Certain Songs #893: Led Zeppelin – “Ramble On”

Album: Led Zeppelin II
Year: 1969

Back when Adam Carolla was still on the radio here in Los Angeles, I used to occasionally listen to his morning show while I was out jogging. (My love of morning-drive radio has remained remarkably consistent over the decades, I blame Dean & Don’s Breakfast Club for this).

Anyway, one of his bits that I remember was an observation that there sure were a lot of songs about rambling in the 1970s. You had Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin Man,” The Allman Brothers “Rambling Man,” CCR’s eternal “Ramble Tamble” and of course the first of Robert Plant’s Lord of the Rings songs, “Ramble On.”

The highlight of the second side of Led Zeppelin II, “Ramble On” was a master class in how to go from quiet to loud, as the verses were all Page’s acoustic guitar, a floating John Paul Jones bass line and John Bonham playing what Wikipedia claims was a guitar case as percussion.

Those verses gave way to the thunder of the chorus with Plant shifting from a murmur to a shout, and Bonham some how freezing the band in time halfway through each and every line before crashing back with a short double time while Jones traced circles in the air with his bass.

With Page randomly throwing in short melodic solos before and after the choruses, “Ramble On” was a master class in dynamism and trickery: you never quite knew where it was going next.

And then, of course, after a few verses about how he was man who needed to keep rambling to look for the queen of all his dreams — which, sorry ain’t you, babe — Plant sings this total non-sequitur:

Mine’s a tale that can’t be told
My freedom I hold dear
How years ago in days of old
When magic filled the air
‘Twas 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

I don’t even know where to start with this. I mean, I’ve read Lord of The Rings dozens of times and none of this tracks. I mean, what is Robert Plant doing in Mordor in the first place? It’s not like Zeppelin ever played there, though I’m guessing that if they did they would have gone over better than the legend goes that they went over in Fresno.

Gollum, sure. He was a regular in Mordor, hung out there all the time looking for his Precious. But stealing girls from Robert Plant? That just doesn’t seem like his jam, man. Even if it was all about the unnamed “evil one.” I mean, is he talking about Sauron? So Robert Plant and some hot chick are just hanging around in Mordor, as you do, and suddenly she is kidnapped by Sauron & Gollum? Seems pretty dodgy to me.

Anyways, none of that mattered each and every time Page spun one of his guitar licks or Bonham slammed his kick a couple of beats too long while Jones just stared at him waiting for him to unleash. Plant could have been singing just about anything, and it wouldn’t have mattered. So he did.

“Ramble On”

Jimmy Page & Robert Plant perform “Ramble On” live in 1998

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