big tribal drums way up front in the mix, swirling strings, dramatic sweeps of acoustic guitar — ‘Another Tribe’ could be almost be considered the older brother of ‘Four Sticks.’ (We’re NOT saying they’re equals, let’s be clear!) Of course the difference is that Plant continues to explore more subtle singing styles, as he’s done in recent years, instead of wailing away like a banshee. This mature, refined approach helps give this song a more contemplative, melancholy point of view.
‘Sea of Love’
Four years after the end of Led Zeppelin, Plant re-united temporarily with his former Zeppelin bandmate Jimmy Page to record an EP of R&B-leaning ’50’s standards. The lush strings and crooning vocals of ‘Sea of Love’ are a big switch-up from their previous work together, but Plant’s enthusiasm and good taste, not to mention Page’s gloriously ragged solo, make it all seem like the most natural fit in the world.
Even after all these years, Robert Plant continues to push himself into new musical territories with youthful enthusiasm. For each of his last three albums, he’s disbanded creative and commercially successful bands in order to pursue whatever new sounds were bouncing through his head. For 2010’s ‘Band of Joy,’ that meant teaming up with Buddy Miller to put a distinctive folk / world-music stamp on a wide variety of his favorite songs, including the stately stomp of this Los Lobos cover.
‘Your Ma Said You Cried in Your Sleep Last Night’
Some typically fearless genre-blending results in one of the most unique, and by our vote, best Robert Plant songs ever, on the largely hard-rocking ‘Manic Nirvana.’ A hip-hop beat played on scratchy vinyl mixes with chiming guitars, throbbing bass and sultry female vocals on this cover of Kenny Dino’s 1961 romantic apology. In a lesser singer’s hands it could all be a mess, but Plant channels his inner Elvis and wraps the whole thing up with a big red bow. No WAY that girl didn’t forgive him.
‘City Don’t Cry’
Fifteen years after their joint explorations of world music in Led Zeppelin ended, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page reunited for an album that found them traveling to exotic places such as Morocco to work with local musicians in creating new songs. One of the most impressive results was this churning yet somehow calming lullaby, which found Plant’s voice mixing fantastically with the chants of his new friends.
‘Song to the Siren’
Time may have stripped some of the high end from Robert Plant’s vocal range; even he admits he couldn’t possibly do certain Zeppelin songs in the same key anymore. Thankfully, rather than attempt some form of singing comb-over, he’s instead dedicated himself to exploring his lower register, as he does to particularly impressive degree on this cinematic, tender cover of Tim Buckley’s gorgeous ocean-bound 1970 ballad.
‘Down to the Sea’
Always exploring, always tasteful, the best Robert Plant songs often find him seeking new musical combinations and some sort of spiritual fulfillment. As an undercurrent of thumping tom-tom drums carries him forward, the singer shares some of what he’s learned on his journey (“Life is a big tambourine / The more that you shake it the better it seems”) while still searching for higher ground: “That’s where I wanna be / Here where it all comes around.”
‘Tall Cool One’
Plant firmly planted one foot each in the musical present and his legendary past on this late ’80s smash, appropriating hip-hop’s sampling methods to bring classic Zeppelin riffs into this insanely fun, pulsing, tongue-in-cheek seduction dance. (Lord knows the Beastie Boys made enough money doing the same thing, right?) He brings Page back to solo amidst all madness, and ends up dueting with his younger self on the classic introductory lines from Led Zeppelin IV’s ‘Black Dog.’
‘In the Mood’
The standout track from Plant’s second solo album proved beyond a doubt that he had found his own voice outside of the huge shadow of Led Zeppelin. It’s also one of the best songs in the world to put on if you’re stuck in a traffic jam and feel your temper slipping. The smooth drums, tranquil rhythms, airy keyboards and icy-clean guitars of ‘In the Mood’ were a world away from his former band’s typical sound. However, the sense of yearning that marked his work within Zeppelin was still clearly present, mixed with the equal doses of confidence and tastefulness that would become the cornerstones of his impressive solo career.