by Alisha Jackson
You probably either own, have listened to, or have at least heard of Led Zeppelin‘s first, and only #1 single, “Whole Lotta Love”.
But have you dug way way down inside the song’s history?
45 years after its release, it’s time to go back to schoolin’.
Led Zeppelin released Led Zeppelin II just 9 months after the release of their eponymously titled first album. Before having a chance to come down from their live-show-high, the band composed and recorded their second album while out on tour.
According to Joe Benson, author of Uncle Joe’s Record Guide: Hard Rock Volume 1, some of the songs on Led Zeppelin II were recorded mere hours after being written. That’s just how good the band was at the time.
In fact, Led Zeppelin sounded so good when they went into the studio, that Robert Plant recorded his lead vocals for the album’s opening song, and soon-to-be #1 single “Whole Lotta Love”, on his first take. While additional instrument work was later recorded at Olympic Studios in London and A&R Studios in New York, the band used Plant’s original vocal track from their recording session at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles.
Although Led Zeppelin didn’t actually approve the release of “Whole Lotta Love” as their first single, it sold over a million copies within five weeks of its release and it climbed to number 1 on the English charts on March 7th of 1970. To this day, “Whole Lotta Love” is the only #1 English and top 10 U.S. single Led Zeppelin ever had.
You may be thinking, ‘not bad for an album track that wasn’t intended for single release’. Well, while Led Zeppelin never actually explained why they disapproved of the song’s release, we can now pretty much assume why.
Page, Plant, Bonham and Jones enjoyed the success of the single as its exclusive writers for a good 18 years. Then in 1987, blues songwriter Willie Dixon finally got his rightful piece of the writing-credit pie.
While Dixon didn’t technically write “Whole Lotta Love”, he did write “You Need Love” for Muddy Waters, which Led Zeppelin admittedly “borrowed” from.
Listen to the original Muddy Waters version of “You Need Love” below:
After years of success with their single, Led Zeppelin finally reached an out-of-court settlement over the copyright infringement with Dixon.
Now before you start bashing Led Zeppelin for not giving Dixon a writing credit to begin with, keep in mind that they had already been covering and crediting him for years. He received writing credit for two songs on the band’s first album, “You Shook Me” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby”. And he received writing credit for “Bring It On Home” on Led Zeppelin II.
The writing credit for “Whole Lotta Love” sort of just slipped through the cracks.
As Plant explained in Robert Plant’s Manic Persona,
“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 (British slang for ‘steal’). 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.”
Plant couldn’t have been more dead-on with his commentary on the lawsuit, seeing as the less popular band, The Small Faces, never got hit with a lawsuit for not crediting Dixon on their recording of “You Need Love”.
Listen to their version of Willie Dixon’s song below:
Unlike Led Zeppelin, The Small Faces failed to credit Willie Dixon in an exact cover of his song. With Led Zeppelin just sampling parts of the song, we can only assume that the reason why Dixon didn’t sue The Small Faces was because their version wasn’t as successful.
However, according to turnmeondeadman.com, it’s possible that Dixon wasn’t even aware of The Small Faces version.
“The only reason Willie Dixon was aware of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ was that when his daughter, Shirli, was 13 years old, she heard the record at a friend’s house. She thought it sounded familiar so she borrowed it and played it for her father.”
While Dixon may have possibly not known The Small Faces version, Robert Plant certainly did. Plant worshiped lead singer Steve Marriott’s vocal abilities, and according to Marriott, he was influenced by The Small Faces version of “You Need Love” when recording “Whole Lotta Love”.
In Steve Marriott All Too Beautiful, Marriott was quoted as saying,
“It (‘You Need Love’) was fantastic, I loved it, Muddy Waters recorded it but I couldn’t sing like Muddy Waters so it wasn’t that much of a nick. I was a high range and Muddy was a low range so I had to figure out how to sing it. So I did and that was our opening number for all the years we were together. Every time we were on stage that was our opening number, unless we had a short set. That’s where Jimmy Page and Robert Plant heard it. Robert Plant used to follow us around. He was like a fan.”
According to Marriott’s biography, the lead singer bore no animosity to Plant and is quoted as shouting “Go on my son!” when he first heard Led Zeppelin’s version on the radio.
How could he have animosity, though? Sure, Robert Plant pretty much replicated Marriott’s vocal phrasings in “Whole Lotta Love”, but The Small Faces did to Muddy Waters what Led Zeppelin did to The Small Faces.
The only difference? They didn’t get caught!