The Story Behind “Over the Hills and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin and How It Was Inspired by a Tolkien Poem

When Keith Relf, Chris Dreja, and Jim McCarty left The Yardbirds in 1968, the band still had some touring commitments to honor in Scandinavia. Guitarist Jimmy Page scrambled to put together a group to fulfill the contracts that were in place. He gathered singer Robert Plant, bassist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham, and The New Yardbirds were formed. The world knows them better as Led Zeppelin, as they would soon change their name and conquer the world.

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Several Zeppelin songs had their roots in The Yardbirds. A demo called “Knowing that I’m Losing You” was reworked into “Tangerine.” Jake Holmes played a song called “Dazed and Confused” while on a bill with The Yardbirds, which led to the band covering it and eventually reimagining it for the first Led Zeppelin album. Page wrote a guitar instrumental called “White Summer” that was a regular on The Yardbird setlist. Years later, Plant would add lyrics, the band would evolve the arrangement, and it would be included on the Houses of the Holy album. Let’s take a look at the story behind “Over the Hills and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin.


Plant was inspired by John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R.) Tolkien’s 1937 novel, The Hobbit, for some of the lyrical content. Plant would return to this same well several times throughout his songwriting career. In fact, Tolkien wrote a poem in 1915 called Over the Hills and Far Away. Plant took no lines from the poem other than the title. The area where Plant grew up was called the Black Country. This region north of Birmingham, England, was also where Tolkien was raised in the 1890s. The rolling hills and small villages inspired the setting of Tolkien’s books. Plant lived in Worcestershire, while Tolkien lived in Birmingham. The Plants would drive west into Wales to visit Snowdonia National Park in the summer. The terrain, as well as the Celtic folklore, captivated Plant. The Cadair Idris is the mountain in the southern part of the park. In Welsh mythology, this was the hunting grounds of Gwyn ap Nudd and his Cŵn Annwn. These huge dogs signaled death to anyone who heard their howls, sweeping up souls and herding them to the underground. 

Hey lady, you got the love I need
Maybe more than enough
Oh darling, darling, darling
Walk a while with me
Ohh, you’ve got so much, so much, so much

Not a Singles Band

Led Zeppelin regularly released singles but rarely had chart success. “Whole Lotta Love” reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, but other than that, they failed to reach the Top 10 in America. “Over the Hills and Far Away” still gets played on classic rock radio, but it only reached No. 51 in America at the time of its release. Atlantic Records was still happy with each album’s performance, as they all sold well. Poor single performance wasn’t the only hurdle the band faced. They regularly received poor reviews from the press as well. Despite these two setbacks, the albums consistently sold well.

Many have I loved, and many times been bitten
Many times, I’ve gazed along the open road
Many times, I’ve lied, and many times, I’ve listened
Many times, I’ve wondered how much there is to know

Davy Graham

Page based his version of “White Summer” on a song called “She Moves Through the Fair” by Davy Graham. He often experimented with different tunings, just as Page did. He used the DADGAD tuning on the song Page would adapt for “White Summer.” Besides Page, Graham influenced Nick Drake, Paul Simon, Bert Jansch, Ritchie Blackmore, Wizz Jones, Ralph McTell, Martin Carthy, Richard Thompson, and Ray Davies of The Kinks, who proclaimed the guitarist was “the greatest blues player I ever saw, apart from Big Bill Broonzy.”

Many dreams come true, and some have silver linings
I live for my dream and a pocket full of gold
Mellow is the man who knows what he’s been missing
Many, many men can’t see the open road


Page and Plant began writing the song in 1970 at a cottage in Wales called Bron-Yr-Aur following a grueling U.S. tour. There was no electricity or running water. They often wrote next to an open fire. Plant told author Paul Rees, “It created such a dynamic, coming off tour and going up to Wales. It was this thing about trading excess for nothingness, having these great pastoral moments.”

The band began performing “Over the Hills and Far Away” live in 1972, but it wouldn’t be released until March 1973. The song refers to a hippie lifestyle with references to the open road. The formula used on “Stairway to Heaven” is employed here with the acoustic guitar intro leading into the heavier second half of the song.

Many is a word that only leaves you guessing
Guessing ’bout a thing you really ought to know, oh, oh, oh, oh
Really ought to know (oh, oh, oh)
I really ought to know
You know I should, you know I should, you know I should, you know I should

Headley Grange

The band packed up and headed for the Hampshire countryside and a crumbling old mansion house, Headley Grange, built in 1795. Local poor and needy people used it for shelter before it became in disrepair. The band hired The Rolling Stones’ mobile studio to capture their latest project. Page was happy Plant was contributing more lyrics. He spoke about his experience on the previous album when Plant provided lyrics for “Stairway to Heaven.” “I’d contributed to the lyrics on the first three albums, but I was always hoping that Robert would take care of that aspect of the band,” Page said. “By the fourth album, he was coming up with fantastic stuff. I remember asking him about the phrase ‘bustle in your hedgerow’ and him saying, ‘Well, that’ll get people thinking.'”

Houses of the Holy was not met with immediate strong sales, but, over time, it did sell over 10 million copies, earning Diamond award status from the RIAA.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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