Led Zeppelin

Gallows Pole

Composed by Jimmy Page / Robert Plant / Traditional

Song Review by

When rock fans heard Led Zeppelin sing "Gallows Pole" on the band's third album, few realized that the song's origins dated back to a much earlier time in English history. Francis Child, one of the early collectors of ancient British ballads, called the song "The Maid Freed from the Gallows" (Child ballad number 95). Though many variations of the song exist, the lyric basically tells the story of a boy or girl who is about to be hung for an unnamed crime. The condemned person, however, asks the hangman to "hold" or "slack your rope a little while" because he or she sees someone arriving who might buy his or her freedom with silver and gold. In succession, the mother, father, sister, and brother arrive, and these family members either do not have the silver or gold or refuse to pay it. Only the sweetheart who arrives last is able and willing to pay the fee in most versions. The song was very popular during the American folk revival in the late '50s and early '60s, with versions by Odetta, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Leadbelly. The Led Zeppelin version, interestingly, is one of the few in which the outlaw, despite his brother's silver and sister's favors, is actually hung.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Led Zeppelin III 1970 Atlantic 4:57
Led Zeppelin [Box Set] 1990 Atlantic 4:58
Complete Studio Recordings 1993 Atlantic 4:56
Definitive Collection Mini LP 2008 Rhino 4:56
The Complete Led Zeppelin Collection Rhino / Rhino Atlantic 4:57
blue highlight denotes editor's pick