1001 Songs Challenge,  1930s,  Music

1001 Songs Challenge #18: Gallis Pole (1939)

On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenge of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.

My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.

I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.

So long as I post every day (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…legendary!


Lead Belly – Gallis Pole (1939)

The Maid Freed from the Gallows

” The Maid Freed from the Gallows” is one of many titles of a centuries-old folk song about a condemned maiden pleading for someone to buy her freedom from the executioner. In the collection of ballads compiled by Francis James Child in the late 19th century, it is indexed as Child Ballad number 95; 11 variants, some fragmentary, are indexed as 95A to 95K.

Lyrics (via Genius)


Leaving the Land of Oz behind, we make with haste once again for the US for a spot of blues and folk from Lead Belly. This influential artist has seen the likes of Nirvana recreate their own takes on his work. For today’s number we delve into Gallis Pole, also known as Gallows Pole, which would be the title used by Led Zeppelin when they recorded their version on Led Zeppelin III.

The song has its origins in the 19th century where it was sometimes known as The Maid Freed from the Gallows. Lead Belly reworked the song which tells the story of the narrator facing the gallows and beseeches their brother and sister to come to them with gold and silver to buy their freedom and spare them from execution. Researching lyrics online it seems in one version that our narrator does succeed in getting the gold and the silver to pay the executioner. Sadly, the executioner pockets the gold and silver and still delights in executing the narrator. 

I was only familiar with Lead Belly from Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York performance and Kurt Cobain introducing the song, Where Did You Sleep Last Night?, to the audience and offering a little background on the artist. I did enjoy Gallis Pole and can see why Lead Belly would have influenced artists that followed. The song is fast-paced with Lead Belly gliding effortlessly on his 12-string guitar with hasty vocals to match, perhaps emphasising the desperation of his situation as the narrator facing the gallows.


Favourite song so far:

Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit (1939)

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.

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