How Robert Plant Left Led Zeppelin Behind on ‘Pictures at Eleven’
Robert Plant stepped out of the imposing shadow of Led Zeppelin with the June 28, 1982 release of Pictures at Eleven, establishing a new musical identity for himself.
Plant wasn't positive he was up for the task. "I thought, maybe I should just quit now," he told NPR, because "nothing could be like that – but on the other hand, the great challenge was: What's it going to be like?"
The LP was released not even two years after the sudden death of John Bonham ended Led Zeppelin's time together. In his place, Plant assembled a band featuring Genesis's Phil Collins on drums for all but two tracks, which instead featured former Rainbow drummer Cozy Powell.
Relatively unknown Robbie Blunt was chosen to step into the big shoes of legendary Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page – in the public's eye, at least. Plant insisted he had no intention of picking up where his former group left off.
In fact, Plant's biggest fear wasn't tied to the LP's commercial fortunes, but that it would sound too much like his former group. "Pictures at Eleven is a lot smoother and a lot more kind of sophisticated if you like," he told Steven Rosen of Ultimate Guitar. "The qualities of Led Zeppelin can never be touched, never be matched; never be equaled ... and it cannot be anymore."
Pictures at Eleven trades Zeppelin's thunder for a far more polished sound. Plant doesn't waste time on a big dramatic introduction, instead opening with the straight-ahead, almost understated riff of "Burning Down One Side." The deep bass line that enters after the first verse is a welcome sign that Plant was at least partially responsible for – and still in command of – the creativity and inventiveness that marked much of Led Zeppelin's best work.
Watch Robert Plant's 'Burning Down One Side' Video
Other highlights include the beautiful, Spanish-tinged ballad "Moonlight in Samosa" and the appropriately titled slow-burner "Like I've Never Been Gone." Some of the dynamics and musical themes of his former group's later days come through in songs like "Pledge Pin" and especially on the epic "Slow Dancer."
The latter track features an arrangement and strings reminiscent of Page's work on Led Zeppelin's classic "Kashmir." Near the end of the song, Plant silences any concerns over whether he's still got the chops and charisma necessary to command attention with a simple "Ah-ah-ah" refrain.
Still, Plant's voice is by far the most familiar part of Pictures at Eleven, with its extremely '80s-sounding production, the songwriting and guitar playing contributions of Blunt, and Collins' clean, precise drum style. This new sonic palette may have been slightly disorienting to longtime Zeppelin fans, but they seemed willing to follow along – or were at least eager for any new music from one of their heroes.
Pictures at Eleven debuted in the Top 10 and successfully launched a solo career that would last decades. Plant would further solidify these exploratory methods with his next album, 1983's Principle of Moments, which featured the hit single "Big Log" and the classic "In the Mood."
Plant's former bandmate and songwriting partner Page was also supportive of his friend's solo efforts. "Jimmy was proud of me and pleased for me," Plant told Ultimate Guitar. "It was very emotional between the two of us — always will be."
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