After reaching the summit of the rock world in the early ’70s, Led Zeppelin got used to the outsized expectations and ever-shifting standards of critics. If the band dug in with blues material, people wondered why it didn’t branch out. And when Zep dug deep into folk music, critics wondered what happened to the rock.
That cycle basically continued with the release of Houses of the Holy (1973). On Zep’s fifth LP, the band mixed in a little reggae (“D’yer Mak’er”) and a little funk (“The Crunge”) with some progressive rock. Naturally, critics wondered where the blues-rock explosions had gone.
Led Zeppelin answered that question on side 1 of Physical Graffiti (1975). And in the course of the double album, the band showcased its seemingly bottomless talent. They kept going all the way until “Sick Again,” the heavy closer to side 4. That track contained an interesting message from Robert Plant.
Robert Plant sang about groupie culture on Led Zeppelin’s ‘Sick Again’
Plant’s vocals don’t entirely break through the heavy mix of guitars, bass, and pulverizing drums on “Sick Again.” However, if you pay attention to the words, you won’t miss what Plant wrote about in his lyrics.
In short, Plant was digging into groupie culture, which Led Zeppelin had encyclopedic knowledge of by the mid-’70s. “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 sixteen.”
That sets a scene of Plant arriving at a venue (or post-show club) in the Zep limo. He sees a beauty who’s not yet reached 16 (which is also underage). Could Zeppelin have really encountered groupies that young? Yes, they did, and band members’ relationships with them have been documented.
Indeed, Plant gives the impression he’s very familiar with female fans of that age. “Said you dug me since you were thirteen,” he sings in a later verse. “Then you giggle as you heave a sigh. […] You know I’m the one you want, baby.”
Plant said he was feeling ‘a bit sorry’ for the youngest L.A. groupies
When Plant made his first tour with Led Zeppelin, he’d just turned 20 and had no idea what he was in for. But he soon came to love the L.A. scene. “L.A. was L.A.,” he told Rolling Stone in ’75. “There was good fun to be had. In those days, there were more people to have good fun with than there are now.”
Plant connected that though to the groupie scene in particular — and his “Sick Again” lyrics. “L.A. infested with jaded 12-year-olds is not the L.A. that I really dug,” he said in Rolling Stone. “The words show I feel a bit sorry for them: ‘Through the circus of the L.A. queen / How fast you learn the downhill slide.'”
Plant spoke of seeing the groupie scene get darker as the years passed. “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.”
As Plant tells his tale, the Zeppelin delivers its crushing close to Physical Graffiti, which ultimately marked the final peak of the band. The ride had already started coming to an end.