Music can be inspired by many things, such as love, family, and how much you miss the plains down in Africa. It may come as a surprise, though, to learn that there are many bands out there, from almost every conceivable genre of music, that cite JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (henceforth shortened to LOTR) as a major influence for some of their songs and, in some cases, their entire discography. Starting with…
Even if you’re not familiar with their music, we’d hope that the name “Megadeth” sort of clues you in on what exactly this band is all about. Thundering riffs, squealing guitar solos, and all of that other good stuff that tests the tensile strength of the vertebrae in your neck.
Dave Mustaine, the band’s chief songwriter, has admitted that despite the band’s sound being typically categorized as “all of the fast,” he has drawn inspiration from a diverse range of sources, including The Beatles, George Orwell, and more pertinently to this article, LOTR.
More specifically, the LOTR inspiration can be found with the song This Day We Fight, which fans of the series may recognize as a direct quote from Return of the King. The song’s lyrics were primarily inspired by the speeches given by the characters of Aragorn and Théoden during the Battle of the Morannon and Battle of the Pelennor Fields, respectively. Of course, being a Megadeth song, said lyrics are sandwiched between half a dozen blisteringly fast guitar solos, something we’re suddenly inspired to petition to have implemented into the audiobook version of the series.
Rush is a band that needs no introduction, because if they had one, their sets would be so long there’d be a risk that some of the people in their audience would die of old age. The legendary prog-rockers have sold millions of records and changed how they sound more times than a drunk Valley Girl in the south over the years. As a result, their songs have been inspired by everything from philosophy to science fiction. We’d go on, but you already know that we’re just going to bring up LOTR again.
Songs showing how much the writers’ of YYZ enjoyed being called huge nerds in high school include the unimagintely titled Rivendell, a song so clearly inspired by Tolkien that the best quality version of it on YouTube is set to poorly edited Lord of the Rings footage (as seen above).
A more subtle nod to the series is the song The Necromancer, unless of course you’ve actually read the book and recognize that “The Necromancer” is another name Sauron (the big glowing eye), or listen to the lyrics, which reference such things as “three travellers” (a nod to Frodo, Sam, and Gollum) and multiple allusions to wraiths, and kick-ass giant towers from which to brood and survey the landscape. A link to the song can be found here. For anyone who’s unfamiliar with Rush, and is confused when they see that the song is 12 minutes long, don’t worry: they do that a lot.
8. Black Sabbath
There hasn’t been a band that’s rocked harder than Black Sabbath since someone projected the cantina scene from Star Wars onto the side of a mountain, and the individual members of that band have taken what can only be described as a heroic amount of narcotics. In other words, they’re the exact opposite kind of people you’d expect to be obsessed with LOTR.
In a 2005 interview, the band’s bassist, Geezer Butler, explained that their song The Wizard was based on an amalgamation of Gandalf and the band’s drug dealer at the time, because after all, this is Black Sabbath we’re talking about. When asked what inspired him to write such a song, Butler very matter-of-factly said that he was reading Lord of the Rings at the time and took a liking to the character. We’re also presuming he was using quite a lot of drugs, given that, you know, the song is also based on his favorite drug dealer. Considering how much weed Gandalf smokes through the course of the series, we’re guessing he wouldn’t mind the comparison.
7. Led Zeppelin
Fronted by, to quote Homer Simpson, “one of the greatest thieves of American black music ever to walk the Earth,” it’s probably not going to be all that surprising that the band has “borrowed” its fair share of inspiration from the LOTR mythology over the years.
Weirdly, though, fans of both the band and the LOTR series have been unable to agree on exactly which songs written by the aging rockers were wholly inspired by the series, though the songs Misty Mountain Hop and The Battle of Evermore usually come up the most. In regards to the former, the title is an obvious nod to the Misty Mountains in The Hobbit. However, the lyrics supposedly reference the marijuana legalization rally from the ’60s, because, you know, the ’60s. In regards to the latter, the case is a little clearer, with the song obviously referencing the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, making references to Aragorn, Eowyn, and Sauron so thinly veiled they might as well be draped over a Ring Wraith’s face. And don’t forget to listen closely in the video of Ramble On up above, where you’ll hear direct references to Mordor and Gollum.
6. Blind Guardian
Though it’s likely many of you have never heard of Blind Guardian, in some (super German) circles, the band is considered to be one of the pioneers of the power metal genre. They exist in a sub-genre of metal characterized by two things: lyrics about dragons, or suplexing orcs and guitar solos.
While other artists on this list were content to simply write songs inspired by LOTR, Blind Guardian wrote an entire album about it aptly titled, Nightfall in Middle-Earth. The album, which is freakin’ kick-ass in case you were wondering, lyrically features content inspired by The Silmarillion, a cheat guide of sorts written by Tolkien to give readers more information about the LOTR universe. So if you’ve ever wanted to learn more about the War of Wrath, the duel between Fingolfin and Morgoth or Carcharoth, “the greatest wolf to have ever lived,” maybe give the album a listen. Alternatively, if you’ve no idea what any of that means and just want to listen to a ballin’ heavy metal song by a band you’ve maybe never heard of, just listen to the song up above.
5. Donald Swann
Unless you happen to have one of the most diverse tastes in music in the entire world, the name Donald Swann probably means very little to you, which is kind of our point about the range of genres and types of artists inspired by Tolkien. To explain, Swann is best remembered for being part of a comedy singing duo from the ’60s called Flanders and Swann, arguably the furthest thing away from the hard rock and heavy metal bands mentioned thus far.
After leaving the group to do his own thing, Swann became a prolific song writer, penning music for operas and plays, including one based on a book by CS Lewis. Again, all things you wouldn’t necessarily associate with the bands we’ve already mentioned. A lifelong fan of Tolkien, Swann took a break from writing opera and songs about how delightfully racist the English are, to write a bunch of songs based on the poems of Tolkien. A tonal shift so unexpected it wouldn’t seem at all out of place in a Prince song.
4. Bo Hansson
Bo Hansson is a Swedish multi-instrumentalist known for his jazz inspired instrumental albums that we in no way expect you to be aware of. Like everyone else on this list, Hansson was greatly inspired at one point in his life by the work of Tolkien. Unlike everyone else, he went a little…over the top…with his eventual musical tribute.
The story goes that in 1969, Hansson became obsessed with a copy of LOTR he stole from his girlfriend, and stole away in a friend’s apartment intent on recording an album about how awesome it was. Said friend was eventually evicted due to the all the noise Hansson made rehearsing with his various instruments. Undeterred, Hansson heroically left his friend to deal with that mess and took his work to a remote cottage he owned, which he inexplicably hadn’t decided to go to in the first place.
Once he’d written the album, Hansson bluffed his way into a radio station that happened to own the only 8-track recorder in all of Sweden and then talked two random musicians he found hanging around to help him record it. The album, called Sagan Om Ringen in Hansson’s native Swedish, went on to be a surprisingly big hit, making into the British top 40 charts under the name “Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings.” All because Hansson really liked LOTR and made a conscious effort to lie, cheat, and steal his way to a best-selling record.
Truly a hero we can all idolize.
3. Red Rum
Red Rum is a band belonging to the unbelievably specific sub-genre of pirate metal, which is exactly as ridiculous and awesome as you’re imagining, and even more so if you didn’t think these guys wore full pirate regalia on stage. Which, of course, they totally do.
Now you’d think with how much guys like this obviously love pirates, they wouldn’t have time to focus on anything else. And you’d think wrong, as Red Rum came in and blew all that away with an accordion infused cover of They’re Taking the Hobbits to Isengard. A song, for those who’ve lived this long without encountering one of the most OG of memes, based on an absurd remix of a single line spoken by Legolas in the film version of The Two Towers. To break kayfabe for a moment, this writer actually saw this cover live, and about 98% of the audience totally lost their minds when the chorus kicked in. Needless to say, it’s an experience we highly recommend.
2. Christopher Lee and his Super Pals
During the decades the Earth was graced with Christopher Lee’s presence, he spent an inordinate amount of time doing basically whatever the hell he wanted to. Lee was a huge fan of the LOTR series, and was given Tolkien’s personal blessing to play Gandalf if a film version of his book was ever made during a chance meeting in a pub.
Lee was such a fan of the series that when he heard Peter Jackson was set to direct a trilogy based on it, he took a role as a wizard in a crappy TV show just so he could take a selfie of himself wearing the outfit. Lee then sent this photo to Jackson with a small handwritten note saying, “This is what I look like as a Wizard, don’t forget this when you cast the movie.”
Moving back to music, Lee as a classically trained opera singer, and has lent his booming man-voice to numerous musical projects, most notably the albums of a band called Rhapsody of Fire. This is a band who have taken so much inspiration from Tolkien’s work that fans often refer to their sound as “Tolkien Metal,” a label the band neither seem to mind nor dispute.
Which makes it just amazing that they managed to convince Lee to sing on a song about wizards, flanked by an entire orchestra, because it’s probably the closest we’re ever going to get to hearing Saruman’s theme song.
1. Ed Sheeran
Now, we know what you’re thinking: we’re cheating by putting Sheeran as our number one entry because he wrote the closing song of The Desolation of Smaug. He wasn’t so much “inspired” by the LOTR series, as he was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to write a song about it. To which we say: you have no idea just how excited Sheeran was to sing that song.
Sheeran is a huge LOTR fan who spent his early childhood having a first edition copy of The Hobbit read to him by his grandfather, which he enjoyed so much he eventually just taught himself to read so he didn’t need to wait for some other loser to read it to him.
When Sheeran met Peter Jackson’s daughter at a concert, he didn’t waste any time telling her how much he loved the LOTR films, while she simultaneously gushed about his music. This eventually led to Jackson’s daughter putting Sheeran forward as a possible candidate to write a song for the closing credits of The Desolation of Smaug. When Jackson agreed and called Sheeran, who was at a wedding at the time, the musician fought an epic hangover to make it New Zealand in less than two days.
After arriving, Sheeran was quickly ushered to a private, advanced screening of the film and told by Jackson to write a folk song about the last 10 minutes. Sheeran went back to his hotel room and wrote a song in less than a day. If you still have any doubts about how much Sheeran understands the LOTR universe, the song he wrote in a day sold half a million copies and dominated the “Sleep” playlist on Spotify, worldwide, for an entire year.