So we come to the union of the Venn diagram involving the sets ‘Led Zeppelin’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’. Just as the lads from Iron Maiden are voracious readers, just as the Lovecraft-swots of Metallica peppered their oeuvre with Mythos references, the lyrics of many Zep tunes are sprinkled with Middle Earth references. Although, to be honest, any band dropping a mention of a ‘fair maiden’ or ‘dark one’ could be said to be referencing Tolkien. And a thousand other books.
“Ramble On”, however, is explicitly a tune inspired by and about The Lord of the Rings.
John Bonham opens the tune by tapping on a box, evoking the hairy footfalls of a hobbit traipsing off to adventure. Leaves are falling all around, It’s time I was on my way. Thus what takes 100-odd pages in a novel (Frodo finally getting off his arse and walking out the door) is accomplished in a single line of song.
John Paul Jones’s bass line paints a carefree mood; the hobbit in question is still in the Shire, and still hasn’t encountered the unendurable horror that awaits him in the Old Forest: Tom Bombadil’s singing.
But now it’s time for me to go. The autumn moon lights my way.
For now I smell the rain, and with it pain, and it’s headed my way.
Robert Plant, the elfin (if you will) front man of Zep was a fan of Tolkien. His nerd bona fides were confirmed by the fact that he even had a dog named Strider. Plant sings I know I’ve got one thing I got to do. And we know what that is. He’s channelling Frodo, who has to destroy the One Ring.
And, of course, find his girl.
I got to find my girl… gotta find the queen of all my dreams
Hmm. I’ve read the LOTR about seventeen times, and I can’t recall a love interest for Frodo. Although admittedly Tolkien wasn’t great at putting women front and centre. Maybe you need to read between the lines.
T’was in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair.
But Gollum, and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her, her, her… yeah.
Fan or no fan, Plant has performed a major surgery on the story here. It’s a fairly audacious reworking of the plot to include a romantic entanglement in Mordor. But let’s consider for a moment whether or not this bit of fan-fiction set to music would constitute an improvement of the story. Frodo, wearied by the burden of carrying the Ring, his Nazgûl-inflicted wound draining him, is essentially staggering to the finish line at Mount Doom. He just wants it to be over.
But wait. By some improbable plot device, Frodo stumbles across a girl. A beautiful girl. The queen of all his dreams? Frodo falls for her straight away. Perhaps he’s distracted from his quest, the quest wherein the entire fate of the world hinges on his actions. Enough to let his guard down for a moment.
Enter Gollum and the Evil One. They’ve patched up that whole Sauron-torturing-Gollum-for-information thing, and are now in cahoots. There’s only one thing they’re after.
No, not the One Ring, that Sauron requires to vouchsafe his victory over the free peoples of Middle Earth. Not when Robert Plant is managing the plot beats. They’re after Mordor Girl.
Much better. In fact, while where at it, can we replace the members of the Fellowship with a foursome of slender, bare chested, flares-wearing seventies rockers with cascading locks and groovy sideburns? Of course, there’s going to be lots of opportunities for jamming out along the road to Mordor. Perhaps in the halls of Rohan? A few bars of ‘Black Dog’ would be sure to stir Théoden out of his torpor.