Whole Lotta Love (1969)
Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Willie Dixon
It’s not a rule, but rather a very strong suggestion.
Before delving too deeply into Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love,” take a listen to “Hey Bo Diddley,” one of Diddley’s numbers that helped invent Rock-N-Roll. The influences of Bo Diddley’s (right) founding riffs are to Rock music as grains of sand are to a beach. They’re everywhere and there are more and more every day.
Enter Willie Dixon (below) and Muddy Waters. Talk about a song with DNA! In 1962 Dixon wrote “You Need Love” for good buddy and fellow Blues-master, Muddy Waters, who recorded it in 1963. It’s a hell of a fucking song, done up in the Boogie Blues style that rides a fine bull-frogging guitar, crazy organ in the background, and a semi-talking Blues vocal. The similarity between The Zeppelin work and the Dixon/Waters work is undeniable, and not entirely unpredictably, Dixon won an undisclosed amount of money from Zep in 1985.
“You Need Love” – Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters
Led Zepelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”
The Beatles were still together. Woodstock had just concluded in August.
The Rolling Stones were becoming megastars. Prog Rock in the persons of Procul Harum, King Crimson, Yes and similar groups was busy being born. Punk was a gleam in The Stooges’ eyes as their first album was launched.
Creedence Clearwater Revival would release three full albums that year. The Who’s album Tommy became a sound and light phenomenon and a cultural touchstone.
“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” – frat rock fantasia
Heavy Metal was a virtually unknown form. For sure, there had been stabs at it by Grand Funk Railroad, germs of it in Deep Purple’s early work, and the semi-novelty, 17-minute headbanger “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly is proto-Heavy Rock/Metal. Some of Led Zeppelin’s work on their first album could even be classified as Heavy Rock. Interestingly, some of The Beatles’ late works included tendencies toward heavy music. “Helter Skelter,” “Birthday,” “Yer Blues,” and “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey” from their White Album are cases in point, as are “I Want You (She’s So heavy)” and “The End” from Abbey Road.
But, “Whole Lotta Love,” the opening track on Led Zeppelin II, burned down the mission and took no prisoners. The opening guitar riff, which owes so much to Bo Diddley, remains a classic going on five decades later. It is an opening listeners do not grow tired of, nor does it fall into the category of cliched opening chord progressions as do so many song intros that remain great but need to be retired.
There is power, speed (literally and figuratively) and sweaty sexuality from the starting gun. Jimmy Page serves notice on the world with his lead guitar and moments later Robert Plant (left) seconds the emotion via his vocals. With a barroom brawl breaking out, drummer John Bonham kicks a few dentures from unsuspecting mouths while bassist John Paul Jones wields his bass as a brawler would wield a broken beer bottle, slashing, threatening, pushing the rhythm bottom hard and precisely. His work on the song is unfairly overshadowed by Page’s, but it is every bit as adept and for stretches the pair are engaged in a timeless guitar duel.
There is nothing fancy in the least in the lyrics. They’re raw meat for hungry big cats:
You need coolin’, baby, I’m not foolin’,
I’m gonna send you back to schoolin’,
Way down inside honey, you need it,
I’m gonna give you my love,
I’m gonna give you my love.
Wanna whole lotta love…
As soon as the “rocking” part is established, “Whole Lotta Love” abruptly slows down into a lengthy dream sequence with tidbits of Prog Rock, Santana-like rhythms, and experimental Jazz fermented into a tasty, spacey brew with a big foamy head. The listener drinks it down thirstily. Page joins in the lager-making not with an electric guitar but the electronic instrument known as a theremin. It shimmers, sends out bending sounds, and generally lends an air of “future exotica.” (You will recognize it more distinctly from The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.”)
Plant’s groaning and moaning are assisted by one of those happy artistic accidents. A previous vocal track bled through the final track – the keeper – and so, those distant, wailing, grunting sounds stayed in the final mix.
The middle segment is one of the break-out innovations in Rock-N-Roll, opening the seam between an older, more-structured form and amping it into what eventually became known as pure Rock. It may not have been the first time it all happened, but it was like a judge’s gavel banging closed a particularly long and complicated case.
“Whole Lotta Love” reintroduces the main theme with a heroically grand drum roll by “Bonzo” Bonham and a quick stiletto riff by Page that pulls in all of his Blues knowledge and sublime sense of Zep’s future, of Rock’s future.
The devil’s own song emerges in the final verse, the earlier constructions mashed together: the hard driving drum beats, the bass and electric lead are punctuated by the star-fighter zooming effects heard in the middle section and combine to make a whole, a masterful new kind of song upon which Zeppelin would build a massively huge reputation.
In 1969, although lyrics had grown a little less buttoned down, those of “Whole Lotta Love” were shocking and everyone from DJ’s to parents to many listeners were not oblivious to the song’s overt meaning.
You’ve been coolin’, baby, I’ve been droolin’,
All the good times I’ve been misusin’,
Way, way down inside,
I’m gonna give you my love,
I’m gonna give you every inch of my love,
Gonna give you my love.
One supposes “every inch of my love” could be read metaphorically but, let’s keep a clear head. There is no metaphor at work, just an illusion to the doing of that wild thing.
And if there was a doubt, it was swept away by a tsunami when Plant howls to end the song:
Way down inside… woman… You need… love.
Shake for me, girl. I wanna be your backdoor man.
Keep it coolin’, baby.
Noteworthy is the fact that “Backdoor Man” is a Howlin’ Wolf single, although the meaning remains the same.
And that is how a new age in music was born. Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham were trailblazers of a special sort. They weren’t the first to create Hard Rock or Heavy Metal, but they were the first to embrace it like a long lost brother and define it.
AC/DC, KIss, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses and Rage Against The Machine should all be paying Zeppelin royalties. Ditto for Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, Metallica and Megadeath.
They all turned the new rugged trail into a superhighway of outrageously brash, masculine and assertive, even aggressive, music.
- John Paul Jones said of Jimmy Page’s production techniques: “The backwards echo stuff. A lot of the microphone techniques were just inspired. Using distance-miking… and small amplifiers. Everybody thinks we go in the studio with huge walls of amplifiers, but he doesn’t. He uses a really small amplifier and he just mikes it up really well, so that it fits into a sonic picture.”
- Robert Plant disgorged the vocals in one take.
Also by Led Zeppelin on SongMango.com:
- Babe, I'm Gonna Leave YouThe pounding choruses echo the interior pounding, the unresolved secret, this... emanation of the heart.
- When The Levee BreaksWith John Bonham’s big, brazen drumwork leading the charge, “Levee” is a howling, blues-swept vision of the apocalypse.
- 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.