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Artists: Joan Baez, Led Zeppelin
Album: In Concert
Writer: Anne Bredon
When you hear Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You by Led Zeppelin, you may not realize that the song started out as a folk song. This in itself is not surprising since Led Zeppelin was heavily influenced by folk. Songs like Black Mountain Side, Ramble On, The Battle of Evermore, and Going to California, among others, exemplify this influence.
Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You was first recorded by Joan Baez on her 1962 album, In Concert.
The song was so traditional-sounding that Baez when she heard a student playing it at Oberlin College, assumed it was an old traditional folk song from the public domain. It turned out that the student, Janet Smith, had learned the song from its writer, Anne Bredon, when they were both students at the University of California, Berkeley. Baez listed the song as “traditional” on the album but proper credit was given, later on, reading “Words and Music by Anne Bredon, by assignment from Janet Smith, C. 1963 by Ryerson Music Publishers.”
The song appeared on Led Zeppelin’s 1969 first self-titled album. When Jimmy Page, who called Joan Baez’s version “haunting” got ahold of a copy, however, it was an earlier pressing, so he assumed it was traditional. The credit read “Traditional, arr. Jimmy Page.” And arrange it Page did. He changed the acoustic guitar to a fingerstyle picking pattern, added flamenco parts, and, of course, explosive and loud sections absent from the original. The song is a complete original. Rather than talk about it, just compare the two for yourself.
It took twenty years for proper credit to be given for the song on Led Zeppelin copies after Bredon heard her son listening to it and was able to make arrangements for fair compensation. On the boxed set re-release of 1990, the song is attributed to “Anne Bredon, Page, and Plant.” It has been reported that she was also reimbursed for royalties owed to her, but there is no public-facing information to confirm this.
Robert Plant and Jimmy Page do seem to have genuinely believed that Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You was in the public domain, but they actually did knowingly rip-off, or ‘nick’ as Plant would say, several other songs, including Whole Lotta Love, Bring It On Home, Dazed and Confused, and Black Mountain Side. They were sued for all of these but Black Mountain Side, as, although Page based the guitar arrangement on Blackwaterside by Bert Jansch, the song itself was in the public domain which would have lead to a complicated case.