“Going to California” is a ballad written and performed by the English rock band Led Zeppelin. It was released from the band’s untitled fourth album in 1971.
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 five of the album’s other tracks. Page’s guitar is in the DADGBD tuning.
The song is reportedly about Canadian singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell, with whom Plant was 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 1968 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… “
This song started out as a song about Californian earthquakes and when Jimmy Page, audio engineer Andy Johns and band manager Peter Grant travelled to Los Angeles to mix Led Zeppelin IV, they coincidentally experienced a minor earthquake. At this point it was known as “Guide to California”.
At Led Zeppelin concerts the band performed this song during their acoustic sets, first playing it on their Spring 1971 tour of the United Kingdom. One live version, from Led Zeppelin’s performance at Earls Court in 1975, is featured on disc 2 of the Led Zeppelin DVD and again on the Mothership DVD.
Robert Plant – vocals
Jimmy Page – acoustic guitars
John Paul Jones – mandolin