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Music

Explore Led Zeppelin’s ‘Ramble On’ through the isolated tracks

@TylerGolsen

Led Zeppelin were evolving at a rapid rate as the 1960s came to a close. In August 1968, the band played together for the first time, and by October 1969, they were already releasing their second album. The evolution was musical as well: the first Led Zeppelin album had some brief detours into hard rock and folk, but it was largely confined to the old-school blues reinterpretations that the band favoured. Led Zeppelin II, on the other hand, was a far more eclectic mix of sounds.

The blues was still there, mainly on tracks like ‘The Lemon Song’ and ‘Bring It On Home’, but so was progressive rock (‘Whole Lotta Love’), funk foot-stompers (‘Living Love Maid’), gentle balladry (‘Thank You’), and major show-off moments (‘Heartbreaker’ for Jimmy Page and ‘Moby Dick’ for John Bonham). Zeppelin was also getting interested in dynamic shifts, the likes of which can be heard on ‘What Is and What Should Never Be’ but are used to their highest potential on the folk-rock blend of ‘Ramble On’.

“Because of the amplification and the tactile quality of it, you can hear the very sort of characteristics of each player,” Page describes in the documentary It Might Get Loud while playing the signature guitar lines to ‘Ramble On’. “People who just try to stretch the limits come up with new techniques. There’s always something new that other people are bringing to the table that is to be reckoned with very seriously: dynamics. Light and shade. Whisper to the thunder to sort of invite you in. It’s intoxicating.”

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Page epitomises that devotion to dynamics by switching from acoustic to electric guitar throughout ‘Ramble On’. Wielding a Vox acoustic, Page generates the softer and folkier tones of the song’s verses and bridges thanks to the dulcet tones of the acoustic. Surprisingly, Page continues to use the acoustic throughout the more powerful verses to give the electric guitar some backup.

The interesting thing about Page’s electric part is that you can hear the guitar constantly feeding back right before he jumps into the track. Page’s approach to the louder side of the dynamic range spectrum was louder, ruder, and more impactful than just about any guitarist before him. The heavy power chords and descending lines of the chorus to ‘Ramble On’ give Page his biggest chance to rattle the walls with sound, something that he gleefully embraces with aplomb.

There remains some debate as the what John Bonham is playing during the song’s verses. Some contend that it’s a trash can played with his hands, while others say it’s one of the guitar cases or a drum stool that he hits with drum sticks. Whatever the truth is, once the choruses hit, Bonham is unmistakably back on the kit, bashing away with all his might and hanging tight on the bass drum to provide just the right amount of propulsion.

If there was ever a moment on Led Zeppelin II for John Paul Jones to show off his bass chops, it’s on ‘Ramble On’. With his bandmates playing softer parts, Jones gets to stand out in the mix on the verses, and he takes advantage of it by playing a winding melodic bass line that acts as the song’s initial hook. Jones had a reputation for staying in the background, but his exploration up and down the neck of his Fender Jazz Bass is nothing short of iconic. He even gets a little bit of funky James Jamerson-esque motion during the pre-choruses.

Finally, Robert Plant’s vocals complete the song’s arrangement. Ranging from a near whisper on the initial verses, Plant explodes into the choruses of ‘Ramble On’ with the same gung-ho energy that he brought to songs like ‘Immigrant Song’ and ‘Good Times Bad Times’. With a slight rasp and a major fascintion with Tolkien imagery, Plant solidifies his mystical viking persona throughout ‘Ramble On’. His slight melodic variations between choruses also underscores his creative desire to bring diversity to his vocal lines, rather than just wash, rinse, and repeat the same notes each time around.

Check out the deconstructed ‘Ramble On’ down below.