Gallows Pole – Unraveling the Ballad of Desperation and Betrayal


You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Led Zeppelin's Gallows Pole at Lyrics.org.
Article Contents:
  1. Music Video
  2. Lyrics
  3. Song Meaning
  4. A Morbid Plea Against the Tick of Time
  5. The Social Commentary of a Hangman’s Bargain
  6. Unlocking the Song’s Hidden Meaning
  7. Memorable Lines that Resound with Betrayal
  8. The Haunting Legacy of an Age-Old Folk Tale

Lyrics

Hangman, hangman, hold it a little while
Think I see my friends coming
Riding a many mile
Friends did you get some silver?
Did you get a little gold?
What did you bring me my dear friends
To keep me from the gallows pole?
What did you bring me to keep me from the gallows pole?

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
Hangman, hangman, hold it a little while
I think I see my brother coming
Riding a many mile
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?
Brother, I brought you some silver
I brought a little gold
I brought a little of everythin
To keep you from the gallows pole
Yes, I brought you to keep you from the gallows pole

Hangman, hangman, turn your head awhile
I think I see my sister coming
Riding a many mile, mile, mile
Sister, I implore you, take him by the hand
Take him to some shady bower
Save me from the wrath of this man
Please take him
Save me from the wrath of this man, man

Hangman, hangman, upon your face a smile
Pray tell me that I’m free to ride
Ride for many mile, mile, mile
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, pole, pole, pole, yeah
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, yeah
But now I laugh and pull so hard
And see you swinging on the gallows pole, pole, pole
Swingin’ on the gallows pole
Swingin’ on the gallows pole
Swingin’ on the gallows pole
Swingin’ on the gallows pole, pole, pole, pole, pole, pole, pole, pole

Full Lyrics

Dangling precariously between life and death, Led Zeppelin’s ‘Gallows Pole’ encapsulates a haunting narrative infused with a sense of urgency that goes beyond its folk roots. This rendition of a timeless classic, rejuvenated by Led Zeppelin’s robust sound, is a testament to the band’s ability to infuse new life into old tales, transforming them into rock epics.

The song, rife with a chilling story of bargaining for life, showcases the band’s capability to blend storytelling with heart-pounding music. The urgency of the protagonist’s plight is brought to sonic life by Jimmy Page’s guitar, Robert Plant’s emotive vocals, and the formidable rhythm section of John Paul Jones and John Bonham. But beneath the exhilarating musicianship lies a tale of mortal desperation, social inequities, and the ultimate betrayal.

A Morbid Plea Against the Tick of Time

The repetitive pleading of the condemned in ‘Gallows Pole’ echoes against the backdrop of an inevitable fate. As the song progresses, each plea for life becomes more desperate, mirrored by the intensifying tempo and urgency in the instrumentation. The hangman is asked to delay the execution as friends and family are imagined to approach with possible reprieve.

Yet, the tangible distance of salvation becomes a metaphor for hope’s cruelty. The song doesn’t only deal with life and death; it’s a mirror held up to society, revealing the grim reality where the value of life is weighed against gold and silver.

The Social Commentary of a Hangman’s Bargain

Through the lens of ‘Gallows Pole,’ Led Zeppelin comments on the stark social realities of the past that, unsettlingly, still resonate today. The protagonist’s reliance on material wealth as a means of survival illustrates the inherent inequality and mercantilism ingrained in the justice system. It’s a profound indictment of a society where the rich may live and the poor are left to swing.

Plant’s wailing vocals underscore the urgency of this social commentary. Each verse reflects an uncomfortable truth about the human condition and the lengths to which one will go to cling to life, making the narrative as timely as it is timeless.

Unlocking the Song’s Hidden Meaning

Some argue that ‘Gallows Pole’ holds hidden layers that transcend its literal storyline. It could symbolize a spiritual or emotional trial, where the gallows represent the ultimate consequence of one’s actions. The bargaining could be interpreted as the internal struggle to make amends, to change fate through acts of good — each strategy failing until the ultimate betrayal by one’s own kin.

The chilling conclusion, with the hangman accepting the bribe only to betray the protagonist, could also symbolize the fickle nature of man under pressure, or the ultimate betrayal by the systems designed to protect us. In the end, the gallows pole remains an ambiguous but powerful symbol open to interpretation.

Memorable Lines that Resound with Betrayal

The penultimate verse in ‘Gallows Pole’ provides a devastating twist, ‘But now I laugh and pull so hard / And see you swinging on the gallows pole.’ The hangman’s betrayal after being appeased by the sister’s plea borders on the Shakespearean. It’s a line that seals the protagonist’s doom with a somber finality.

This memorable line emphasizes the core theme of betrayal and serves as a stark reminder of the harshest turns of human nature. The hangman’s laughter contrasts the gravity of death, reflecting the coldness with which life can be extinguished.

The Haunting Legacy of an Age-Old Folk Tale

While Led Zeppelin brought ‘Gallows Pole’ into the spotlight, the song’s roots trace back to centuries-old folk music, specifically the traditional song ‘The Maid Freed from the Gallows’, which has various iterations across Europe. This legacy adds layers of depth to Zeppelin’s interpretation, as generations of storytelling have imbued the narrative with a resilience that only folklore can possess.

In translating this folk tale to the rock genre, Led Zeppelin has preserved its essence while transforming it into a cultural beacon for newer generations. ‘Gallows Pole’ endures not only as a powerful story but as a cultural artifact, immortalizing the band’s ability to bridge the gap between past and present.

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