‘The Lord of the Rings’: Why Led Zeppelin Songs Weren’t in the Animated Film

Led Zeppelin referenced The Lord of the Rings in several of its songs. During the production of his animated film The Lord of the Rings, director Ralph Bakshi reached out to the band to see if he could use its songs in his movie. The members of the band were excited to have their music in the film; however, it was not to be.

Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, John Bonham, John Paul Jones, and Robert Plant
Led Zeppelin | Chris Walter / Contributor

What the director of the animated ‘The Lord of the Rings’ thought of Led Zeppelin

In an interview with Mandatory, Bakshi revealed he was a huge fan of Led Zeppelin, calling it “one of the world’s great rock bands.” He said he wanted to use the band’s songs in his film Wizards, but he didn’t have the money to obtain the rights at the time. His next film after Wizard was The Lord of the Rings.

Why the band’s songs were not in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ even though its members wanted them in the film

The Lord of the Rings book series was very popular among the counterculture of the 1960s. Unsurprisingly, a handful of Led Zeppelin songs like “Misty Moutain Hop,” “Ramble On,” and “The Battle of Evermore” reference The Hobbit and/or The Lord of the Rings. Bakshi released his version of The Lord of the Rings only a few years after those songs were released. 

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During an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Bakshi said he asked the members of Led Zeppelin if he could use their music in his movie. They enthusiastically gave him permission. Despite this, Saul Zaentz, the producer of the film and the owner of Fantasy Records, was unable to secure the rights to any Led Zeppelin songs. This was because the band was on the label Swan Song Records and its contract didn’t allow it to work with other labels. 

Ultimately, composer Leonard Rosenman wrote the orchestral score for the film. Rosenman wrote the music for classic films like Rebel Without a CauseEast of Eden, and Barry Lyndon. His score uses lots of Gregorian chants.

Why Ralph Bakshi thought Led Zeppelin songs would have been better than a film score

In one interview, Bakshi had some positive things to say about Rosenman. “[Rosenman] was good,” he opined. “I didn’t mind him. He had a good reputation. But Led Zeppelin would have blown off the roof of the picture. So I lost that one.”

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In a separate interview with Vulture, Bakshi had some less glowing things to say about Rosenman. “I hate Leonard Rosenman’s music in Lord of the Rings,” he said. “I thought it was clichéd. Gregorian chants — what else is new?”

Bakshi revealed why he would have preferred Led Zeppelin songs on the film’s soundtrack. “I wanted Led Zeppelin because they were right for the film,” he said. “The film would have been seen by every hippie in the country. I was one of them. The Lord of the Rings was for us in the East Village. It wasn’t for anybody uptown.”

The Lord of the Rings didn’t feature any songs by Led Zeppelin. Regardless, the film remains a cult classic for both fans of J. R. R. Tolkien and fans of Bakshi. The film apparently didn’t need the band to find an audience.