With the release of The Hobbit in theaters there has been yet another resurgence of fascination for Middle-Earth and the works of Tolkien. Likewise with the recent Led Zeppelin reunion concert and fan fair there has been a huge boom in attention towards them. I decided to revisit this article that I wrote a decade ago (holy crap! Has it really been 10 years!) and clean it up a bit for the site. I took out the citations at the end of each paragraph and made it a little less academic (this was originally a paper for college) while adding in pictures to make the reading more appealing. There are also some sections that I re-wrote and/or edited.
The Tolkien-Zeppelin Connection
A gorgeous young man, with long, blond, curly hair flowing backward steps out into a blue fog. With tight pants and unbuttoned silk shirt he takes center stage. A symbol of power, sex, art and talent, he enchants the audience; they are his now. He is more powerful than Elvis Presley, John Lennon or Mick Jagger, and he knows it. Yet, he is not alone, for he is standing next to two others, each brandishing their own weapon of choice. The sounds of thunder pour out from behind the three, as the fourth member unleashes hell. For twelve years they reigned as the supreme power, changing the course of the world and peoples' lives. A group comprised of four musical geniuses all from different backgrounds, they are considered to be the most powerful and influential band ever, the band that defined rock. They are Led Zeppelin.
They were sex, drugs & rock n roll incarnate
From their début in 1968, they changed the course of musicianship. Breaking every album record ever held, having the highest audience attendances ever, and being the heart of more urban legends and myths than anyone, they were rock's classic band. Many say that they sold their souls to Lucifer himself, for instant fame and fortune, but one of them refused to sign his name in blood, thus being spared from much of the pain that afflicted the others. Yet, the real source of their successes can be found elsewhere.
In 1968 a young British blues guitarist named James Patrick Page was a member of The Yardbirds, along with two other guitarists, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. When the band broke up during the middle of a tour, Page was left having to fill the concert dates. "Around the time of the split," said Page, "John Paul Jones called me up and said he was interested in getting something together". Now joined by bassist/organist John Paul Jones (JPJ), Page set out to find the rest of the band. Page went to friend Mickie Most to do vocals for the Yardbirds, but "he suggested I get in touch with Robert Plant". Page said, "When I auditioned him (Plant) and heard him sing, I immediately thought there must be something wrong with him personality-wise or that he had to be impossible to work with, because I couldn't understand why, after he told me he had been signing for a few years already, he hadn't become a big name yet (Kendall & Lewis)." Now there was just one part left to fill and Plant knew where to get it. "We needed a drummer who was a good timekeeper and who really laid it down, and the only one I knew was the one I'd been playing with for years. Who was John Bonham ." Page, Plant, JPJ and "Bonzo" Bonham had become the New Yardbirds. During their tour the name was changed to Led Zeppelin after a joke started by Keith Moon and John Entwistle referring to the fact that the New Yardbirds, who were opening for The Who, were going to go down like a lead balloon). They recorded their self-titled album and they took off. Over the next decade Robert Plant became one of the most powerful and dynamic vocalists ever. Jones proved to be one of most versatile musicians, as well as the top bass player of the 70's. Through his heart stopping beats and lightning speed and genius innovations, John Bonham is now revered as one of the greatest drummer of all time. Listed as one of the top guitarists ever, Jimmy Page redefined the instrument he played.
Led Zeppelin, like all great artists, needed inspiration. The rhythm section of the band, JPJ and Bonzo, brought along a jazz background. Now mixing the jazz beats with the deep blues influence from Page and Plant, the basic setup for songs like "Good Times, Bad Times," "Communication Breakdown" and "How Many More Times" was laid down. Long before his days with Led Zeppelin and even The Band of Joy, Robert Plant studied blues music intensely. Traveling around England and working with many of the blues artists there, he developed a unique style. While still in high school, Jimmy Page began his long journey of studying deep Southern American blues. Yet there was another side to their music, a folk side. "Immigrant Song" captured the essence of marauding Vikings and the Norse mythology, and the Middle Eastern hypnotic sounds of "Kashmir" pushed them to a new level. The most predominant form of folk music the band played was the music from their culture--Celtic. With a fascination on mysticism and black magic, Jimmy Page became known as the dark guitarist. Robert Plant found his own source of mystic and folk inspiration through an author who wrote a series of stories over a generation before Plant began his own writing. The author was John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.
Probably the best grandpa ever
The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, are three definitive stories that changed the way fantasy and fiction were written. Just as Plant studied blues to set his background, Tolkien studied Language. By the time he had entered the British equivalent of high school he already knew four languages: Greek, Latin, Lombardic and Gothic. Over the years he learned over a dozen different languages including Welsh and Finnish (which became the basis for Elvish). Tolkien's later life was very plain and non- exocentric -- he wore dowdy clothing, ate plain food, hung unremarkable paintings and pictures in his dull house. He had no need for taste or fashion, for his life was focused within rather than without. His imagination led him to create the mystical world of Middle-Earth where Elves, Men, Dwarfs, Wizards, dragons, Orcs, and, of course, Hobbits, live.
and this guy lives there too. Yikes!
Tolkien was a graduate of Oxford, and later became a professor there. While teaching language, Tolkien became close friends with C.S. Lewis, whom Tolkien would later convert to Christianity and which led to Lewis's writing of many books on Christianity as well as the beloved Narnia saga. Being a grown man by the time the First World War came, Tolkien had a much different view of the conflict, and the world, than the other authors of his same time. The views of war are a very predominant aspect of Tolkien's writing, yet he does not depict the characters as different nations. He could have portrayed Sauron as Germany or Aragorn as The United States, but he did not desire to make his stories representations of the world conflicts that he lived through.
if you have not heard this album stop what you are doing and go buy it now
In 1969 Led Zeppelin released their second album, Led Zeppelin II, to an already mesmerized audience. After listeners get their first taste of what will later become known as "Heavy Metal" from "Whole Lotta Love" and some great blues songs like "Heatbreaker" and "Livin' Lovin' Maid", the band dips into the realm of Tolkien with "Ramble On". The song starts out with a set of soft bass notes provided by Jones, backed by Bonham creating the soft beat by patting on his knees. "Leaves are falling all around / time I was on my way!" tenderly sings Robert Plant. His vocals begin to tell the saga of young Frodo Baggin from The Lord of the Rings story. Frodo, the young Hobbit, has unfortunately been given the somber task of carrying the One Ring, the ring that contains the power to destroy all of Middle-Earth. During his journey towards Mordor, Frodo stays in Rivendell, the Elvin city, where the Council of Elrond decides what is to be done with the Ring. Frodo and his best friend Samwise enjoy their stay very much but they know that they have to:
And now's the time, the time is now
To sing my song.
I'm goin' 'round the world, I got to find my girl."
The girl mentioned in the song, as well in another song "Over the Hills and Far Away" is not actually a female, but the Ring. Throughout the saga of Frodo, Sam, Aragorn and the others, the Ring is referred to as a beautiful lady, and is often called "precious". Throughout Tolkien's books, the characters sing songs as they travel across the lands on their journey. Frodo also searches for "Queen of all his dreams," Plant sings out. Galadriel, the Elvin Queen of the forest, is most likely this queen that he is searching for. The section of the song that points directly to The Lord of the Rings is.
"T'was in the darkest depth of Mordor
I met a girl so fair,
But Gollum, the evil one crept up
And slipped away with her"
The direct references to Mordor and Gollum are sure and intriguing signs that this song is about Frodo, yet part of it does not make sense. Frodo was not in Mordor when he was given the Ring, "the girl so fair," but he was "in the darkest depth of Mordor" when he met Shelob, the giant Spider, who is far from fair. But it was in Mordor that Gollum took the Ring of Power from Frodo. This is one of the few Zeppelin songs which contains a chorus, and when the chorus comes in Bonzo stops with the knee pattering and unleashes a power onto the set, as if all the armies of Middle-Earth are waging war against Sauron himself. Jones plays some ingenious bass cords to side with the drums and Page joins him with some of his famous rifts. Plant's energy matches the other three flawlessly. Although one of the most popular and powerful Zeppelin songs, it was never performed live.
"Ramble On" was not the only Led Zeppelin song to talk about the love for the Ring. Led Zeppelin's fifth album, Houses of the Holy, contains what at first glance is a beautiful love song. With the soothing acoustic opening, of "Over the Hills and Far Away" Plant sings;
"Hey lady, you got the love I need
oh maybe, more than enough
oh Darling, Darling [darling] walk a while with me
oh you've got so much.
Unlike "Ramble On" this song is about another book by Tolkien, The Hobbit. The first obvious connection is the title, "Over the Hills and Far Away", where Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, and a band of Dwarves go over the hills and far away in search of a lost treasure. The beginning section describes when Bilbo finds the Ring of Power and how the "Lady" is actually the Ring. It "has the love" Bilbo needs. In other words, it has the power to make him disappear and escape from the caves. It has more than enough love, however, since Bilbo obviously doesn't need all that power, and it ends up getting Frodo and him into a great deal of trouble. But Bilbo loves the Ring, and wants it to "walk a while" with him.
"Many dreams come true
And some have silver linings
I live for my dream
And a pocketful of gold"
This is a good reference as to how Bilbo's dream of travel comes true and how he receives more than just a good journey, as well as the Dwarves gaining their lost gold. The finial two verses can actually be applied to both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
"Mellow is the man
Who knows what he's been missing
Many, many men
Can't see the open road.
Many is a word
That only leaves you guessing
Guessing 'bout a thing
You really ought to know
You really ought to know"
The first application is when Gollum and Bilbo play the "Riddle Game" in which Gollum tries to guess what is in Bilbo's pocket. It turns out that Bilbo has The Ring in his pocket, the same ring Gollum loves. The other reference falls within part of The Fellowship of the Ring in which the Fellowship has to gain passage at the Gate of Moria, where they have to solve a puzzle. "Over the Hills and Far Away" was just one aspect of mythology on that album. "No Quarter" dealt with Norse mythology and "The Song Remains the Same" revolved around the fact that everywhere folklore lives, the song does remain the same. Like much of theHouses of the Holy,Led Zeppelin's fourth album, officially titled with four unpronounceable symbols, but more commonly called "IV", "Untitled" or "Zoso", is the largest compilation of folklore from the band's 12 years together.
"Misty Mountain Hop," from Led Zeppelin's 1971 release is somewhat of an allegory. It talks about the first chapter of The Hobbit, "An Unexpected Party", and a kid's first drug trip. If the title of the song "Misty Mountain Hop" does not prove that there is a connection, not much else will. The Misty Mountains are frequent settings in all the Tolkien stories. As for the lines, each one needs to be looked into. "Lots of people sitting in the grass with flowers in their hair" refers to the Dwarves in The Hobbit, but in an allegorical sense, it is the young man's first encounter with hippies. Also the Tolkien Stories had also become very popular again in the 60's and 70's with many of the youth of America and Britain. "Hey boy, d'you wanna score?" is the hippies asking just that, or it could be Gandalf asking Bilbo if he would like to join in on the Dwarves' journey and "score" some gold, fame, and adventure. When all the Dwarves come over, they spend the night at Bilbo's. They stay up really late, and Bilbo doesn't "know what time it was." The previously mentioned part could refer to the morning when Gandalf meets Bilbo, since otherwise everything would be out of order.
There is no reference to time in the passages about the meeting, but there are several references to it in the party. Next, Bilbo tells Gandalf to "stay for tea and have some fun". "Just then a police man stepped up to me" follows is the song. The policeman could be Gandalf telling the Dwarves to be friendly and accept Bilbo's reluctant hospitality. John Paul Jones was noted as saying, "The policemen don't carry guns and they don't start trouble. In the States the police are always starting trouble". This line could be referring to the reactions the band felt from the American police. Gandalf says that his friends, the Dwarves, will "all drop by," but Bilbo "really don't care if they're comin'". Gandalf bids Bilbo to "look at yourself and describe what you see" to persuade Bilbo to join him in the adventure. The Hobbit sits in Bag End "like a book on a shelf". He doesn't care too much for the people in Bag End, so he is packing his "bags for the Misty Mountains". This song is actually one of two songs that relate to Tolkien's writings on IV. The other song deals with a more serious side—war!
A combination of two stories rolled into one, "The Battle of Evermore" takes on aspects of the Battle of Pelennor Fields from the final part of The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, as well as a history of Scottish wars. While sitting around a campfire one night, Page picked up Jones's mandolin for the first time and began to fool around with its sound. Combined with Robert Plant's love for Tolkien and his recent studying of Scottish history, this led to this image-filled folk song.
"The Queen of Light took her bow
And then she turned to go,
The Prince of Peace embraced the gloom
And walked the night alone".
The Queen of Light is Eowyn, who bids Aragorn goodbye and then turns to join the Rohan army. The Prince of Peace is Aragorn, as he embraces the gloom of the Paths of the Dead.
[center]"Oh, dance in the dark of night,
Sing to the morning light.
The dark Lord rides in force tonight
And time will tell us all"
Obviously, either Sauron or the Leader of the Ringwraiths is the said dark Lord mentioned here. The line about time is reflective of how the journey has taken so long and the end is still uncertain.
"Oh, throw down your plow and hoe,
Rest not to lock your homes.
Side by side we wait the might
Of the darkest of them all.
At the start of the siege of Gondor, the workers on the fields flee to the Tower for protection. Then, the citizens watch and wait for the onslaught of Mordor to arrive.
"I hear the horses' thunder
Down in the valley below,
I'm waiting for the angels of Avalon,
Waiting for the eastern glow."
The horse refers to the Ringwraiths, the army of Orici or the Riders of Rohan. What is interesting about this line is that Avalon is not a part of Tolkien's saga; instead it is tying into the Scottish and English myths.
"Oh the war is common cry,
Pick up you swords and fly.
The sky is filled with good and bad
That mortals never know"
There are Ringwraiths swarming around Gondor, riding upon dragons. None of the men of Gondor know who the Black Riders are.
"Oh, well, the night is long
The beads of time pass slow,
Tired eyes on the sunrise,
Waiting for the eastern glow"
This passage is describing how the men wait a long time for the darkness of Mordor to pass. The reference to the eastern glow deals with Gandalf arriving with the Riders of Rohan from the east at dawn to turn the tide of battle.
"The pain of war cannot exceed
The woe of aftermath,
The drums will shake the castle wall,
the Ringwraiths ride in black,
With more imagery depicting the battle for Middle-Earth, this section of the song is very similar to "Ramble On" and "Misty Mountain Hop" where actual Tolkien terminology is used. This time, it is the Ringwraiths that are mentioned, a sure sign that there is a connection, and a rather horrifying one at that.
"Sing as you raise your bow,
Shoot straighter than before.
No comfort has the fire at night
That lights the face so cold."
Another chilling reminder of the mental aspect of the horrors of war. Aragorn prepares the armies of Men for battle, informing them that they must not give mercy, for they shall receive none.
"Oh dance in the dark of night,
Sing to the mornin' light.
The magic runes are writ in gold
To bring the balance back.
Bring it back"
There are two schools of thought on this line. Frodo's Ring has magic runes, and when it is destroyed, the balance of power in the world is restored. Also, Merry's sword has runes written on it, and his stabbing of the Leader of the Ringwraiths restores the balance of power in the battle.
"At last the sun is shining,
The clouds of blue roll by,
With flames from the dragon of darkness
The sunlight blinds his eyes"
The first half of this verse talks about how, when the battle is won, the sky clears again, as the blackness of Mordor again retreats to its homeland. The second half remains a mystery. It is most likely stating metaphorically that Sauron's army must retreat as the sun rises again.
Connections run much deeper than just the lyrics. Tolkien's influence can be seen in the name of Robert Plant's dog, Strider. Strider is another name for Aragorn in the early part of The Lord of the Rings. Plant was often noted for shouting the dog's name after specific songs. Yet there is more of a connection than just the naming a pet; the artwork holds a strong bond. A common theme within many forms of literature is the struggle between nature and society. The cover of Led Zeppelin IVfeatures a wall hanging of a man carrying sticks upon his back, a rather dull picture very similar to what Tolkien may have hung on his own walls, symbolizing the connection between man and nature. The guitarist of the band commented on the cover art, "He takes from nature and gives back to the land. It's a natural circle." As you open up the album fully, you see that the wall on which this picture is hung is a broken wall in the middle of a slum; there another building in the background with a Oxfarm poster hanging on it feature a person laying dead on a stretcher with the quote "Everyday someone receives relief from hunger", the only writing on the album. A very interesting fact about this album is that it is one of two albums in history to contain no words or logos anywhere on the album. The band felt that it was not necessary for them to put the title on the album, which is impossible to say anyway, nor necessary to list the songs or even the band's name. Jimmy Page once commented on their fourth album's title by stating, "Names, titles and things like that do not mean a thing. What does 'Led Zeppelin' mean? It doesn't mean a thing. What matters is our music. If we weren't playing good music, nobody would care what we called ourselves. If the music was good we could call ourselves The Cabbages and still get across to our audience".
Led Zeppelin's forth album...duh!
The record company was shocked by this bold move by the band and argued that no one would know who the band was. When it came time for them to choose a title for their new album, they could have called it "Led Zeppelin IV", or "Stairway to Heaven", or numerous other titles. Instead, each band member adopted a symbol for their name very similar to the ruin symbols that are throughout the stories of Tolkien, such as The Ring, the Gate of Moria, Merry's sword (or many of the other weapons) or various other items. The other most notable association is the picture on the inside of the cover. It featured artwork of a hermit, with a staff and a lantern standing atop a hill as the cloaked figure looks over the small village below. With his long beard and stature, many believe this to be a representation of Gandalf the Grey. The overall presence of the album, with songs like "Going to California," "Four Sticks," the two Tolkien songs "The Battle of Evermore" and "Misty Mountain Hop" and of course the greatest song ever, "Stairway to Heaven," gives the album a feeling of mysticism and fantasy. As mentioned before, IV is one of two albums never to feature any words or titles, the other being Houses of the Holy. This album, like the album prior to its own release, contains a feeling of magic, due in part to the songs and the set up. Yet Led Zeppelin's songs and albums are not the only pieces in music, which hold a connection to Tolkien.
The Canadian Progressive Rock band, Rush, wrote a song about "Elvin songs and endless nights" entitled "Rivendell" The song is so melodic and peaceful; one would think that the Elves themselves wrote it. "So you packed your world up inside a canvas sack. Set off down the highway with your Rings and Kerouac" is a line from Al Stewart's song, "Modern Times". An interesting tale of a man who sets out on the road with his Beatnik books and Tolkien's masterpiece, "Modern Times" reflects the feeling of both Jack Kerouac's journey, as well as the journeys of Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Merry, Pippen, Gandalf and Treebeard. The European Power Metal scene is filled with bands with Tolkien inspiration. Most famously Blind Guardian who have an entire concept album called Nightfall in Middle-Earth. There are numerous Black Metal and Folk Metal bands that are named after characters, places or events in The Lord of the Rings.
The influence from author J.R.R. Tolkien will never be able to be measured. In the same light, Led Zeppelin's influence and impact is one of the greatest ever. Their music is still as extremely popular today, if not more so, from when it originated over thirty years ago. Their sound has been borrowed, interpreted, rearranged, mixed, and many times ripped off by untold amounts of artist since the beginning of Led Zeppelin's reign. VH1 and Rolling Stone Magazine have given them the title of "Greatest Rock Band Ever". Led Zeppelin IV always listed as one of the top albums of all times, many times as number one. "Stairway to Heaven" is the most played song in radio history, voted as being the greatest song ever written, as well as having the second highest number of covers, right after the Beatles "Yesterday". Two hundred years from now people will still be listening to and enjoying the music of Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and the late, great John "Bonzo" Bonham, thanks in part to an author who will continue to fascinate readers long into the future, J.R.R. Tolkien.
Cole, Richard, Richard Trubo. Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
Davis, Stephen. Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga. New York: Berkley, 1985.
Godwin, Robert. The Making of Led Zeppelin's '%~@. Ontario: CG, 1996
Kendall, Paul, Dave Lewis. Led Zeppelin…In Their Own Words. New York: Omnibus, 1981.
Stanton, Michael N. Hobbits, Elves, and Wizards: Exploring the Wonders and Wonders of J.R.R.
Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. New York: Palgrave, 2001.
Tolkein, J.R.R. The Hobbit. New York: Ballantine, 1937.
Tolkein, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. New York: Ballantine, 1954.
Tolkein, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. New York: Ballantine, 1955.
Tolkein, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. New York: Ballantine, 1954.
Welch, Chris. The Stories Behind Every Song: Led Zeppelin Dazed and Confused. New York: Thunder Mouth, 1998.
Written on 28.01.2013 by
Dane hails from Asheville, NC which is Beer City, USA. When he is not drinking various craft and micro brews, Dane fronts the Stoner Doom Metal band, The Quick. He also has a massive collection of Hellboy comic books.