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10 July 2012 5,545 views One Comment

To celebrate Robert Plant’s this week’s London Forum gig, over the next few days it’s Robert Plant week on TBL with daily archive postings. Today we look back to the 2003  Robert Plant compilation set Sixty Six To Timbuktu.


Given his vast achievements within Led Zeppelin, it’s easy to forget that Robert Plant has enjoyed a solo career that has spanned twice the time he spent in the company of Page and co.
The release of Sixty Six To Timbuktu, a 35 track retrospective 2 CD overview of his entire solo career redresses the balance. As the title suggests, it covers his pre Zep work from with his first record issued in 1966 through to his most recent endeavour – a trip to Timbuktu to participate in the Festival In The Desert event early this year.

The set is neatly split with CD 1 presenting an overview of his post Zeppelin output circa 1983 – 2003 and CD 2 honing in on his pre Zep work alongside various cameos, unreleased tracks, one off projects and rare B sides from the past two decades.

As Plant explains in the extensive self penned sleeve notes this is more than a mere best of. ”Avoiding a best of format which generally relates to chart success was essential and I have tried to mix up ’80’s techno sounds with the more organic pieces which were developed from 1983 onwards”

CD1’s 16 tracks are presented with no regard for chronological sequence. The material covers seven of his solo albums surprisingly ignoring anything from his 1982 debut Pictures At Eleven. 1993’s Fate Of Nations is represented by five selections including the Tim Hardin cover If I Were A Carpenter and the radio hit 29 Palms.

Looking over the credits, one could be forgiven for thinking that Plant’s main forte is as an interpreter of other artists songs – nearly half of the tracks are cover versions of one sort or another . That though would be to undermind the eclectic songwriting creativity that has coloured his post Zep albums. From the West Coast funk riff freakout Tie Dye On The Highway through the techno rockerbilly of Tall Cool One, smooth radio friendly anthems 29 Palms and Big Log to hard edged Zeppelinesque rockers like Calling To You, Plant has constantly challenged himself and his audience.

By his own admission Plant found the selection process for the album quite difficult – I find it somewhat baffling though that he has ignored his watershed debut set Pictures At Eleven. For me the likes of Pledge Pin and Slow Dancer remain important cornerstones in his quest to revitalise himself after the retirement of Zep.

Those omissions apart, CD1 is a timely and enjoyable romp amongst the compost of Plant’s varied musical tastes. Ship Of Fools remains as good a light and shade ballad as anything he came up with in that cottage in Wales, Promised Land carries the bluesy strut that has always characterised his best work, Heaven Knows recalls his brief foray into verse-chorus pop sensibility while the cover of Phil Phillips and the Twilights 50’s do wop smash Sea Of Love (his biggest US solo single success) recorded for The Honeydrippers album in 1994, confirms Plant’s lasting ability to stamp authority and get right into the core of any given song, seduce it’s melody and make it his own.

Rarities on CD1 are the 1988 Now and Zen outtake Upside Down, an alternate take of I Believe and the incessantly brilliant Dirt In A Hole, recorded with his current band Strange Sensation for the Dreamland album but only included on European pressings.

CD2 is pure Plant collectors gold, presenting 19 rare and hard to find tracks including five previously unreleased.

Initially we find the teenage Plant searching out his style. It begins with his first solo single , a mid 60’s surge through The Young Rascals US garage anthem You Better Run credited to one of his early Midlands based groups Listen. The quaint Our Song a CBS solo single in 1967 finds him miscast as the next Tom Jones crooner but already you can hear him developing that unique bend to his voice. His pre Zep outfit The Band Of Joy extracts – cleaned up demos of Hey Joe and For What It’s Worth are real lost treasures. Prime slices of 60’s Brit psych over which the young Plant demonstrates the scope and variety of his striking vocals which would duly lead to Page signing him up when he saw him a playing similar material at a Birmingham collage a year later.

The cameos and one offs shift from pleasing rockerbilly work outs such as a hot Sun Studios delivery of Charlie Rich’s Philadelphia Baby from the Porky’s Revenge soundtrack, a spontaneous psychotic early 90’s take on the Elvis staple Lets Have A Party, a beautifully sung version of Arthur Alexanders’ country tinged If It’s Really Got To Be That Way, through to a sensitive rendering of Skip Spences’ Little Hands which kick started the retro phrase he undertook after curtailing his reunion with Page in 1999.

Finally Win My Train Fare Home recorded in the Mali desert earlier this year and the Afro Celt Sound System collaboration Life Begins Again, both demonstrate his frequent impressive command of merging east and west musical themes.

This welcome retrospective vividly captures the breadth of styles the singer has undertaken and interpreted over the past 37 years. Be it 60’s beat and psych rock,blues and rockerbilly musings, acoustic folk and exotic ethnic trimmings – he does it all with a vocal conviction that ranges from delicate fragility to full on rock power.

Sixty Six To Timbuktu therefore offers long overdue evidence that for Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin has only been half the story.

Dave Lewis October 12 2003

First written for TBL 17 –Copyright Dave Lewis/Tight But Loose – not to be reproduced without prior permission.

Robert Plant Presents the Sensational Space Shifters at the London Forum this Thursday. TBL pre gig meet The Assembly House pub, 292-294 Kentish Town Road, Kentish Town, London.

More Robert Plant TBL Archive tomorrow. 

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and Facebook (add us as a friend) at!/profile.php?id=161129

Here’s a couple of videos from 1988 and 1990:

Robert Plant – Ship Of Fools

Robert Plant – Nirvana

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One Comment »

  • BillyR said:

    If there was ever any question as to Plant’s supreme ability as a vocalist then “Hey Joe” dipels all doubters – surely the best version of this track ever recorded !!

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