Brother, did you get me some silver?
Did you get a little gold?
What did you bring me, my brother, to keep me from the Gallows Pole?
Led Zeppelin III is easily my favorite Zeppelin album because it showcases the band’s “shadow and light” ethos at its finest. Certainly it brings “teh rawk” in abundance with tracks like “The Immigrant Song”, “Out on the Tiles”, “Celebration Day”, and “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, but it’s the slower, moodier, more introspective acoustic tunes that really stand out. From the exotic strings of “Friends” to the yearning melancholy of “Tangerine” and “That’s The Way” to the rustic folk of “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”, the album represents the band’s evolution beyond the predominant blues-based hard rock of their first two LPs. They had a deep bench of styles and influences from which they infused much of their music.
Leading off Side 2 of the album was Gallows Pole, one of the album’s few radio tracks. The tune is based off a centuries-old traditional European folk song originally entitled The Maid Freed from the Gallows; most renditions of the song detail a woman about to be executed by an unforgiving, immutable hangman. Other versions feature a doomed male protagonist, but the end result is generally the same. The victim is pleading for their life, often imploring their family to bring gold, silver, or anything of value to save them from execution. It hardly ever ends well.
In Zeppelin’s version, the narrator pleads the hangman to hold off on the execution in a last-ditch effort to sway the would-be Jack Ketch with bribes. First comes a group of his friends, who unfortunately brought no silver or gold, claiming they are too poor to offer up anything of monetary value. The narrator’s brother arrives next, bringing silver, gold, “a little of everything” to save him from a certain death… but to no avail! The hangman remains unmoved.
Finally the narrator’s sister arrives. The narrator begs her to offer up her maidenhood to the hangman, as one final effort to keep him from swinging from the gallows pole. She agrees to do so, and the hangman himself seems very appreciative of the gesture, claiming she “warmed his soul”.
But it’s still not enough…
Oh, yes, you got a fine sister, She warmed my blood from cold,
She brought my blood to boiling hot
To keep you from the Gallows Pole
Your brother brought me silver, Your sister warmed my soul,
But now I laugh and pull so hard and see you swinging on the Gallows Pole
But now I laugh and pull so hard and see you swinging on the Gallows Pole, Pole, Pole…