The four quarters of Led Zeppelin come together to become one of the strongest outfits in rock music history. The group, comprised of the rollicking drums of the powerhouse John Bonham, is expertly accented by Robert Plant, a rock singer who would define a generation with his soulful wail and completed by the sheer brilliance of Jimmy Page on guitar. However, perhaps the most understated and underrated member of the group was John Paul Jones and his perfectly balanced rhythm.
He is arguably the glue of the band, allowing each of the mercurial corners of the group to run wild and deliver their own vision by threading the separate pieces together with a sumptuous groove. He managed to skirt the edge of R&B while always hitting his jazz-inspired notes with a regularity which many thought impossible, even with his keyboard he was incredibly impressive. Listening to his isolated bass track on the Led Zeppelin song ‘Ramble On’, it’s clear to see why he’s so hugely revered by his peers if not the public.
The song is taken from the iconic sophomore album Led Zeppelin II and, with the record being released in 1969, the vision for ‘Ramble On’ was one of fantasy from Robert Plant. The singer, like many other artists his age, had become inspired by the work of fantasy fiction writer J.R.R. Tolkein and with the track makes reference to its impact on him and likely landed heavily with a generation of Zeppelin fans.
The musician 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. It’s a section of lyrics that Plant later confessed to being embarrassed about. However, the song is lifted entirely by the performance of Jimmy Page. 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.
While it can be easy to get lost in the lyrics of Robert Plant or be captivated by Jimmy Page’s guitar, without John Paul Jones’ bass the song would fall flat. It’s a piece of music which not only sounds great and fulfils what a bassist must do in providing the backbone of the track but still managing to add its own narrative structure, aside from the rest of the band’s fantasy trip.
When you strip away Robert Plant’s brilliant vocal performance, Bonham’s classic heavy punching drums and Jimmy Page’s unflinching guitar flair, you get a full dose of one of the best bassist the world has ever seen. Expertly underpinning the Led Zeppelin sound with a heavy-duty bassline, the track has since become a key part of the band’s iconography.
One of the scene’s most notable bassists of all time, Rush’s Geddy Lee, has shared his appreciation for the Zeppelin man: “The thing that held the whole thing down was John Paul Jones’ bass playing. If you listen to ‘How Many More Times,’ I mean, no matter how wild that song gets at times, there’s John Paul Jones just holding it all down in such a fluid way,” he once said.
“And he’s one of those guys that did not have a twangy sound, but nonetheless, his bass was always loud and proud, and such an integral part and such interesting melodies. As they progressed as a band, his musical impact was clear, that it was such a huge musical impact in the final result of what Led Zeppelin sounded like.”
Hear exactly how he did it with John Paul Jones’ remarkable isolated bass track for Led Zeppelin’s song ‘Ramble On’.