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Gallows Pole

by

Led Zeppelin



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This is based on an old Blues song called "Gallis Pole," which was popularized by Leadbelly. The song is considered "Traditional," meaning the author is unknown. Jimmy Page got the idea for this after hearing the version by the California Folk singer Fred Gerlach. Page explained when previewing the song for Melody Maker: "He was one of the first white people on Folkways records to get involved in Leadbelly. We have completely rearranged it and changed the verse. Robert wrote a set of new lyrics. That's John Paul Jones on mandolin and bass, and I'm playing the banjo, six-string acoustic, 12-string and electric guitar. The bloke swinging on the gallows pole is saying wait for his relatives to arrive. The drumming builds nicely." (thanks, Jason Lee - New York, NY)
The lyrics are about a man trying to delay his hanging until his friends and family can rescue him. Although there are many versions of this song, Led Zeppelin's is unusual in that it ends with the hangman hanging the protagonist despite all of his bribes. Most other versions end with the hangman setting the protagonist free. (thanks, Alex - Melbourne, FL)
A similar folk song called "Slack Your Rope" was sung by an Arkansan named Jimmie Driftwood. He adapted the words from a fifteenth century British Ballad when any crime could be paid off with money right up to the last step of the gallows. In his version, the criminal is definitely a woman and her lover rides up and pays her fee. (thanks, Lalah - Wasilla, AK)
This is the only Led Zeppelin song that features a banjo. Jimmy Page wrote it on a banjo he borrowed from John Paul Jones. He had never played the banjo before.
Jimmy Page and Robert Plant teamed up again to record this song for an MTV Unplugged set. It's featured on the The Very Best of MTV Unplugged album and the duo are listed simply as Page and Plant. (thanks, Dave - Canberra, Australia)
Jimmy Page has claimed this as his favorite song on Led Zeppelin III.
The band used some lyrics from this song on their 1975 track "Trampled Underfoot."
This is a rare Led Zeppelin song that speeds up as it goes along, a technique Jimmy Page also used on "Stairway To Heaven." (thanks, Adrian - Wilmington, DE)
In 1994, Page and Plant re-recorded this in Wales for their album No Quarter. On that version, Page played a hurdy-gurdy, an odd instrument resembling an organ grinder that sounds like a bagpipe.
This was performed only two or three times live in concert, in an electric-only version. However, a few verses of the song (especially the final one) were sometimes included in some medleys (for instance in "Communication Breakdown," or "Trampled Underfoot"). (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin Artistfacts
More Led Zeppelin songs
More songs that were adapted from early Blues songs
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More songs featuring a banjo

Comments (50):

I think the lyrics tell a sad story with the way the man is still hung even after trying to prevent his hanging. But the music does not match the meaning of the lyrics and are more happy. The fact that the lyrics and the music do not emotionally match is what makes this song unique.
- Thomas, Roswell, NM
The final two lines before the last refrain are:
Your brother brought me silver, Your sister warmed my soul,
But now I laugh and pull so hard, see you swinging from the Gallows Pole

So, yes, the hangman was a jerk, took money & sex to redeem, the poor sap's life, then laughingly hanged him anyway!
- Cyberpope, Richmond, Canada
Cameron from Plymouth, WI is right. Most people assume that the man is hanged but actually his sister is the one who is hanged even though she warmed the soul of the hangman. Plant sings "SHE's swinging from the gallow's pole".
- Tom, York, PA
This song is about two things:

1) Blood is thicker than water

-his friends didn't do jack s--t for him when it came time to put up or shut up, and his family did everything that they could to help him.

2) Don't trust anyone. Even after giving the hangman what he wanted, the f--ker still hung him
- heywood, somewhere, IL
Well Luke from the UK shows what you know about Earl Scruggs....nothing. Jimmy Page sounds like the amateur banjo player that he is. And don't get all in a sweat about your hero-worshipping self. There's plenty more like you who think exactly like you.
- Heather, Los Angeles, CA
Umm... Ron from New Jersey, you do realize this song was released in 1970, 21 years after 1949? The woman in that movie must've been singing the old traditional blues version, called "Gallis Pole" or "Maid Freed from the Gallows".
- Brad, Lexington, KY
The song doesnt need anything more than what jimmy played. The spirit and drive of the song would have been overshadowed if someone like Earl Scruggs was fret-wanking all over the place.
- Luke Taylor, Manchester, United Kingdom
Sorry folks.....Earl Scruggs could've played that banjo MUCH better.
- Heather, Los Angeles, CA
I love how it builds and gets faster..If you'd have stuck this on Led zeppelin 4, it would have been an all time classic. An unbelievably good song.
- Luke Taylor, Manchester, United Kingdom
Performed live a few times in 1971.
- Peter Griffin, Quahog, RI
I recently bought The complete Studio Recordings and I absulutly love this I always thought is sucked before I heard it more and now it is one of my favorites.
- Bill, Topeka, KS
one of my favorite zeppelin songs!
- evan, chicago, IL
Jimmy Page sure did a damn good job playing an instrument he never played before.
- Peter Griffin, Quahog, RI
this song rocks
- Ed, York, PA
This is definitely one of Zeppelin's lesser-known but better songs. It should be considered one of their greatest hits.
- Caleb, Camp Point, IL
It is necessary to be very attentive when we call somebody "friends". "I couldn't get no silver, I couldn't get no gold,
you know that we're too damn poor to keep you from the Gallows Pole " - as for me that's about treason. I think, that the friends of hero didn't tell him the truth.
- Dmytro, Kharkiv, Europe
The earliest recording was done by Leadbelly in 1938 titled 'Mama Did You Bring Any Silver (Gallows Pole)'. A sample can be heard here: http://www.amazon.com/Popular-Songbook-Alan-Lomax-Collection/dp/B0000AUHRE
- walter, Antwerp, Belgium
In Zeppelin's version, the hangman accepts various bribes, but still executes the protagonist. The condemned repeatedly pleads with the hangman to "hold it a little while" because he sees one of his friends or relatives arriving with something to offer. First comes a friend who regretfully informs the protagonist that he has nothing, followed by his brother with silver and gold, and finally his sister, who offers herself sexually to the hangman. Unlike the traditional version, the Led Zeppelin version concludes with a surprise ending by reporting that none of these tactics have worked; the hangman accepts the bribes, and takes over the lyrics as he reports that the sister "warmed my soul" but "now I laugh and pull so hard" and carries out the execution anyway.
- Wilson, Atlanta, GA
A woman strumming a guitar sings a few lines from this song in a 1949 John Wayne movie, "The Fighting Kentuckian".
- Ron, Colonia, NJ
Regardless of origin, this is a good tune.
- Colin, Manchester, England.
The song it awsome the opening chords always make me feel like I'm in a western. Page is god especialy with creating feelings and emotions with his music.
- Joe, Oakdale, MN
plant sings some of the last lines of this song during the last parts of some live versions of trampled underfoot
- ryan, ashland, OR
This song is very similar to the storyline of the Shakespeare play 'Measure for Measure' and the relationship between siblings Claudio and Isabella.
- Genevieve, Leongatha, Australia
The naration starts off with the person being hung originally. They ask the hangman to delay the event as his brother is coming with riches of some sort - gold, silver and other things. Then the person's sister comes along and does indeed take the hangman by the hand and does the dirty. However the naration changes over to the hangman after the person being hung asks if he is free to go. The hangman puts his "client" in a false sense of security but proceeds to hang them after reminding them he took his brother's riches and his sister's dignity (perhaps virginity?) and pulls hard and hangs them. A right ol' plot twist!

The speed of the song, in my opinion, reflects the state of the person about to be hung. Starts off a bit slow and depressing relising they are about to die and there is little hope. It slowly speeds up as their brother arrives with riches - hope and excitement. Then their sister arrives thus it speeds up even more - more hope. The person thinks they might be released. However it changes to the hangman, who must be a right git, who, regardless of the offerings he has accepted, hangs the man and laughs at him - this is when the song really takes off.

Just my personal take on the lyrics - what the song means to me personally is a whole different matter. It also reminds me of the 80s, growing up in Canada sitting in my dad's old Monte Carlo.
- Kevin, Paisley, Scotland
they do make all thier covers of old songs thier own and quite succesfully these songs all have been made a number of times by many other groups trying to imitate the crude blues( go ahead and listen to some of the orginal blus music but none had the brillance of zepp, many of the songs are mere remants of the orginal but you don't sue someone who hasn't any money
- Iceman, South Glastonbury, CT
This is one of the most underrated Zeppelin songs; it is actually one of their (in my opinion)best. Of course, I've never heard a Zep song i didn't like.
However, the lyrics are not about a woman being hanged. THey are about a man being hanged, and his friends and brother show up to pay off his crime, but his friends have nothing and the brother not enough. So eventually his sister comes to pay off the crime. She does this by, well, screwing the hangman. Thus, the man who was to be hanged was not, but the sister WAS, for committing adultery.
- Cameron, Plymouth, WI
This song is featured on "The Very Best of MTV Unplugged." It's worth checking out, and the album also has some other cool stuff on it.
- KingBabi, Arlington, MA
No wonder this song and "Slack Up Your Rope" have very similar lyrics. I heard "Slack Up Your Rope" a few months ago on a college station in Ashville North Carolina. It was sung by a woman, whose name I can't remember right now. That song has a western sort of feel to it. Btw, how can you find the Ledbelly version?
- Stefanie, Rock Hill, SC
Taal & Dave the words 'see saw marjory daw' come from a nursery rhyme that kids used to sing when I was a wee girl
- Fi, Ayr, Scotland
To Dave from Atlantic City, according to Accurate Led Zeppelin Lyrics (http://www.angelfire.com/nm/zeppelin/) Plant sings: See-saw, Margaret Daw, gotta swing, See-saw, knock on my door, I, I gotta sing, ah-ha-ha
- Taal, Australia
Me and my dad went to see Robert Plant and The Strange Sensation (his current band) last summer and he played this song.. amazing!!
- Robert, Burlington, Canada
It sounds quite sad at the start, surprising twist with the, "Now I laugh oh so hard to see you swingin' on the gallows pole." I love it.
- John, Kalgoorlie, Australia
very underated song
- nick, houlton, ME
i love this song. i love how robert says 'hang man, hang man' sounds so awesome. they are awesome. all their music is awesome.
- olivia, Perth, Australia
Such a great song.I recently got to hear this live when Plant was in AC with his group The Strange Sensation. My fav lyric isnt on the here though "see saw ???? back door ". i could never figure out what he was saying yet its still catchy.
- dave, Atlantic City, NJ
In Ledbelly's "Gallis Pole" the protagonist is successfully liberated from the hangman. It's a shock in the Zeppelin song when he hangs.
- Brian, La Mesa, CA
At first I thought this song was pretty lame. But the more I heard it the more I apreciated it.LED ZEPPELIN ROCKS
- Nick, Solvang, CA
This song is seems to be based on a old english ballad, usually called "The Maid Freed from the Gallows" or "The Briery Bush". It documents the events of a person about to be hung and having friends and realatives arrive to try to either see the execution or have brought money to try to buy their freedom.
- Tony, Roanoke, VA
If you get a chance, please listen to the original version by Leadbelly. He is not called "King of the Twelve String Guitar" for nothing. There are snippets of the song various places on the Internet, but the best place to find it is on the CD "Absolutely the Best" and they are not kidding!
- Jude, Thomasville, GA
My point exactly David. I never heard any similarities in the lyrics to "Gallows Pole" and "Trampled Underfoot".
- Stefanie magura, Rock Hill, SC
Ok i just figured it out i have read the lrics like 15 times(no i do have a life)just to figure out the last part and here it is the guy that wants to be saved gets killed anyway Wow that has got to suck and at the same time its kinda funny when i was listen to the song i thought the brother or sister was hung but it was him I have sloved a mystery that has botherd me for some time and i want the world to know.
- Erica, Hampstead, NC
Every song zep borrows sounds almost completely different than the original, all they really did was borrow lyrics.
- George, No. Hampton, NH
Who knows but I love this song
- Josh, Las Vegas, NV
How many songs did Zep "borrow" from old blues artist's like Ledbelly and Robert Johnson?
- Billy, Bellingham, WA
On Trampled Underfoot was that from the DVD when Page broke a string. And the Gallows Pole lines were only played live. This song is good..one of my favorites to play on Acoustic
- Riley, Lynn, MA
truly awesome song. dunno why, but i just love it. the banjo makes it all the better
- Brady, Fort Stockton, TX
This song is used in the movie Bandits when they are escaping from prison.
- Heather, Baker City, OR
Actually, Page didn't play the hurdy gurdy for the album No Quarter, as can been seen on the video or DVD. I guess it was Nigel Eaton. Page played the twelve string accoustic, and Porl Thompson (ex The Cure) played the banjo :)
- Ben, Hilversum, Netherlands
On "How the West Was Won," they sing a line from Gallows Pole. I'm pretty sure it's "I think I see my brother comin' ridin' many a mile".....Also during "Trampled Underfoot" I noticed that Jimmy breaks a string, and still tears it up on guitar
- Josh Tapio, Omaha, NE
Which lines were used in Trampled Underfoot?
I have the lyrics to both songs and I don't see them.
- David, Los Angeles, CA
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