40 Years Ago: Robert Plant Scores His First Top 40 Solo Hit
Robert Plant knew that he would have to prove himself after Led Zeppelin. Despite being one of the world's most famous frontmen, Plant also knew that prior success was not always going to keep him afloat.
"This is different. I'm out on my own now," he said in 1982, just months after he released his solo debut, Pictures at Eleven. "I could tell people were saying behind my back: 'That's it, he's finished, he's not going to come up with the goods at all.' ... But I knew what was happening. It was just getting better and better."
Pictures at Eleven was not unsuccessful, but there was more work to be done. Determined to carve out a path for himself, Plant quickly returned to sessions for his next album, The Principle of Moments.
"I'm prepared to work, I'm prepared to go out and I'm prepared to stand up and be counted," he continued. "To me, everything is easy unless you make it difficult. And what's the point of being difficult when music's supposed to be a medium of expression and contact?"
The Principle of New Music
Several musicians who had contributed to Pictures at Eleven returned for the follow up: Jezz Woodroffe on keys and synthesizer, Robbie Blunt on guitar and Phil Collins on drums.
"I was desperately trying in '81, '82, '83 to write songs and move away from [a] previous musical place, and to get the story right," Plant said in a 2019 episode of his Digging Deep podcast.
Plant, Woodroffe and Blunt were in Rockfield Studios in Wales one day, the same studio where they recorded Pictures at Eleven, when the groove of "Big Log" came to them. But even with one solo album under his belt, Plant still felt slightly out of his element.
"It was very interesting because it was the first time ever I'd been away from the kind of crash of Zeppelin," Plant explained, "and I really didn't realize just how much patience and concentration you really need in a studio, to get people to perform, give you something really, really important."
Learning to Love the Drum Machine
"Big Log" was one of only two tracks on The Principle of Moments that did not feature Collins. Instead, Plant wanted something to "soften it up" a bit, which led him to the Roland TR-808 drum machine.
It took a moment to figure out the best way to incorporate the machine, and at first Plant was not impressed. "I thought, 'This is so shite, this sound,'" he said on Digging Deep. He learned, however, that he could eventually get the sound he wanted – "if you play the right way with it."
The results were very much in keeping with the records he was listening to back then. "I was into [British label] 4AD and the stuff that was going on with Jesus and Mary Chain and all that," Plant said. "There was just loads and loads of music that I was interested in — that kind of, almost darkened shadow of the music of that time."
"Big Log" arrived in July 1983 as the first single from The Principle of Moments, and wound up as Plant's first solo Top 40 hit, reaching No. 20 on the Hot 100 and No. 11 on the U.K. charts.
Watch Robert Plant's 'Big Log' Video
Big Log Down the Line
Years later, "Big Log" would serve another purpose: It was a connecting link between Plant and Alison Krauss, with whom he would form a steady collaborative relationship. Krauss and her brother Viktor covered the song on his 2004 album, Far From Enough.
"Alison's bluegrass world is tantalizing and really beautiful," Plant told Variety, "but when I heard her singing 'Big Log,' I was so flattered."
To Plant's surprise, Krauss said she and her brother "loved when that song came out on MTV. We thought it was the most incredible thing."
Plant "couldn't believe that anybody could take my [solo] songwriting seriously, so I was just amazed. I used to play [the cover version] over and over again, saying, 'Look, people know me out there.' The fact that a luminary like Alison would be singing a song about my torrid love affairs."
"Big Log," then, helped solidify Plant as an individual artist, one who could influence the charts, and it also proved to himself that composing his own material wasn't as daunting of an obstacle as he might have once thought. "'Big Log' was born," Plant concluded on Digging Deep, "and it seemed like falling off a log really."
Listen to Viktor and Alison Krauss' Cover of 'Big Log'
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