It was 35 years ago this week — on leap year, February 29th, 1988 — that Robert Plant released his fourth solo album, Now And Zen. The album, which was a massive hit for the Led Zeppelin frontman, peaked at Number Six on the Billboard 200, featured a trio of MTV hits — including “Heaven Knows,” “Tall Cool One” — both of which, featured guitar by Jimmy Page — and the ballad “Ship Of Fools.”
The album showed Plant making peace with his Zeppelin past — not only with the inclusion of Page on the singles, but with “Tall Cool One” sampling liberally from several Zeppelin classics — along with Plant singing lines from “When The Levee Breaks.” On May 14th, 1988 Plant, after performing a solo set, reunited with Led Zeppelin Atlantic Records’ 40th Anniversary Concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Robert Plant’s 1988 tour behind Now And Zen was his first to feature multiple dips into the Zeppelin catalogue. He recalled at the time that he had already established a career away from the band, which allowed him to periodically sing the old favorites without being defined by them: “What I’m going to do on the road, is I’m going to play Led Zeppelin songs occasionally, when I feel like it. I’m gonna try and avoid being one of those, kind of, cabaret artists that has to rely upon a big back catalogue. I think I’ve distanced myself enough from Led Zeppelin now to bear to actually play Led Zeppelin songs without feeling too bad about it.”
Robert Plant explained that by moving forward and experimenting with his music he was staying truer to Led Zeppelin’s ideal than just becoming a nostalgia act: “You have to be creative and imaginative and move on. And I think the great essence of Led Zeppelin is the creativity and imagination that developed with each project. And a project is a project. It’s not just going back and visiting the past. It’s moving forward. I don’t see ups being a stadium act or whatever it is, going ’round and ’round, makin’ everybody feel great playin’ the hits.”
Now And Zen’s lead single “Heaven Knows” scored Robert Plant a Number One hit on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart.
Its followup, “Tall Cool One,” went on to hit Number One on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.
The album’s third single, “Ship Of Fools” topped out at Number Three on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.