Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Let's spark some pipe weed and consider why classic rock loves Tolkien so much

As everyone who sighs in exasperation each time Robert Plant sings a Gollum reference in “Ramble On” knows well, ‘70s rock and JRR Tolkien go together like double-necked guitars and curly mullets. Why, exactly, this overlap exists is the subject of a new video from YouTube channel Polyphonic tracking the relationship between classic rock acts and the famous fantasy novelist.


The clip catalogues a partial list of Tolkien-referencing tracks, hitting on well-known examples like Led Zeppelin’s “Battle of Evermore” and “Misty Mountain Hop,” Rush’s “Rivendell,” Black Sabbath’s “The Wizard,” Genesis’ “Stagnation,” Camel’s “Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider” and the band names Marillion and Mirkwood. The video also mentions the influence Tolkien and these bands had on the metal acts that followed.

Though there are plenty of reasons why these bands—especially the nerdzillas putting out the era’s prog records—might have been so interested in Tolkien, Polyphonic suggests the enduring metaphor of the hero’s journey, compelling fantasy imagery, and relatable character archetypes featured in the books as possible inspiration.


“Tolkien used archetypal figures—figures that draw on long histories of mythology and storytelling,” the video explains. “Because of this, these figures tap into something human in all of us, and that’s something people love to explore.”

Not mentioned in the video is that, before The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit were adapted into animated and live action films, these songs were also the best attempts to translate the feel of Tolkien’s work into something other than static illustrations and the written word. For real Frodo-fanatics of the pre-internet ‘70s, the best outlet for their enthusiasm was often forming a fellowship of the ringing eardrums with records by bands as fascinated by Middle-earth as them.

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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Reid's a writer and editor who has appeared at GQ, Playboy, and Paste. He also co-created and writes for videogame sites Bullet Points Monthly and Digital Love Child.

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