A Song A Day – The Maid Freed From The Gallows

scgg9lFolklore and ancient ballads have very often found their way into modern music. Today we bring you one such ancient European ballad namely The Maid Freed from the Gallows. Many of you might have heard the Zeppelin song Gallows Pole or Bob Dylan’s Seven Curses which were inspired by this ballad. The song is about a condemned person trying to earn his freedom from his executioner by bribing him. The protagonist hopes that his dear ones will bring him gold and silver to pay off the hangman. However, only his true love finally helps him free himself. Although this version of the tale is most common in the Europe, in most of the modern versions, the protagonist is male and nobody is able to save him from the noose.

The origin of this ballad is unkown. However, the song most likely originated in a language other than English.Some fifty versions have been reported in Finland, where it is well known as Lunastettava neito. It is titled Den BortsÃ¥lda in Sweden, and Die Losgekaufte in German. The theme of delaying one’s execution while awaiting rescue by relatives appears with a similar structure in the classic fairy tale “Bluebeard” by Charles Perrault in 1697. Here we look at the three versions of the song that are available in the recorded form.

Gallis Pole – Leadbelly

The oldest recorded version of the song, called Gallis Pole, is by blues/folk singer Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter recorded in the 1930s. The song is a typical blues song with a rusty voice of Leadbelly accompanied by fast strumming of blues chords on the guitar.

The lyrics like any blues song are repetitive and in some parts are spoken instead of sung. The story is about the prisoner asking his loved ones to rescue him by getting gold, silver, etc. However, it mentions nothing about what happens to the prisoner at the end.

Seven Curses – Bob Dylan

Seven curses, recorded by Bob Dylan in 1963 for his Freewheelin’ album but released later in Bootleg Series (Vol. II) is also based on a similar idea although the lyrics of the song are quite different from any of the other versions. The song tells the story of a young girl trying to save her father from the noose and in the process has to sleep with the Judge. The Judge however never retracts his orders and the old man has to die despite his daughters sacrifice. The daughter then lays seven curses upon the judge. The lyrics of the song are extremely powerful and heart wrenching and Bob Dylan’s coarse voice only adds to the melancholy they create. Like many of Dylan’s songs, this song has also been covered by other artists; most notably it served as inspiration for Judy Collins’ song Anathea.

Gallows Pole – Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin recorded the song Gallows Pole for their album Led Zeppelin III in 1970. The album marks a shift of Zeppelin’s music towards experimenting with acoustic instruments. The song is composed on guitar chords and later a mandolin is used which brings a folksy tone to the music. Later, Zeppelin became a regular feature in Zeppelin songs (Going to California, Battle of Evermore to name a few). The song, just like Stairway, gets progressively faster with more instruments coming in as the song progresses.

A number of other variants of the song are available across different genres and languages. Here, we have videos of the versions of the song mentioned above and a broadway version of the song called “Slack Your Rope”. Enjoy!

Tags: , , , ,