The song's wistful folk-style sound, with Robert Plant on lead vocals, acoustic guitar by Jimmy Page and mandolin by John Paul Jones, contrasts with the heavy electric-amplified rock on four of the album's other tracks. Page's guitar is in double drop D tuning: DADGBD.
The song is reportedly about Canadian singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell, with whom Plant and Page were both infatuated. In live performances of the song, Plant would often say the name "Joni" after this stanza (which is thought to have referenced Mitchell's 1967 composition "I Had a King"):
- To find a queen without a king,
- They say she plays guitar and cries and sings.
In an interview he gave to Spin magazine in 2002, Plant stated that the song "might be a bit embarrassing at times lyrically, but it did sum up a period of my life when I was 22." In a 2007 interview with the same magazine, Plant stated that the song was about "Me reflecting on the first years of the group, when I was only about... 20, and was struggling to find myself in the midst of all the craziness of California and the band and the groupies..."
Going to California
Spent my days with a woman unkind, Smoked my stuff and drank all my wine.
Made up my mind to make a new start, Going To California with an aching in my heart.
Someone told me there's a girl out there with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair.
Took my chances on a big jet plane, never let them tell you that they're all the same.
The sea was red and the sky was grey, wondered how tomorrow could ever follow today.
The mountains and the canyons started to tremble and shake
as the children of the sun began to awake.
Seems that the wrath of the Gods
Got a punch on the nose and it started to flow;
I think I might be sinking.
Throw me a line if I reach it in time
I'll meet you up there where the path
Runs straight and high.
To find a queen without a king,
They say she plays guitar and cries and sings... la la la
Ride a white mare in the footsteps of dawn
Tryin' to find a woman who's never, never, never been born.
Standing on a hill in my mountain of dreams,
Telling myself it's not as hard, hard, hard as it seems.
--song written by Jimmy Page & Robert Plant
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