Jimmy Page’s acoustic guitar
The beauty of isolated tracks is that they allow us to hear an old piece of music in a completely new way. They give us a fresh perspective on something we thought we already knew.
Today we bring you a series of isolated tracks showing how Led Zeppelin pieced together one of its classic early songs: “Ramble On.”
The song was written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant and recorded in New York in the spring of 1969. Led Zeppelin was on its second tour of North America. Along the way, the band popped into various studios to lay down tracks for Led Zeppelin II.
The remainder of the album was recorded in the same fashion, between shows in Europe. “We were touring a lot,” bassist John Paul Jones wrote in the liner notes to the Led Zeppelin boxed set.
“Jimmy’s riffs were coming fast and furious. A lot of them came from onstage especially during the long improvised section of ‘Dazed and Confused.’ We’d remember the good stuff and dart into a studio along the way.”
John Paul Jones’s bass guitar
“Ramble On” is an early example of the Zeppelin hallmark of using a wide dynamic range within a single song. As the band goes back and forth between soft and loud, acoustic and electric, bassist John Paul Jones lays down a crisp outline of the song’s structure.
John Bonham’s drums
The pitter-patter drumbeat by John Bonham during the quiet parts of “Ramble On” has sparked considerable debate among drummers. Some have theorized that Bonham was hitting the sole of his shoe with drum sticks. Others say it was a plastic garbage can lid.
According to Chris Welch and Geoff Nicholls in John Bonham: A Thunder of Drums, Bonzo used his bare hands to tap out those 16th notes on an empty guitar case.
Robert Plant’s main vocals
The lyrics of “Ramble On” reflect Robert Plant’s fascination with characters and events in The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien: “‘Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor/I met a girl so fair./But Gollum and the evil one crept up/And slipped away with her.”
Led Zeppelin would include more references to Tolkien later, in songs like “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Stairway to Heaven.”
Jimmy Page’s electric rhythm guitar
Jimmy Page’s explosive electric guitar playing kicks in at about the 1:14 mark. The exact guitar used by Page on the recording is a matter of controversy.
He reportedly switched to his trademark Gibson Les Paul while recording Led Zeppelin II, but this track may have been played on the thinner-sounding Fender Telecaster he had been using since his days with the Yardbirds.
Jimmy Page’s electric lead guitar
Like all the band’s albums, Led Zeppelin II was produced by Page. Although he eventually became known for building up complex layers of guitar tracks, Page kept the lead guitar overdubs for “Ramble On” fairly simple.
Robert Plant’s backup vocals
Plant’s supplementary vocals begin at about the 1:14 mark. Plant would later say that the recording of the second album was when he began to feel sure of himself within the band. “Led Zeppelin II was very virile,” Plant told Nigel Williamson, author of The Rough Guide to Led Zeppelin.
“That was the album that was going to dictate whether or not we had the staying power and the capacity to stimulate.”
Led Zeppelin II was released in October of 1969 and rose to number one in Great Britain and America. In the four decades since, the album has sold over 12 million copies.
Though it was never released as a single, “Ramble On” was ranked #444 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.