Last month I found myself spiraling down an internet hobbit hole. Leonard Nimoy had passed (LLAP), and I was surfing the web reminiscing about a man that was aptly described in a tweet as “every geek’s grandfather.”
It was a tragic loss. The older I get, the more impact these deaths seem to have. I grew up with Spock, watching reruns of the original Trek after school, and the string of movies inspired by a relentless fanbase for a show which lasted all of three seasons. Star Trek was a seminal moment in fandom, and Spock was its poster child.
But what does this have to do with hobbits?
Lord of the Rings is equally seminal in the different corners of geekery. Not a fantasy book is written that doesn’t owe Tolkien a debt. Dungeons & Dragons, the founding father of every RPG on the market today, originally lifted great swaths of material from Tolkien’s work.
And these two universes collide in the most spectacular way.
Many geeks have seen this video–Leonard Nimoy swimming in hippie chicks as he belts out an ode to Bilbo Baggins. It was on this little gem where I landed during my YouTube-lit vigil, and where I fell down the hobbit hole.
I couldn’t shake the awe, as a writer, of how Tolkien’s influence had bled into other media, and I wanted to find out just how far that influence extended.
Saying goodbye to Leonard Nimoy with one last viewing of that damn tear-inducing warp core scene from Wrath of Khan (sorry Abrams, you can’t measure up to that), I took up a forgotten gift card from Christmas and started following the lembas bread crumbs to see what other Tolkien inspired music I could find.
As I tumbled deeper and deeper into that hobbit hole, I began to wonder if I instead hadn’t stepped off a crumbling bridge with a Balrog. One song after another and there was no end in sight. My holdover iTunes gift card was reaching its limit.
The thing that amazed me most was the sheer breadth of music. I’d heard of some of the rock and metal influenced by Tolkien–Rush, Styx, Zeppelin–but Jazz? New Age? Trippy psychedelic instrumentals? There was even a Spanish band called Nazgul whose music is described as Symphonic Black Metal. Everything from single songs to entire albums devoted to Tolkien’s prose. Here are a few of my personal favorites:
Ballad of Bilbo Baggins
The song that got me started on this quest: Leonard Nimoy singing about “the bravest little hobbit of them all.”
The Pimp, the Bitch, and the Magic Beans
This one goes off the rails. Like way off. Warp Factor ten through the Shire with a hookah packed full of something other than Pipeweed. The extremely mental gollum impression that picks up about mid song is A-mazing. Yes, as the title indicates, this song is highly offensive. It is also now on my iPod.
In the House of Tom Bombadil
My son plays mandolin, and this song features some killer mandolin riffs. I can count the number of country songs I have on my iPod on one hand, though I do question iTunes classification. Bluegrass, maybe folk, or Americana, but maybe I’m splitting hobbit hairs.
Zeppelin’s penchant for nonsense lyrics and Middle Earth name-dropping is well known. From the overtly Tolkien inspired “Battle of Evermore” to the less obvious references to “the west” in “Stairway to Heaven,” Plant makes it clear that when he named his dog Strider this was no accident.
My favorite is “Ramble On,” a song ostensibly about a girl, until we get about 2:50 in and find out that he met his girl “in the darkest depths of Mordor” and that Gollum “crept up and slipped away with her.”
John Sangster Orchestra
As bizarre as Nuclear Rabbit’s take on Middle Earth is or as instantly classic as Zeppelin’s rock-driven homages, this is probably the most utterly unexpected. In 1975, Sangster, an Australian jazz musician, released the first of a three volume collection titled, The Lord of the Rings.
The issue isn’t the quality, this is masterful jazz, the issue is the tone. My favorite, “The Ride of the Rohirrim,” evokes images of those fearless horsemen riding across a barren landscape to defeat an army of swing dancing orcs with their deadly jazz hands.
When I’d exhausted the gift card, I went back to the first song on the list: Nimoy’s “Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” and was reminded about the sad event that had started this little sonic adventure. But here I was, mourning the death of a sci-fi icon in 2015 while listening to classic and contemporary music inspired by a holy tome of geekery written sixty years ago.
Old geeks don’t die. They just look to the west and ramble on.
For anyone curious, here’s a track list which represents a small piece of what I found. Many of the following songs are from entire albums devoted to Tolkien’s work :
|“Lothlorien”||Argent||Ring of Hands||Rock|
|“Battle At Helm’s Deep”||Attcker||Battle At Helm’s Deep||Rock|
|“Den Gamla Skogen – Tom Bombadil”||Bo Hansson||Sagan Om Ringen (Lord of the Rings)||Alternative|
|“TOLKIEN (The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings)”||Brobdingnagian Bards||Memories of Middle Earth||New Age|
|“In Safety at Elrond’s House”||Gandalf||Visions 2001||Pop|
|“Mithrandir (This Fading Age)”||Glass Hammer||The Middle Earth Album||Rock|
|“Journey In the Dark (The Mines Fo Moria-The Bridge of Khazad-Dûm)”||Johan De Meij||Symphony No. 1 The Lord of the Rings||Instrumental|
|“The Ride of the Rohirrim”||John Sangster Orchestra & John Sangster||The Lord of the Rings, Vol. 1||Jazz|
|“Helm’s Deep”||Jonathan Peters||Symphony No. 1 “Journey of the Ring”||New Age|
|“The Battle of Evermore”||Led Zeppelin||Led Zeppelin IV (Remastered)||Rock|
|“Misty Mountain Hop”||Led Zeppelin||Led Zeppelin IV (Remastered)||Rock|
|“Ramble On”||Led Zeppelin||Mothership (Remastered)||Rock|
|“Stairway to Heaven”||Led Zeppelin||Mothership (Remastered)||Rock|
|“Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”||Leonard Nimoy||Spaced Out – The Best of Leonard Nimoy & William Shatner||Spoken Word|
|“Warriors of Night (Original Mix)”||Nazgul||Lord of Darkness||Electronic|
|“In the House of Tom Bombadil”||Nickel Creek||Nickel Creek||Country|
|“The Pimp, the Bitch & the Magic Beans”||Nuclear Rabbit||Intestinal Fortitude||Alternative|
|“Saruman’s Wish”||Orange Goblin||Frequencies from Planet Ten||Rock|
|“Ring Thing”||Pearls Before Swine||Balaklava (1968)||Rock|
|“Rivendell”||Rush||Fly By Night (Remastered)||Rock|
|“Songs of the Quendi Medley”||Sally Oldfield||Mirrors: The Bronze Anthology||Rock|
|“Lords of the Ring”||Styx||Pieces of Eight||Rock|
|“Ent’s Marching Song”||The Tolkien Ensemble||The Best of the Tolkien Ensemble – The Load of the Rings||Pop|
|“We Must Join With Him”||Unleashed||Midvinterblot||Death Metal/Black Metal|