Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Tolkien and the Mysterious. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!
J. R. R. Tolkien’s influence is quite expansive. Since The Lord of the Rings was published in the 1950s, countless references to this epic tale have sprouted up in popular culture. References appear in literature, film, television, radio, art, board and video games, and more. Thanks to Peter Jackson’s live-action films, many more modern references are inspired by the book by way of Jackson’s films. But, in the 1960s and 70s, as rock n’ roll was transforming into new genres, references to Tolkien’s original work was rampant–and in no genres more so than in Progressive Rock (Prog Rock) and Metal.
The Lord of the Rings is so much more than a simple adventure series. It contains languages and mythology, epic poems and endless songs, and it has created a world so rich and vibrant that it has become fully realized. Music plays an integral role in Middle Earth. The songs and poems of Tolkien explore all the greatest themes of literature: death, adventure, friendship, corruption of power, courage, fate, free will, betrayal, greed, true, mortality, love and more. Should it be so surprising that the children growing up reading these adventures would bring Tolkien to life in their own music? After all, both of these genres focus on allegory to tell their stories about the larger themes of their time. Yes, many fantasy worlds and existing mythologies influenced both these genres, but none more so than Tolkien and Middle Earth.
I could pull dozens of examples, but let’s focus on those who brought Tolkien into their music when these genres were just taking off:
The Beatles: John Lennon was a known lover of Middle Earth. In fact, The Beatles are on record as having asked Tolkien himself if they could create a Lord of the Rings film with John as Gollum, Paul as Frodo, Ringo as Sam, and George as Gandalf. Tolkien turned them down, but that doesn’t change the fact that in the fade-out for She Said, She Said (1966) Lennon can be heard chanting “Ash Nazg”, the first two words engraved on the Ring of Power. Unfortunately, the remastered version cut them out… 😦 But if you have your original copy of Revolver, grab your turntable and listen!
Black Sabbath: Geezer Butler was reading The Lord of the Rings in 1970 and inspired the entirety of The Wizard (1970). My favorite lyrics? “Evil power disappears / demons worry when the wizard is near / he turns tears into joy.” I also can’t help but love this version set to clips from Peter Jackson’s films.
Rush: Neil Peart is a well-known fan of fantasy and has even co-written two steampunk novels with author Kevin J. Anderson. But his first literary love? Tolkien. The more overt LotR references appear in Rivendell (1974), a ballad calling you to the home of Elrond. The Necromancer (1975) only alludes to Tolkien, but with the title mimicking Gandalf’s name for Sauron, “three travelers” (Sam, Frodo, and Gollum?), and set in three parts like the trilogy itself, well, it’s hard to pretend The Necromancer was written without Tolkien in mind.
Camel: A less well-known prog rock band, Camel paid obvious tribute to Gandalf in their song Nimrodel / The Procession / The White Rider (1974). You cannot deny the second verse, “Once he wore grey / he fell and slipped away / from everybody’s sight / the wizard of them all / came back from his fall/ this time wearing white.”
Led Zeppelin: No list of Tolkien references would be complete without mentioning Led Zepplin. Robert Plant is quoted saying, in reference to reading The Lord of the Rings, “When I read those books, they kind of dissolved into me.” With Ramble On (1969) referring to Gollum and Mordor, Misty Mountain Hop (1971) titled after the Misty Mountains, The Battle of Evermore (1971) being a proper allegory from the Battle of Pelennor Fields, Stairway to Heaven (1971) including the line “the feeling I get when I look to the West”, and Over the Hills and Far Away (1973) referring to The Hobbit — well, it’s fair to say this band is a bit obsessed.
If you can believe it, these references only touch the surface of Tolkien’s influence in these genres. In our modern age, post-Peter Jackson’s films, Tolkien in Prog Rock and Metal has become almost cliché. I haven’t even gotten into the subgenre of metal known as Tolkien-Metal or the countless bands in the world with band names and member names which are homages to Middle Earth. All of this exists. There is a whole world of Tolkien-inspired music out there, even beyond Prog Rock and Metal, just waiting for you to find it.
What do you think?
- Are there other Prog Rock or Metal music references to Tolkien which are close to your heart? Which ones? Why?
- What Tolkien references in music, outside these two genres, come to mind for you?
- Do you have any favorite Tolkien-inspired music? Share below!
About the Author
Jackie B. writes about books, book clubs, and other bookish things on Death by Tsundoku (www.deathbytsundoku.com) A passionate bibliophile, Jackie B. is an extroverted interpersonal learner who can’t stop talking about books. Unable to find enough outlets for her literary passion, she turned to blogging. By day, Jackie B. works as a corporate adult educator, continuous improvement consultant, and community musician. By night, she can be found with her “blanket and juice” [i.e. heated blanket and a bottle of wine] curled up in some corner of the house with a good book… or eight.