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Music

The Led Zeppelin song Robert Plant wrote about “groupie culture”

Robert Plant joined Led Zeppelin just as they sprung from the ashes of The Yardbirds. The 20-year-old singer had been the frontman of his West Bromwich-based group Band of Joy when he was approached by guitarist Jimmy Page who was in search of a new vocalist for his new incarnation of The Yardbirds.

As Plant remembered of their first encounter: “I was appearing at this college when [manager Peter Grant] and Jimmy turned up and asked me if I’d like to join the Yardbirds. I knew the Yardbirds had done a lot of work in America – which to me meant audiences who would want to know what I might have to offer – so naturally, I was very interested.”

Plant sang Jefferson Airplane’s song ‘Somebody To Love’ to Page. Page later recalled the moment: “When I auditioned him and heard him sing, I immediately thought there must be something wrong with him personality-wise or that he had to be impossible to work with, because I just could not understand why, after he told me he’d been singing for a few years already, he hadn’t become a big name yet. So I had him down to my place for a little while, just to sort of check him out, and we got along great. No problems.”

As they embarked on their career under the new name Led Zeppelin, the group rapidly gained popularity as a heavier alternative to the popular prog-rock that had begun to emerge toward the end of the 1960s. When young rock stars rise to fame so quickly, the lifestyle can throw up some interesting concepts to adapt to. When Led Zepellin entered the US in the late 1960s, they became entrenched in the American lifestyle of excess and began to enjoy some of the joys of the LA highlife.

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By the early 1970s, the group had grown fond of life on the other side of the Atlantic. “L.A. was L.A.,” Plant told Rolling Stone in 1975. “There was good fun to be had. In those days, there were more people to have good fun with than there are now.” The band began to encounter the weird world of groupies, who would follow them around and worship them like messiahs. 

In ‘Sick Again’, the final track of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 album Physical Graffiti, Plant addressed his experiences with groupies in LA. “From the window of a rented limousine, I caught your pretty blue eyes,” Plant sings in the opening lines. “One day soon, you’re gonna reach 16”. The lyrics set the scene of the group turning up at a venue, perhaps for a performance, and already, from the car, he has spotted a very young groupie eying them up. Plant seems to reveal that he is all too familiar with the underage female attention that the rock groups of the ‘60s and ‘70s would be swarmed by in LA. The lyrics continue on a later verse: “Said you dug me since you were thirteen. / Then you giggle as you heave a sigh. […] You know I’m the one you want, baby”.

In a 1975 interview with Rolling Stone, Plant discussed ‘Sick Again’. He explained that the “LA infested with jaded 12-year-olds is not the LA that I really dug,” he said. “The words show I feel a bit sorry for them: ‘Through the circus of the LA queen / How fast you learn the downhill slide.’” It is no secret that Led Zeppelin had their encounters with groupies in their time, but Plant documented in ‘Sick Again’ how the scene was taking a turn for the worse by the mid-1970s.

Plant continued to mention how he saw the groupie scene become darker over time. “One minute [a girl’s] 12 and the next minute she’s 13 and over the top,” he explained. “Such a shame. They haven’t got the style that they had in the old days.” It appears that Plant had begun to see the groupies in America become younger and younger; with this, it seems that many of the rock stars’ standards and morals began to decay over time too. 

Listen to the 1975 Led Zeppelin classic ‘Sick Again’ below.