In what might well be the most complete rock vocal performance of all time, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and his sensational singing voice cemented his position in the annals of rock and roll history in what is one of the band’s most beloved songs.
When considering the impact of rock behemoths Led Zeppelin, quite often the first song that comes to mind is the 1969 smash ‘Whole Lotta Love’. However, while Jimmy Page and the rest of the group are routinely celebrated for the track – and rightly so – it is Robert Plant’s unstoppable vocal which undoubtedly steals the show.
The opening track for the band’s second album, Led Zeppelin II, flies out of the traps like a greyhound with a riff-fuzzing bottle rocket in the wrong end. Jimmy Page’s guitar sound would go on to define and energise a generation. Raucous, unrestrained and unflinching, it drives the entire song and much of the decade that followed.
Backed amply by the crashing power of John Bonham’s drums and the definitive bassline of the decade from John Paul Jones, the track is a thing of unbridled beauty. But, above all else, Plant’s vocal on ‘Whole Lotta Love’ is what sets it apart. It is the performance of a supreme singer; it is a performance of epic proportions and, in truth, makes the track what it is.
Jimmy Page was said to have created the guitar riff for ‘Whole Lotta Love’ in the summer of 1968, while residing on his houseboat on the River Thames at Pangbourne, England. John Paul Jones, though, stated that Page’s famous riff emerged from a stage improvisation during the band’s playing of ‘Dazed and Confused’. Page later denied that the song originated on the stage but there was one aspect he couldn’t deny: he lifted the lyrics from a Muddy Waters cover of Willie Dixon song ‘You Need Love’.
Whichever way you look at it, if you’re a fan of rock and roll, the likelihood is that this song will be high on your list of ‘greatest rock songs’ of all time — and quite rightly, too. Its heavy riffs and chugging rhythm predate any heavy rock of note and can assuredly be called the foundations of heavy metal. Largely the ‘greatest’ attribution that this song is often afforded, however, will hang on Plant’s enigmatic vocal performance.
In the track, and even more noticeably in the isolated track, Plant’s affectations on his vocal provide the song with hints of personality, deeply sexualised as they are, that would otherwise be lost. He ranges from growling mammal to shrieking phoenix and every incarnation in between. It’s a transformative moment that sees the mercurial singer at his essential best. So, if Jimmy Page’s guitar lick was the V12 engine power behind the song, imagine Plant’s vocal as Nitrous Oxide sprayed on to the firing pistons – the flammable liquid that carries this muscle car of musicality on from fast to flaming-tired lightspeed. ‘Whole Lotta Love’ may be a classic but without Plant it’s nothing.
Listen below to Robert Plant’s imperious vocal on ‘Whole Lotta Love’ from Led Zeppelin’s sophomore album Led Zeppelin II below.