Rockers Who Love ‘The Lord of the Rings’

(Reprinted from Rolling Stone)

A look back at Middle Earth in rock & roll, from Led Zeppelin to Rush and  Beyond

By Andy Greene

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy was once dismissed as  the geekiest book series in history. But little did the jocks who picked on kids  carrying The Two Towers around their middle school know that many of  their favorite bands were total Tolkien nuts. Here’s a pocket guide to the long  history of rock music about Middle Earth:

Led  Zeppelin
Zeppelin are probably the best known Lord of the  Rings heads in rock & roll. The narrator of their 1969 classic “Ramble  On” finds himself in a very bizarre version of Middle Earth – a land where  Mordor appears to be a great place to meet beautiful women, and Gollum and  Sauron are more interested in fighting over the narrator’s girlfriend than  getting their hands on the One Ring. Aside from this weirdness, it’s clear that  Jimmy Page was a huge Tolkien fan, as the opening lines of “Ramble On”  paraphrase a poem that Tolkien wrote in the Elvish tongue of Quenya. Led  Zeppelin went on to reference their favorite fantasy series in two songs from  1971: “Misty Mountain Hop” (named for the place where Bilbo Baggins and his  dwarf pals spend some time in The Hobbit) and “The Battle of Evermore”  (“The ring wraiths ride in black/Ride on!”).

Black Sabbath Right around the time Led Zeppelin were  recording “Ramble On,” Black Sabbath were cutting “The Wizard” for their first  album. Does this guy sound familiar? “Evil power disappears/Demons worry when  the wizard is near/He turns tears into joy/Everyone’s happy when the wizard  walks by.” Geezer Butler was reading The Lord of the Rings when he  wrote the lyrics, and he based the character of the wizard off of Gandalf.

Rush Rush’s drummer-lyricist Neil Peart has always been a  voracious reader. He must have worked his way towards The Lord of the  Rings by the mid-1970s, because 1975’s “Rivendell” was named after the  great Elven city where Elrond dwelt. The following year, Peart wrote “The  Necromancer” – which was Gandalf’s name for Sauron in The Hobbit.

Genesis It’s no great surprise that prog bands were way  into Lord of the Rings. “Stagnation,” from Genesis’ 1970  LP Trespass, isn’t explicitly about Middle Earth, but many fans  have noticed lyrics that seem to evoke Gollum: “Will I wait forever, besides the  silent mirror/And fish for bitter minnows amongst the weeds and slimy water.”  The song came out within months of “Ramble On” and “The Wizard.” Clearly, 1970  was a good year for LOTR-rock.

Pink Floyd Syd Barrett wrote most of Pink Floyd’s early  lyrics. Nobody knows exactly what 1967’s “The Gnome” is about, but many fans  believe it’s at least partly Lord of the Rings-inspired. The gnome in  question wears a scarlet tunic, is named Gimble Gromble and has “a big  adventure,” all of which sounds pretty Tolkien-esque to us.

Megadeth In the past decade, many more people have seen  Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies than actually read the books  for the first time. That probably explains why Megadeth’s Tolkien-inspired “This  Day We Fight!” takes its title from a line in The Return of the King that appeared nowhere in the books.

Dimmu Borgir The Norwegian metal band’s lead singer calls  himself Shagrath – a minor variation on the name of a very  mean orc from The Lord of the Rings.

Leonard Nimoy The Star Trek star’s 1968 LP  Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy reaches peak nerd nirvana with a song called  “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.” No, your eyes and ears don’t deceive you – that’s  Mr. Spock himself retelling the story of The Hobbit to a jaunty  folk-rock tune. This one has to be seen to be believed.


And I’ll add one to the list, a song that never seems to get a mention in conversations of Tolkien-inspired rock, no doubt because the band’s popularity isn’t nearly that of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, etc.

Camel was clearly inspired by the character of Gandalf on 1974’s “Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider”. Skip to 2:30 and 5:40 for the pertinent (and in fact, only) lyrics.

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