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(Credit: Man Alive)

Music

Robert Plant’s favourite Joni Mitchell song is an ode to an American aviation pioneer

@SamWKemp

Robert Plant, as many others were at the time, was utterly smitten with Joni Mitchell — and who can blame him. To this day, the legacy of Mitchell’s unflinching and perenially inventive discography continues to loom over the landscape of modern pop. Mitski, Lana Del Rey, St.Vincent and countless other contemporary artists owe a huge debt to Mitchell. Her refusal to be pigeonholed by her male contemporaries saw her create a new model of female musicianship, one no longer restrained by male ideals. At the same time, she was writing some of the most nuanced songs of the countercultural era, the depth and complexity of which has allowed them to retain their relevance so many decades later.

For Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, Mitchell is the archetypal singer of the 1960s and ’70s, as he once said of her 1976 song ‘Amelia’: “What a song. Joni Mitchell, if you like, the queen of all that beautiful music that was written around that time for the late ’60s. Her catalogue – it’s incredible, and her concerts were really beautiful, incredibly moving. The whole Laurel Canyon music scene up there in Sunset Boulevard was something really special”.

By 1976, Joni Mitchell was no longer the young hippie who wrote ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ under a Californian sun. But while her voice had matured and her songwriting had embraced new influences, ‘Amelia’ is still clearly the work of an artist grounded in West Coast folk. “She re-recorded a bunch of songs a few years ago, and the album was called Travelogue,” Plant began. “This song, ‘Amelia’, to me it’s the sound of a mature woman who visits her songs and gives them more brevity and perhaps even more beauty. I can relate to that, because I am a mature singer myself and I’m looking for ways to express that suit my time.”

‘Amelia’, was written while Mitchell was travelling cross-country on her own. As she once noted, there is a sense of restlessness throughout the whole of Travelogue. “The sweet loneliness of solitary travel.” It’s unsurprising, then, that Mitchell found herself pondering the life of that famous female solo traveller: Amelia Earhart, who embarked on the first solo flight across the Pacific in 1932 and was never seen again. “In this song, I was thinking of Amelia Earhart and addressing it from one solo pilot to another, sort of reflecting on the cost of being a woman and having something you must do,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1996.

Mitchell draws a parallel between herself, Earhart, and the figure of Icarus, who flies too close to the sun and melts his wings. “A ghost of aviation / She was swallowed by the sky / Or by the sea like me she had a dream to fly / Like Icarus ascending / On beautiful foolish arms.” I can’t think of another song that so perfectly encapsulates the inner life of Joni Mitchell.

Make sure you take a listen below.

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