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Song by Led Zeppelin, from their 1970 album Led Zeppelin III. Originally a folk tune of traditional origin, and a very different plot. Starts with a lone, slowly strummed guitar, and the shivering voice of Robert Plant, then adds in a banjo then a bass guitar pulsing along in the background, then right after the first chorus, drums. Towards the end, the whole band joins in on the hangman's laughter. The lyrics are conversational, and I've broken up the quotes to show the change of voice. All characters are sung by Plant with no change in tone.

The main voice is the hanged man. He pleads with the hangman to stay his execution a little while longer, because he knows his friends will come to save him, and they'll bring silver or gold to buy his freedom. This forms a repeated theme in the song:

"Hangman, hangman, hold it a little while;
I think I see my friends comin', riding many a mile.
Friends, 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?"

This first repetition of the plea is done slowly, but the friend's reply ("you know we're too damn poor / to keep you from the Gallows Pole") is disheartening, and the tune picks up the narrator's urgency in both tempo and volume. There isn't really a chorus in the song; the structure is more of a call and response. A two-person bluegrass group might sing this and alternate sections for more effect, but Led Zeppelin chose to let Plant sing the whole thing.

But back to our protagonist, whose collar is getting warm. His friends can't save him, but he knows his brother will be along soon, and begs a stay for a few more moments. Yeah, he's stalling - can you blame him? Soon enough, his brother shows up, and answers his pleas:

"Brother, I brought you some silver! I brought a little gold!
I brought a little of everything to keep you from the gallows pole.
Yes, I brought it, to keep you from the gallows pole."

Apparently the coin is not enough. Our hero begs the hangman for yet another delay, this time because his sister is coming. Now, I'm an only child, so I'm not sure how I feel about this next bit - he begs his sister to "take (the hangman) by the hand; take him to some shady bower, and save me from the wrath of this man. Please take him! Save me from the wrath of this mad man!" I don't know about you, but I think that's pretty sketchy.

The hangman admits that the victim's money is good and plenty; that his sister is lovely; and that he doesn't care a whit for bribery. Perhaps bribing the hangman is a capital crime? In any case, Led Zeppelin altered the folk tune (where apparently the hangman is swayed not by money, but by love) to end with the hangman speaking:

"Oh, yes you've got a fine sister; she warmed my blood from cold.
She warmed my blood to boiling hot, to keep you from the gallows pole.
Your brother brought me silver, and your sister warmed my soul,
and now I laugh, oh so hard, to see you swinging on the gallows pole...
Ah, ah-hah-ha-ha..."


CST Approved

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