Monday, December 1, 2014

Three Versions of "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You"

I remember where I was when I first heard Led Zeppelin. 1969. Their first album had just been released and someone turned us on to it in Scott Homan's basement. Scott and a couple other kids were forming a band and I sometimes used to sing with them, though I was too shy to perform live. The power of Zeppelin's music with Robert Plant's vocals was devastating. From the opening chords our music stopped and all we could do was listen. Three cuts were especially riveting: "Dazed and Confused" and "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" on side one and "How Many More Times" as the closer on side two.

In those days when we listened to music we seldom connected it to a pre-history. It was a song and it moved us. Only later did we understand that much of rock and roll had roots in the Mississippi Delta or folk music history. Bands like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones drew inspiration from these sources, re-inventing them and making them their own, as Zeppelin did with the classic "Hangman", re-naming it "Gallows Pole."

"Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" was a folk song written by Anne Bredon in the late 1950s, but it was Joan Baez who gave it wings. And that's what brought this recollection to mind.

Last week as I was digging through my vinyls I came across her 1962 live recording titled Joan Baez In Concert. The concert opens with her spellbinding rendition of this song. I immediately thought of the manner in which the Led Zeppelin version floored me and I realized that Baez in her way was equally smashing. I could see why Jimmy Page and Robert Plant felt this might be a good song to sink their teeth into.

Here's that 1962 Joan Baez rendition... at DailyMotion.



While looking for the Baez performance I came across another heart-wrenching interpretation of the song by Barbara Mueller. Mueller was also a Greenwich Village folk singer of the 60's. Interestingly, this YouTube video attributes the song to a Janet Smith.


Finally, here's Led Zeppelin's compelling permutation. Ironically the album that so moved us when we first heard it was panned by Rolling Stone magazine. They gave it a "ho hum, so what" type of review. In 1994 it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2003 Rolling Stone listed it at 29th on its list of Top 500 Albums of All Time. What does that tell you?



It's a simple blues song, but all three singers manage to inhabit the lyrics in such a way as to make it their own.

Nothing more to say. The song says it all.

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