Jimmy Page isn’t your archetypal Joni Mitchell fan, yet he worships the ground she walks on. For Page, Mitchell is one of the very few artists with the ability to operate on a comparable level to Led Zeppelin during a time when the band were at their zenith.
In 1975, Page was reflecting upon ‘Stairway To Heaven’, which he hailed as the apex of the group’s output, which led him down a path of conversation surrounding his contemporaries. Discussing the track, Page said it “crystallised the essence of the band. It had everything there and showed the band at its best … as a band, as a unit”.
When Led Zeppelin put their minds together in order to create ‘Stairway To Heaven’, Page immediately knew that they had inadvertently achieved a level of artistry that would be hard for them to ever replicate again. While the thought process was a complicated one to comprehend, the concerns would rest easy in the belief that track had the steel to last the test of time.
Page, positively brimming with confidence, began to discuss his contemporaries during the same interview, heaping praise on Pete Townshend for his work on The Who’s seminal concept album, Tommy, which he’d categorise alongside Stairway in terms of rock and roll stature.
“I don’t think there are too many people who are capable of it. Maybe one. Joni Mitchell,” Page revealed to Rolling Stone. “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 crystallise the whole situation, then write about it.”
Even though Page praised Court and Spark for the full band sound, a breakthrough that seemingly unlocked a new dimension of Mitchell’s brilliance, his favourite song by the Canadian doesn’t come included on that record. Instead, he selected ‘Both Sides Now’ from her sophomore album, Clouds.
“She brings tears to my eyes, what more can I say? It’s bloody eerie. I can relate so much to what she says,” he said. Page then went on to quote lyrics directly from ‘Both Sides Now’, and added: “‘Now old friends are acting strange, They shake their heads. They say I’ve changed.’ I’d like to know how many of her original friends she’s got.”
He continued: “I’d like to know how many of the original friends any well-known musician has got. You’d be surprised. They think—particularly that thing of change—they all assume that you’ve changed. For the worse. There are very few people I can call real, close friends. They’re very, very precious to me.”
According to Mitchell, the track was inspired by a passage in Saul Bellow’s novel Henderson the Rain King, as she once explained: “I was reading … Henderson the Rain King on a plane and early in the book Henderson … is also up in a plane. He’s on his way to Africa and he looks down and sees these clouds. I put down the book, looked out the window and saw clouds too, and I immediately started writing the song. I had no idea that the song would become as popular as it did.”
Although Jimmy Page’s musical instincts are traditionally in the field of the blues, the grandeur of Joni Mitchell’s lyrics made her an exception to the rule in his record collection, and ‘Both Sides Now’ epitomises her God-given gift.