If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Saturday, 23 April 2011

From 1973 to 1709

I mentioned a while ago about how I find the internet similar to a disctionary or encyclopaedia: you go there to look for something, and you emerge ten years later after a journey through a million loosely-related subjects, all of which seemed fascinating at the time. And so it was today.

I've got Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy on the car CD at the moment, and I was intrigued by some lyrics from 'The Ocean':
Got a date, I can't be late
For the high hopes hailla ball
That's what the sleeve says, but it isn't what it counds like (which is more or less an incoherent treble gurgle from a Robert Plant on top form). The lyrics make no sense at all, and I would guess that they were transcribed by the record company from the recording by an office junior rather then copied from Zep's original sheet music. I consulted the interwebs to see if anyone had found what was actually sung, and what it meant, and I was directed to a site called What Planet Is This? ("Periodical essays on linguistics, history, and much more, from Shakespeare to post Romano-​British findings. Like Notes and Queries sans the queries and solely antiquarian disposition.") There was no definitive answer there, but some reasonable speculation. The site appears to have been defunct since 2005, which is a shame, as it was an intelligent mix of history, archaeology and philology - three topics that are a constant interest of mine.

A browse through the front page of the site led me to an essay on umbrellas, and thence to a magazine called the Female Tatler, published between 1709 and 1710. And here there was a reference to a personal advertisement from the magazine which made me laugh out loud.
Lost in last July, behind the late Sir George Whitmore's, a maidenhead, the owner never having missed it till the person who since married her expected to have had it as part of her dowry. If the pastry cook in Fleet Street, who is supposed to have brought it away out of a frolic, will restore it again to Mrs. Sarah Stroakings, at the Cow-House at Islington, he shall be treated with a syllabub.
I wonder if Mrs Stroakings ever retrieved her lost innocence?


  1. More than just Stroakings, I guess - but it's a bit below the belt taking out an advert...


    I quite often have a problem distinguishing Led Zep lyrics, even when I know what they're supposed to be. In fact, there seems to be a whole site out there devoted to misheard Zep lyrics, most of which tie in with what I thought they were! I'm sort of in the camp that it sounds more like "hellhound", not that that makes any more sense in context. The only reference I can think of to "Haila" - one "L" - is a song with that title by the not-so-well-known Polish band Cemetery Of Scream: I think (with that spelling, at least) it's actually a girl's name.

  2. One must never discount simple error, of course. Perhaps Plant totally cocked it up but because of misorganisation at the record company it was never corrected. Or perhaps they knew it was a mistake but were too famous to bother putting it right. I had a live recording of Ten Years After playing 'Good Morning Little Schoolgirl' when Alvin Lee sings, perfectly in with the rhythm and melody of the line, "I did that bit wrong, yeah".

    The more I think about it, the more I am inclined to follow Occam's Razor - the simplest explanation is usually the right one (to simplify considerably).

  3. Help for Heros = Murderers

  4. If you would like to explain that comment, you are free to do so.

  5. I recall the hight of Glam Rock and a plethora of fanzines and some supposedly commercial ones (including NME and Sounds) would print what purported to be the lyrics of hit tunes. Sometimes they were so obviously wrong that they must have listened on a dodgy record player rather than paying for the rights to print them.

  6. What a delightful story from the Female Tatler Richard. Ah, I miss gentility in this modern world.

  7. Not by the foxy look in her eyes she didn't!

  8. She does look rather comely, doesn't she?


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