One of the songs I sang at the Forest Folk Club tonight was John Denver’s I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane. Even though I’d not had time to learn all the words, and had to read from a printout — something that I’ve found degrades performances — it went down very well, and had lots of people singing along in the chorus.
But why does it work so well? Surely by any objective standard, the chorus is bodged.
The highest note — the emotional climax — falls on the word “on”. I’m leaving on a jet plane, Denver tells us. He’s insisting on the preposition. It’s the most important part of his statement. I’m not leaving in a jet plane, he wants us to know. Not leaving under a jet plane. Not leaving juxtaposed with a jet plane. No, dammit! On a jet plane. On! On! On!
Clearly the emphasis should have appeared literally anywhere else in the line:
- I’m leaving on a jet plane — not someone else, me.
- I’m leaving on a jet plane — not arriving.
- I’m leaving on a jet plane — not on a truck or train.
Any of these, yes. But leaving on a jet plane? No.
So my question is this: how is it that song works anyway?