Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You (1969)

Led Zeppelin

Written by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and Anne Bredon
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Led Zeppelin’s body of work is so vast, so varied and so flooded with outstanding songs, you have to sit down (or dance around) to simply start somewhere. “Babe, Im Gonna Leave You,” coming so early in their career, a sign of things to come, is a great place to begin to explore Zep’s core contributions to Rock-N-Roll.

It mingles Folk, standard Rock-N-Roll, and Heavy Metal in one of the more unique formulas in the history of the genre. Additionally, it does a tremendous job exploring the battered soul, tormented by some sort of inner demon – wanderlust? – who cannot remain with the woman he loves. That the reason remains undefined charges the song with the extra power of mystery.

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The music lends a firm underpinning to this enigma, at turns feeling as if the “action” of the lyrics is set on the moors of Scotland, in a barren cityscape, or in the farther reaches of the bowels of hell. It runs from the beautiful painterly arpeggios of Jimmy Page’s folky Spanish – almost flamenco – guitar opening to a first layer of lively power chords still played on an acoustic instrument then progresses all the way to full-on hard, hard Rock.

Robert Plant’s seductive, pain-ridden vocals follow more or less the same path. He and Page work wonderfully together, meshing on every single level, like exhibition flyers in tight formation. In between, there are hints of The Who’s work and more than a passing musical nod to “A Day In The Life” by The Beatles.

Babe I'm Gonna coverBabe, baby, baby, I’m gonna leave you 
I said baby, you know I’m gonna leave you
I’ll leave you when the summertime
Leave you when the summer comes a-rollin’ 
Leave you when the summer comes along

Baby, baby, I don’t wanna leave you
I ain’t jokin’ woman, I got to ramble 
Oh, yeah, baby, baby, I believin’
We really got to ramble
I can hear it callin’ me the way it used to do
I can hear it callin’ me back home 

The well-oiled shifting between forms is one hallmark of this roughly six-and-a-half-minute mini-opera. The entire band is in optimum mode, quiet and ruminating on one hand, gliding effortlessly on another, and finally exploding with anger and fear and a wistful hope in returning one day.

It becomes (foggily) apparent that this coming and going has happened before and the singer is in the grip of a force greater than himself. He is aware of the pleasure he will give up. He is aware he has hurt his lover before and is hurting her again as the song unwinds the tale.

It feels good to have you back again 
And I know that one day baby
it’s really gonna grow, yes it is
We gonna go walkin’
through the park every day
Come what may, every day
It was really, really good
You made me happy every single day
But now… I’ve got to go away! 

Babe I'm gonna 3 on stageBaby, baby, baby, baby 
That’s when it’s callin’ me 
I said that’s when
it’s callin’ me back home…

The pounding of the choruses echoes the interior pounding, the seat of the unresolved secret, this… emanation of the heart. Plant’s vocals tug at our heart strings. Our natural inclination is to ask “Why?” Or “What can be done?”

What is to be made of a man who felt happy every single day, yet moves on as if in some ill-begotten fairytale?

“Babe, Im Gonna Leave You” closes on a deep note of melancholy. It’s an irresistible archetype: The person hopelessly in love but can’t help himself from self-destructing. Set against what was once revolutionary musical styling that meanders back to around barren places, Zeppelin’s unique approach was often imitated during the ensuing decades. The modern world is upon us populated by men who cannot help themselves from going down into the abyss.

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  • The influence of “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” can be heard on Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” (1969) and “Suite Madame Blue” by Styx (1975).
  • Almost 30 years elapsed from the time Led Zeppelin last played “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” live in 1969 and its next performance in 1998.

Also by Led Zeppelin on

  • When The Levee BreaksWith John Bonham’s big, brazen drumwork leading the charge, “Levee” is a howling, blues-swept vision of the apocalypse.
  • Whole Lotta LoveBlended into a sharp-tasting draft of Rock that's been fermented into a tasty, spacey brew with a big foamy head.
  • Stairway To HeavenIt is wonderful. It’s marvelous. It is one of the most inventive compositions of Rock’s first golden age. And one of the most exalted.