“Heaven Knows”: The second act of Led Zeppelin’s leonine lead singer, Robert Plant

By on July 30, 2018

In “Take Off to the Second Coming of Rock ‘n’ Roll” — one of our syndicated episodes of “Night Flight,” this one originally airing in 1992 and now streaming on Night Flight Plus — host Tom Juarez talks about a “second coming” for many of classic rock’s great frontmen who were enjoying the second acts of their long musical careers as solo artists.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald famously jotted down the following note while writing The Last Tycoon: ‘”There are no second acts in American lives.”

When Fitzgerald died prematurely — at age 44 in late 1940 — his friend Edmund Wilson cobbled together enough of the novel so it could be published in 1941.

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We’d like to posit that perhaps Fitzgerald would have re-thought his “second acts” note entirely had he lived long enough to meet some of the famous British rock frontmen who were able to enjoy successful second acts in their careers as solo artists.

We’re talking about classic rock heroes like the BeatlesGeorge Harrison, the Rolling StonesMick Jagger and Led Zeppelin‘s legendary leonine lead singer Robert Plant, whose “Heaven Knows” video here is accompanied by our 1985 Night Flight interview.

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In the late ’80s — after releasing three solo albums that embraced then-current New Wave and Modern Rock influences — Plant underwent another musical metamorphosis with “Heaven Knows,” the first track on Now and Zen, which featured Middle Eastern musicians at the beginning and end of the song.

The accompanying video saw Plant and his new band in Morocco, where he stumbles around like a lion in the desert and visits a foreign bazaar, where he sees the beautiful Dutch model Alice Gee. He eventually follows back to her hotel room, where she wraps him with a red veil.

Much of the video looks like it could be a TV commercial for Royal Air Maroc, Morocco’s national airline, enticing you to visit the mystical North African country.

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The video was directed by the late Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson (he died in 2010).

The Hipgnosis designer, Throbbing Gristle co-founder and Coil keyboardist directed more than forty music videos between 1986-2001, for bands & artists like Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Body Count, Rage Against the Machine, Soft Cell’s Marc Almond, Erasure, Van Halen and many, many others.

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Plant’s “Heaven Knows” single, released on January 18, 1988, ultimately reached #33 on the UK singles chart and #1 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart, his third #1 rock hit following 1983’s “Other Arms” and 1985’s “Little by Little.”

Read more about Robert Plant below.

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Plant’s Now and Zen album — released on February 29, 1988 — was the result of a conscious set of backward moves to recapture some of the mystical magick of Led Zeppelin, something he’d avoided doing for most of his solo career, up to that point.

He also reunited with Zeppelin’s lead guitarist Jimmy Page, who plays lead guitar on two of the album’s best tracks, “Heaven Knows,” and Tall Cool One,” the latter track featuring samples of three beloved Zeppelin songs: “Black Dog,” “Dazed and Confused,” and “Whole Lotta Love.”

Plant would end up returning Page’s favor by singing and co-writing a song, “The Only One,” on the guitarist’s then-forthcoming 1988 solo album Outrider.

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Previously, Plant hadn’t felt like traversing the same terrain Zeppelin had dominated during the 1970s.

Besides that, there were bands like the Cult, the Mission UK, and others who were trying to do just that, so why should he backtrack?

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Plant began to change his tune, however, when he heard “Heaven Knows,” a track hugely inspired by Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” which many — including Plant — considered by many to be their magnum opus.

It was written by songwriter/producer/keyboardist Phil Johnstone — who ended up co-producing Now and Zen) — and David Barratt, and demo-tracked by their band, The Rest Is History.

Plant decided to record it for his new album (it’s one of the two songs on Now and Zen for which Plant didn’t receive any songwriting credits).

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Johnstone and Plant would end up co-writing seven of Now and Zen‘s nine tracks, though, including two — “Tall Cool One” and “White, Clean and Neat” — that came together in just one afternoon.

Johnstone was also able to help Plant put together a young band of musicians — including guitarist Doug Boyle and drummer Chris Blackwell — to play the album’s songs live.

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That band, incidentally, would later revisit some Led Zeppelin faves — “Misty Mountain Hop,” “Trampled Underfoot,” “The Wanton Song” and “In the Evening” — on Plant’s Now and Zen tour.

Speaking of Led Zeppelin, on May 15, 1988, Plant, Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham performed five songs at the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary concert (where Plant also performed “Heaven Knows” and other tunes as a solo artist).

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Plant returned to Middle Eastern sounds on later solo albums — including “Nirvana,” from Manic Nirvana, and “Calling to You,” from Fate of Nations — and collaborated in 1994 with Jimmy Page on No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded, which featured Egyptian percussion by Hossam Ramsy and his group.

Be sure to check out our previous bog posts about our World Music Library: Morocco documentaries by Moroccan-born producer/director Izza Génini, and Night Flight contributor Chris Morris‘s blog post about Brian Jones and the Master Musicians of Jajouka.

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Night Flight’s “Take Off to the Second Coming of Rock ‘n’ Roll” — which also features music videos by George Harrison, Mick Jagger (his incredibly bizarre video for “Let’s Work”), post-’70s Aerosmith, post-Roger Waters Pink Floyd, and Robbie Robertson of the Band — is now streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.