Sunday, March 7, 2021

Someone Told Me There's a Girl Out There - Zeppelin and Joni

It was with Led Zeppelin 4 that Robert Plant came into his own as the band's mystical lyricist. Despite the heavy guitar-laden sound, Plant’s lyrics conjured up the country aesthetic of Headley Grange and Bron-Yr-Aur. Like Gentle Giant and Jethro Tull, the images are distinctly British. Except, of course, for "Going to California."

From it, the line "The Mountains and the canyons start to tremble and shake, the children of the sun begin to awake" alludes to the artistic enclave of Laurel Canyon, embodied in the late 60s by Joni and David Crosby, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, Jackson Browne, and Jim Morrison. Here, the first-person narrator makes a new start for himself and abandons "a woman unkind." The line "Someone told me there’s a girl out there with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair" evokes Joni Mitchell, of course, who inhabited a key role on the Californian avant-garde musical scene as a musician and a symbol of L.A. counterculture. "To find a queen without a king, they say she plays guitar, cries, and sings" is surely an allusion to "I Had a King," the first song on Mitchell's debut album (Song to a Seagull, 1968). 

Plant was smitten by the Laurel Canyon scene, a fascination that was not really reciprocated. "The people who lived in Laurel Canyon avoided us," explained the Led Zeppelin singer. "They kept clear because we were in the tackiest part of the Sunset Strip with tacky people like Kim Fowley and the GTOs." Of course, Fowley and Zappa and the GTO’s were equally a part of the scene, simply the underbelly of its pastoral side.

Oddly, though, it was in the tranquility of southern England 6000 miles away from Hollywood that Plant gave the song its shape during an evening in front of the fire. The track's mood is bucolic, pastoral, and British, how odd for a song about California, and Plant's performance is delicate and intimate.

In the middle section (from about 1:41), the key changes from major to minor, hooking the listener all the more effectively. He then resumes his more soothing tone in the following verse. It's a Zeppelin trick in the bag, one unique to the band and reveals itself in songs as diverse as "Stairway" and the beautiful "The Rain Song."

Plant gave an interview to Rolling Stone journalist Cameron Crowe in 1975. In it, Crowe asked Page about his feelings about "Stairway to Heaven." Plant said "Stairway to Heaven" crystallized the band’s essence and that he achieved a certain level of brilliance with the song. 

Page added, "I don’t think there are too many people who are capable of it. Maybe one. Joni Mitchell. That's the music that I play at home all the time, Joni Mitchell. Court and Spark I love because I'd always hoped that she'd work with a band. But the main thing with Joni is that she's able to look at something that's happened to her, draw back and crystallize the whole situation, then write about it. She brings tears to my eyes, what more can I say? It's bloody eerie."

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