“Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” is a folk song written by Anne Bredon (then known as Anne Johannsen) in the late 1950s. It was recorded by Joan Baez (credited and became widely popular as “traditional”) and released on her 1962 album Joan Baez in Concert, Part 1; and by the English rock band Led Zeppelin, who included it on their 1969 debut album Led Zeppelin.
Other interpretations of the Bredon song include versions by the Plebs (1964 Decca Records UK/MGM Records USA, credited “Traditional, arranged Dennis”), The Association in 1965 (also doing a live version in 1970), and British pop singer Mark Wynter in 1965 (credited “Janet Smith”). Quicksilver Messenger Service recorded a variation of the song in 1967, which was covered by Welsh band Man on their album Maximum Darkness, recorded live at the Roundhouse on 26 May 1975. Vanilla Fudge recorded their version of the song in 2007. Miley Cyrus released a version that closely hewed to the Led Zeppelin version on SoundCloud in September 2014.
The band covered Baez’s version; both guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant were fans of Baez. Baez’s album had originally indicated no writing credit, and Led Zeppelin credited the song as “Trad. arr. Page”. In the 1980s, Bredon was made aware of Led Zeppelin’s version of the song and since 1990 the Led Zeppelin version has been credited to Anne Bredon/Jimmy Page & Robert Plant. Bredon received a substantial back-payment of royalties. Led Zeppelin’s version is in A minor.
Page played the song to Plant at their first meeting together, at Page’s riverside home at Pangbourne in late July 1968. In his book Stairway to Heaven, Zeppelin tour manager Richard Cole states that the arrangement evolved when Plant played Page the guitar part that eventually appeared on the album but, in an interview he gave with Guitar World magazine in 1998, Page denied this, noting that he had worked out the arrangement long before he met Plant, had told him he would like it on the album, and that Plant at that time did not play the guitar. Page has stated that the arrangement originated from his days as an early 1960s session musician; “I used to do the song in the days of sitting in the darkness playing my six-string behind Marianne Faithfull.”
Page may have recorded another version of the song with Steve Winwood in 1968, which was never released. The band played this song at Led Zeppelin concerts on its 1969 concert tours, then Page and Plant brought it back in a 9-minute version for their 1998 reunion. A live, filmed performance of “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”, from Led Zeppelin’s gig on Danmarks Radio at Gladsaxe, Denmark, on March 17, 1969, is featured on the Led Zeppelin DVD (2003).
As a result of touring in the US and watching various Led Zeppelin cover bands and other artists perform this song, Robert Plant performed the song with his band Strange Sensation and as a solo artist. He also covered the song on his tour with the Sensational Space Shifters.
In a contemporary review for Led Zeppelin, John Mendelsohn of Rolling Stone gave Led Zeppelin’s version of “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” a negative review, writing “The song is very dull in places (especially on the vocal passages), very redundant, and certainly not worth the six-and-a-half minutes the Zeppelin gives it.”
Record producer Rick Rubin has remarked, “It [“Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”] is a song with a classical nature that also really rocks. It really takes you on a trip.”