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Led Zeppelin? Which Album?

May 17, 2001 at 3:38 am by Tehanu  - 

Confusion reigns, because none of the most overtly Tolkien-influenced Zeppelin songs are on their third album, though some have argued that ‘The Immigrant Song’ and ‘Celebration Day’ could be vaguely reminiscent. In Celebration Day Eryndur mentions “…references to a woman who worries about her people’s days being over, and how they’ll have to go; and a train leaving for your destination, and being in the promised land. All this points to the fading of elves, the ascendancy of man, and the departure from the Grey Havens and the trip to Valinor.”( I can’t see PJ wearing any reference to a train anywhere in LOTR though.) And if you decided to say that ‘The Immigrant Song’ was about Numenoreans instead of Vikings it could fit though it wouldn’t have much to do with the story of LOTR.

Meanwhile nobody has much to say about ‘What is and what should never be,’ the song that Alannis SAID she was singing on the MTV interview, according to Susie. But that song’s not on Led Zep 3 either, it’s on Zep 2. I looked at the lyrics and thought ‘OK, so maybe Aragorn and Arwen are thinking this:’

‘”If I say to you tomorrow,
Take my hand child come with me,
It’s to a castle I will take you,
Where what’s to be they say will be.

Catch the wind see us spin,
Sail away leave the day,
Way up high in the sky.
But the wind won’t blow,
You really shouldn’t go,
It only goes to show.
That you will be mine,
By taking our time.”

Hmm, it could be cunning to have a song that represents A&A’s feelings for each other so it can show up from time to time to remind us that they’re still apart, still thinking of each other. Saves on making up additional dialogue for the same effect.

Well, maybe. Somehow it’s still interesting to think about the other possibilities.

Led Zep albums 2 and 4 have some more favourite Tolkienish songs, says Eryndur: “Ramble On” is on Led Zeppelin II, and “The Battle of Evermore” is on Led Zeppelin IV. These two songs have the most blatant references to Tolkien, going so far as to actually mention specific Tolkien creations, namely “Gollum”, “Mordor” (from Ramble On), and “ringwraiths” (in Evermore). Another point in their favour is that they’re written to contain a duet. But you can rewrite a lot of songs so they use more than one voice, either alternating or in harmony.

Personally I like the reference to the urge to ramble on hitting hardest in Autumn – something that Frodo and Bilbo both felt.

As for the whole idea of using Led Zep music at all, or Alanis and Axl to sing it, here’s a few thoughts. Led Zeppelin alternated a very gentle ballad style of music with harder-rocking music. “Ramble On,” much as I like it, seems too rocky for the spirit of LOTR. (Plus what do you do about the bit where it wanders off into worrying about some woman lost in Mordor? ) But there’s no end to the ways music can be arranged: the rather dry drum sound in “Ramble On” could easily be replaced with the old celtic bodhran. The interesting bassline would change character completely if played on a cello or viol de gamba. The lead guitar riffs? Imagine them on violin. About the only thing that would have to go completely is the cymbal/kit drum sound, which dates the music instantly. That, and the vocal lines that are more screamed than sung in that very 70s rock style.

But if you listen to something like ‘Battle of Evermore’ you may notice that most of the accompaniament is very light – mostly guitars. The other very twangy instrument you hear a lot of sounds like a hammered dulcimer – these days a standard sound on a sampler keyboard, but the original instrument is very old and very simple – a flat box on legs with wire strings that are played with hammers. It wouldn’t take much to turn ‘Evermore’ into a very ancient-sounding simple folksong. The main thing that would have to change is that characteristically 70s rock caterwauling that they break into every now and then – it’s very much part of a certain music of a certain time.

As for Alanis and Axl Rose doing Zep? Or doing some older-sounding music? Well, listening to singers do something new is always interesting especially if they’re breaking into a new genre. I’ve got my own list of successes and failures: Kiri Te Kanawa is a GREAT operatic soprano, but her version of ‘Summertime’ makes me leave the room. On the other hand Mahalia Jackson is a singer who does more gospel than anything else, which a lot of people find boring, but I defy anyone to listen to her version of ‘Summertime’ without the hair lifting on the back of their neck. Sinead O’Connor doing Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’? I can’t hit the ‘off’ button fast enough, and yet she has a great voice in her normal songs. Celine Dion doing most things leaves me marvelling that such an extraordinary voice can be used to so little effect, and yet the time she sings something by a good composer, like when James Horner put her on the ‘Titanic’ soundtrack, then she’s powerful and moving.

So sometimes people do these daring departures from their normal style and it pays off. Sometimes it doesn’t. All adds to the suspense of waiting to see!

PS if you HAVE to mail someone about this, mail tehanu@theonering.net as the others have NO interest in discussing it!

Posted in Old Special Reports on May 17, 2001 by

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