When you’re a rock star you’re not so picky about where your inspiration comes from. In fact, any artist worth their weight in gold will take a spark of influence from whatever direction it is coming from. For Robert Plant and the rest of Led Zeppelin, a huge chunk of their lyrical stylings was inspired by one classic set of books, J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic, The Lord of the Rings.
The band had already achieved a smash and grab wave of adulation when they arrived on the rock scene. Led Zeppelin were so far away from the pop-adjacent stylings of bands like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles that they not only sent shockwaves through the industry with their self-titled LP but they, arguably, created a whole new genre — heavy metal. But, with every great debut album comes the need for a classic follow-up. The record would need to be as original and devastating as the first and the band’s lyricist, Robert Plant, knew it.
One such song that saw the band truly excel was ‘Ramble On’. Taken from the iconic sophomore record Led Zeppelin II, the album the quartet released in 1969, the vision for ‘Ramble On’ was one of fantasy from Plant. Like many other artists his age, the singer had become inspired by the work of fantasy fiction writer J.R.R. Tolkein and the song makes continuous references to the writer’s work and the impact it had on Plant.
The singer used moments throughout the lyrics to express his connection; lines like “the darkest depths of Mordor” and “Gollum and the evil one” are both doffs of the caps to the writer. Many artists have made references to great literature in their time; whether it is The Beatles and C.S. Lewis’ influence on ‘I Am The Walrus’ or The Cure’s nod to Albert Camus, the real trick is picking work that you can always stand next to.
When reflecting on the song ‘Ramble On’ in later years, it’s clear that the Zeppelin man had become a touch embarrassed by his inspiration. It’s not the first time, either. The singer has famously turned his back on the band’s most famous song of all time, ‘Stairway To Heaven’, equally dissatisfied by the tune given the passing of time.
One of Zeppelin’s more obviously joyous songs, the upbeat tone of the cut is perfectly complimented by guitarist Jimmy Page’s silky solo which saunters in around the one minute 47-second mark. It swirls and spirals like a magician’s spell and there is something entirely hypnotic about it, something we’re sure Tolkein would have been more than a big fan of.
We’ve all got a little embarrassed about the stuff that made us tick in our twenties, and while we’re sure Plant thinks he’s written better lyrics, there is something innocent, poetic and, ultimately, authentic about these fantasy nuances that makes ‘Ramble On’ a bonafide classic, no matter where the inspiration came from.