Happy Thursday, internet! With only one more day between you and the weekend, let today’s song give you that extra push.
So far this week, every song we’ve looked at has been pretty different. Jimi Hendrix’s virtuosic adaptation of “All Along the Watchtower”, Pink Floyd’s political epic, “Dogs”, and The Beatles’ innovative and mesmerizing, “Tomorrow Never Knows”.
When I look back on those names, I notice that there’s one missing. One big name in classic rock that we haven’t looked at yet.
Our song today comes from none other than Led Zeppelin, appearing on their 1969 album “Led Zeppelin II”. It’s an oldie, it’s a goody, and one of my personal favorites.
“Ramble On”, like many of the songs on “Led Zeppelin II”, was written partially on the road. In 1969, Led Zeppelin was on their second tour of North America. Along the way, and in between shows, they would pop into a studio to record tracks. “Ramble On” was one that they recorded in the spring of 1969, months before the album would release in October.
Like many of Led Zeppelin’s songs, “Ramble On” uses a wide dynamic range. Jimmy Page referred to this as light and shade, necessary components of any good song. While its use was a trademark of the band, “Ramble On” was one of the earlier examples that proved how powerful the technique could be.
You can hear the use of light and shade most notably in the differences between the verse and the chorus of “Ramble On”. The soft but driving acoustic paired with the pitter patter of light drums draws you in, with John Paul Jones’ simple bass line as a backbone. Then the chorus comes, and Page’s explosive electric guitar burst out. Robert Plant’s voice reaches that sweet spot, and John Bonham’s drums punch through.
It’s no secret that Led Zeppelin were big fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. They reference Middle-Earth in several of their songs and titles, including “Misty Mountain Hop” and “The Battle of Evermore”. But “Ramble On” was the first.
The opening lines of “Ramble On” are a rough translation of a poem from the trilogy that Tolkien wrote in the Elvish tongue of Quenya. “Leaves are falling all around / It’s time I was on my way”. This is as subtle as the references get.
In the third verse of “Ramble On”, we get the next LOTR reference. “‘T was in the darkest depths of Mordor / I met a girl so fair / But Gollum, the evil one / Crept up and slipped away with her”.
I do appreciate the humor in Zeppelin’s version of Middle-Earth, where Gollum is more interested in stealing away women instead of the Ring. But these lines seem more to be pointing to how ‘precious’ this girl was.
Even though I’ve heard it way too many times, “Ramble On” remains one of my all time favorite Led Zeppelin songs. It’s got a perfect groove that you can just slip into. Also, as a big LOTR fan myself, I hold a special place in my heart for it.
Okay, that pretty much wraps up our week of classic rock songs. I hope you enjoyed listening, and maybe heard a few oldies you might have missed. See you next week.