Roy Harper’s not one of those names that people associate with the classic rock of the 60’s and 70’s, but the guy has hung out with the best of rock royalty and inspired more than a few legends of rock. His place in popular culture will be secured because he’s namechecked in the title of a song on Led Zeppelin’s third album – Hats off to (Roy) Harper.
Back when I was going through the period I call “My Led Zeppelin Obsession”, I decided to check out an album of Harper’s material. Luckily, I picked up a compilation called An Introduction To… and remain blown away by his music to this day.
But I wanted to talk about a particular Harper track today, She’s The One. It’s got a great narrative, with Harper taking the part of a man who’s (presumably) just listened to his friend complain about his terrible relationship with his wife. In the song, Harper sells the woman’s good points – she’s clearly vibrant, fun and sexy. It’s a dead giveaway in lines like “she’s the one who throws the skins at you and says let’s all turn on“. At one point he fires a brilliant rebuke “ah, but how can any man talk like you with a wonderful wife like yours?“
For me, She’s The One is deliciously ambiguous – on one hand, the narrative is about taking a step back and seeing the good things about your partner. On the other hand, there’s the unspoken narrative – what the man who’s been complaining about his wife is saying. He’s been telling Harper’s character that his wife is difficult to live with and that he doesn’t see her bad side.
Reading between the lines, it almost seems like Harper’s narrator is infatuated with the woman – he can’t see her negative points. In that context the “with a wonderful wife like yours” line takes on a different context. It’s one of my favourite songs from the album, and definitely worth a listen.
I’ve had the Introduction album for well over ten years now, and always revisit it every now and then. There’s something about Harper’s songwriting that draws you in, and even reading through the inlay card is like a Who’s Who of classic rock legends. Have a listen for yourself.
Update: Roy Harper fan Roydan Styles wrote in to expand on what I’ve written here. He says that the song is actually:
The two parties in the song are in fact both Roy Harper. This makes the song even more magical for me.
From his notes on the song, apparently Harper himself has commented:
She’s the One is full of youthful self criticism, I used to sing it with such passion it would bring the house down and leave me without a throat.