Written by folk singer/university student Anne Johannsen in the late 1950s, ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ was subsequently recorded and released by a variety of artists in the 1960s, including The Quicksilver Messenger Service in 1967, The Association in 1965 and notably Joan Baez who recorded a live version in 1962.
Joan Baez attributed the lyrics to ‘traditional’ and folk fans Led Zeppelin upon hearing the Baez version, decided not only to cover it, but presumably also avoid paying song writing royalties by crediting it to ‘Traditional. Arranged by Page’ when they recorded it in 1969 for their eponymous debut album.
Johannsen (now Anne Bredon by this time), incredibly didn’t discover the song had even been covered by Led Zeppelin until more than a decade later and in the 1980s was able to claim a fairly hefty back payment of royalties from Atlantic Records whilst simultaneously having the song writing credit altered to ‘Anne Bredon/Jimmy Page & Robert Plant’. The fact that Page and Plant were able to keep their names on it is probably as much a testament to having the wherewithal to hire good attorneys as their arranging abilities and Anne Bredon now resides in California earning a living from weaving baskets and selling jewellery. Baez however was far more magnanimous and changed the listing on later copies of her Joan Baez in Concert album, to give sole credit to Bredon.
Legality issues aside, I think I’d rather stick my genitals in a bees nest than listen to the Baez or Bredon versions of this tune. For whilst caterwauling vocals and plucky sounding acoustic guitar may be fine for the black turtle neck crowd, the sheer power and virtuosity of the Zeppelin version leaves them floundering in the dust bowl where they belong.
Led Zeppelin (along with Black Sabbath) really pioneered the loud/quiet way of playing rock music and this song is a fine example of that style. First released as a promo in 1969, the track features good use of reverb/mike placement and famously contains a snippet of Robert Plants vocals on the album version where they shouldn’t be due to his powerful voice being picked up by various mikes recording the instruments.
The album cut features a steel stringed acoustic guitar during the verses, which doubles up with a Fender telecaster during the choruses to further emphasize its loud/quiet qualities. However, I prefer the fully electric live version available on the first disc of the Led Zeppelin DVD set released in 2003. In this version Page uses the telecaster the whole way through, plucking the strings during the verses, before switching to a pick for the choruses creating a much more visceral, fuzz-tone laden sound. Despite the occasional flubbed note from Page and perhaps a few too many “Baby’s” from Plant, this 1969 recording culled from Denmark television reflects the band in typically fine form with John Paul Jones improvising bass runs and Bonham showcasing his well renowned power on the skins.
Little live guitar flourishes such as those at the 2:07 and 3:08 marks, as well as the wah-wah deployed in the final chorus help to further positively differentiate this performance from the studio one. In some ways, this is Led Zeppelin at its best. Later they got slicker and the ideas became more developed, but this clip shows them as they were when just starting out. That is, as four individuals with exceptional talent learning to play together whilst simultaneously realising their collective supremacy as a group. Indeed this performance retains a raw power somewhat akin to an incredibly virtuosic punk band and as Depeche Mode once said, “I just can’t get enough”.
Written and posted by Horatio Cornblower. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.
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