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“Ramble On” - Led Zeppelin
By Michael Dalton
“Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin is the ultimate quest song. By quest, I mean, as the dictionary defines it, a “search or pursuit in order to find or obtain something.” An article in Wikipedia adds: “In literature, the objects of quests require great exertion on the part of the hero and the overcoming of many obstacles, typically including much travel.”
We see a classic example of this in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The chief character, Frodo Baggins, embarks on a quest of heroic proportions. “Ramble On” contains a clear reference to the story.
“Ramble On” is found on Led Zeppelin II, which was released on October 22, 1969. It is among the band’s best recordings. Only Led Zeppelin IV and Physical Graffiti have sold more units. “Whole Lotta Love,” a single from the release, rose to number four on Billboard’s Hot 100 list, and the album went to number one.
With a strong collection of songs that clearly surpassed their self-titled debut recording, Led Zeppelin II became the soundtrack for many lives. It was diverse but cohesive in sound containing many memorable guitar riffs. It was hard rock, of the heaviest kind, that was accessible to the casual listener.
“Ramble On” was always one of my favorite songs with its masterful blend of folk and hard rock. Jimmy Page’s mesmerizing, acoustic strumming is anchored by muted, workman-like percussion that drummer John Bonham lays down on a padded surface. The melodic bass lines of John Paul Jones provide a sense of wonder for the journey portrayed through the lyrics.
The production gives Robert Plant’s vocals a dream-like quality as he begins to sing:
Leaves are falling all around,This combination of verse and sound illustrates just how powerful music can be. One can imagine embarking on an adventure with Frodo. This is the beginning of a quest. The falling leaves suggest a change in season. It’s time to move on.
Thanks to you, I’m much obligedThese lines convey so beautifully the warmth of friendship and companionship. But embarking on a quest requires sacrifice. One must sometimes leave behind security.
For now I smell the rain,Life is often toilsome. We leave in a world that makes us weary. But this pilgrim will not be deterred.
The music takes on a hard edge during the chorus as it explodes with guitar riffs, pounding drums and bass lines to beat-the-door down.
Ramble on,Page follows it all with sweeping electric guitar chords that usher back in the strumming.
I can easily feel that for much of my life I’ve been looking for the right job and a fulfilling relationship with the opposite sex. Sometimes I grow so tired. It’s not easy to find your way. It can lead to looking back with disappointment as we see in the next stanza.
I ain’t tellin’ no lie.Quests can take on different forms. It can be a search to fine one’s place, and, as in the song, it can be a journey to find the love of one’s life.
The underlying desire, which may not be apparent, is to be at rest within, to be at peace with oneself and the world around us. It’s a yearning for wholeness, which encompasses finding our place in the world in relation to others.
If our journey is rough, it may not be such a bad thing. If it feels like the magic is gone and our dreams have been stolen, good can still come out of it all. Hardship breaks down our pride, which separates us from others and keeps us from experiencing a more meaningful life.
We are often dominated by lesser purposes that ultimately cannot satisfy us. The old leaves must be stripped from the trees by the wind and rain before new growth comes. If we ever hope to sing the song that we were made to sing, we must come to value the things that matter most. Rise up, O men of God! Have done with lesser things, give heart and soul and mind and strength to serve the King of kings.
I believe that Jesus Christ gives us the starting point for any noble quest in life, when he says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ESV). These are some of the most sublime words in the entire Bible.
Ask yourself this: Could anyone make such a claim and fulfill it and not be God?
Jesus invites all that are willing to come to Him. Come to me. It’s not an invitation to religion, philosophy, ritual, a destination, or any other thing or place. I’m so glad that Christ invites me to Himself. I’m like the blind beggar crying out for Jesus by the side of the road. I need Him, not some substitute.
Bob Ayala, a blind Christian recording artist in the early days of Christian music, sang, “Do you know Him?” The heart of being a Christian is an intimate knowing of Christ. It’s not just a casual knowing about a person; it’s closer to the intimacy associated with a husband and wife relationship. Christ can be known in a way that other historical figures cannot be know because He is God.
I wish that I could adequately capture in words what it is to know Him. As the great hymnwriter, Charles Wesley, expressed it in song, “O for a thousand tongues to sing / My great Redeemer’s praise, / The glories of my God and King, / The triumphs of His grace.” Perhaps the lives of countless Christians, though imperfect, say it best. Their testimonies are like multiplied tongues giving voice to their great Redeemer’s praise. Their works are a tribute to their Savior’s grace. The world has witnessed their noble quests and been the better for it.
Christ is everything to the believer and that never changes. No matter how long a person has been a Christian, the Christian life is never divorced from an ongoing relationship with Christ. He is the source from which we draw not only our life but also our fruitfulness. As Oswald Chambers taught, if keep right at the source, God will take care of the outflow of our lives.
I know from personal experience how easy it is to get sidetracked with things that begin to take on too much importance and take me from my first love. When I recognize that I have been distracted from devotion to Christ, my desire is to return to the simplicity of nurturing this relationship. I have found prayer and Bible reading to be a helpful means of doing this. My desire, as one man put it, is for Christ to be the spring in my step. I want Him to animate all that I do.
If we give ourselves to lesser things, we will surely find that they don’t satisfy like we thought they would. If we recognize that our relationship with God is the most important thing in life, we should never let it suffer by becoming subservient to other things, no matter how noble we deem them. It’s not that we can’t purse a worthwhile quest. It’s just that I want to know the rest, the peace, and the wholeness that can only come through staying closely connected with Jesus Christ. It’s from that foundation that we gain the perspective needed to pursue God given dreams.
“Ramble On” reminds me that
the journey of life is full of difficulties. Sometimes it can be so hard
that all we can do is put one foot in front of the other. In view of life’s
hardships, if we hope to sing the song that God wants us to sing, we must
continually cultivate our relationship with Him. We must keep it with all
diligence. When life breaks us down, we should be glad because God’s not
as concerned about the song we sing, as much as the heart that sings it.