Poor Tom

Songfacts®:

  • Recorded in 1970, this song was remixed for Coda, an album of unreleased tracks that came out after the group's drummer John Bonham died. It was intended for Led Zeppelin III, but didn't make the cut.
  • Jimmy Page and Robert Plant wrote this at Bron-y-aur, the cottage in Wales where they wrote most of Led Zeppelin III.
  • In the song, Tom finds out his wife is cheating on him and shoots her. It is highly atypical for a Zeppelin song: jug-band, acoustics, and harmonica. More of the skiffle than the Hammer of the Gods here, albeit still unmistakably Zeppelin.
  • Our resident Shakespearean scholar thumped his dusty "Complete Works" tome on the conference table to verify that The Tragedy of King Lear does, indeed, have a character in it called "Poor Tom." The name is first introduced in Act II, Scene III, "The open country," as the assumed alias of Edgar, son of Gloucester, who has been an established character previously. Edgar is driven mad by an attempt to usurp his rightful heritage, so adopts the name as a partial defense, but really his madness makes him a likely companion for Lear. Wait... Where are you going?

    Anyway, the "Poor Tom" reference gets passed through John Steinbeck's East of Eden along the way, and this song appears to be a more direct reference to a line from Steinbeck.
  • The lyric "seventh son" is a sideways reference to the myth that the seventh son of the seventh son is born with special powers, which could include being psychic, fortunetelling, having unusual skills, being able to talk to mustard in the fourth dimension, etc.

Comments: 23

  • Tony from San DiegoBonzo plays a great shuffle groove on the snare here. I actually like this better than most songs on III.
  • Vlad from Kyiv, UkraineAs always, Led Zeppelin aren't totally original: the amazing riff comes to this song directly from John Fahey's Sunflower Blues (compare, please at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lhAngnstXM)
  • Thomas from Roswell, NmPoor Tom, his wife is running around with other men all around town.
  • Mike from Fort Wayne, InI can't help but think of the Beatles every time I hear this. Very good song!
  • Jude from Denver, Cothomas, you say this isnt very zep like? Obviously youve never heard Led Zeppelin before.
  • Ray from Bonneville Salt Flats, UtOne of the most under-rated of LZ's songs.
  • Dustin from My Home, Inhey joe from oakdale and bennett from kansas city the drums are actually very bonham i know one would think not but i am a drummer and a huge bonham fan he is my main influence...but the type of beat bonzo is doin is called 2nd line and it is used a bit in zeppelin songs listen to how many more times and durring whole lotta love live and quite a number of others its acutally quite common for bonzo to just bust into some good ol' fashioned new orleans 2nd line drumming style the band did spend a lot of time the deep south when they were in america (royal orleans).....good ol bonzo always commin up with SHEER GENIOUS works best drummer ever
  • Peter Griffin from Quahog, RiActually, James, it's the Seventh son of a Seventh son that is born pyschic.
  • James from Gettysburg, PaIn folklore, the seventh son is supposed to be born with magic powers. There's a oldies song with the same theme called Seventh Son or something like that. That's why Tom always knew what was going on.

    BTW, a good friend of my family's is pregnant again, she has six boys so far. Hmmm............
  • Thomas from Staten Island, NyYeah this song isn't very Zep-like but its still great.
  • Bennett from Kansas City, Moyea the drum beat is so un bonham but it is still a great beat...love the vocals
  • Joe from Oakdale, MnThis song is awsome and very addicting. However the beat is very unlike Bonham. If you don't know what I mean, then you don't know Zep. Drummer will probably know best.
  • Keith from St. Paul, MnI'm also reading "King Lear" in class, and I came across the reference to Poor Tom. I know that in King Lear a Poor Tom (Bedlam) is an insane beggar that got released from the Bethlehem hospital in Elizabethan London. I don't think these are related though.
  • Dhani from Casselberry, FlGet's stuck in my head so much... :)
  • Dani from Nyc, NyI have no idea if there's a connection or not, but in school we're reading "king lear", and there's a reference in which a character dresses up in disguise and then goes by the name "Poor Tom"... i thought it was odd? anyone know if its just a coincedence?
  • Devon from Westerville, Ohthis is a great song. it kinda sounds like Plant is saying do a dog.
  • Micki from St. Louis, MoI love all Led Zeppelin songs, and have done quite a bit of research on the lyrics. Poor Tom is always different, no matter where you go to get the information. For instance, the second line could say 'worked the rivers run'. Some say the wife's name is Emme Mae, Elle Mae is another option. The chorus is always different, too. I could keep going. What ever he is singing, it is a great song.
  • John from Monvtille, NjI love songs that tell stories, and once again LZ comes through.
  • Nick from Solvang, CaI always play this song on the drums
  • David Corino from Hawley, PaOne of my favorite Zeppelin songs, my screan name is "Poortom shot8"
  • Paulo from New York, NyPearl Jam has a track on their latest album called "Can't Keep" that is somewhat reminscent of this - hope it doesn't mean Jimmy Page will sue those guys again. ;)
  • Jonathan from Ann Arbor, MiI agree with Adrian. It is a great folk tune. Very easy to listen to. Iam also a big fan of folk music, and this song is truly. The drum part gives the song a great feeling, and is very ingenious I might add. Great job Zeppelin!
  • Adrian from Wilmington, DeNice little folk tune, Bonzo's drumming is top notch as always
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