The Story Behind The Song: Led Zeppelin’s career-defining song ‘Whole Lotta Love’
Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ is a track that would ultimately play a pivotal role in shaping the career of one of the most vital band’s of all time, allowing Zeppelin to become a stadium-filling group who would soundtrack rock music for years to come.
The legendary track took over a year to perfect with Jimmy Page initially coming up with the intuitive riff during the summer of 1968, a period of time when he was residing in his houseboat on the River Thames. Unfortunately, the riff didn’t find a home on their self-titled debut which was released the following January but, showing longevity, the glorious composition was eventually put to good use.
Following the astronomical success of their debut record, Led Zep wouldn’t waste any time before they would re-assemble and get back into the studio at London’s Olympic Studios just five months later. Page would take up the reigns as a producer on ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and used his genius experimental ideas with pioneering recording techniques that would elevate the track.
John Bonham’s monstrous drum sound acted as the foundation for this song and, in order to really get the best sound possible out of the drumming maestro, Jimmy Page expertly decided to record his part in the big room at Olympic Studios in London, a location which boasted 28-foot ceilings.
One of the engineers, George Chkiantz, sampled the sound by placing the drums on a platform and setting up microphones in unusual places. Adding a stereo boom eight feet above the kit, two distant side microphones, and an AKG D30 was placed two feet from the bass drum, the track was elevated to new levels. “For the song to work as this panoramic audio experience, I needed Bonzo to really stand out, so that every stick stroke sounded clear and you could really feel them,” Page said in the Wall Street Journal. “If the drums were recorded just right, we could lay in everything else.”
The blistering effort not only captures John Bonham, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones firing on all cylinders but also contains some of Robert Plant’s most suggestive lyricism such as: “I ain’t foolin’, you need schoolin’, Baby, you know you need coolin’, Woman, way down inside.”
However, his lyrics weren’t exactly completely original and had vast similarities with Muddy Waters’ 1962 track ‘You Need Love‘ which was penned by Willie Dixon. The issue would result in a lawsuit in 1985, which was settled outside of court in favour of Dixon.
Plant was brutally honest about the blatant steal, telling Musician Magazine some years later: “Page’s riff was Page’s riff. It was there before anything else. I just thought, ‘well, what am I going to sing?’ That was it, a nick. Now happily paid for. At the time, there was a lot of conversation about what to do. It was decided that it was so far away in time and influence that .. well, you only get caught when you’re successful. That’s the game.”
‘Whole Lotta Love’ would also be the first track the band allowed to be released as a single in the United States with it charting at number four and, not long after, Led Zeppelin became a household name on both sides of the Atlantic. They were still wary of releasing singles and didn’t give the track it’s own release in the UK at the time.
Some 41 years on from the release of the era-defining track and the material more than holds up.