For many Australians, their first introduction to Zeppelin came via Whole Lotta Love. The first track off their second album Led Zeppelin II (1969), it was released as a single in Australia and as part of an EP. In the US it peaked at #4, sold a million copies, and was Zeppelin’s only Top 10 single there. It was a single in Japan and western Europe too, but not in Britain.
The song was included in the band’s live set by the time of Zeppelin’s second US tour. It was one of the highlights of the show when they toured Australia in 1972. Sydney photographer Philip Morris covered the Sydney Showground show for Go-Set magazine and for Atlantic Records. He remembers what an awesome show it was — and the roar that hit the air as the band walked on.
“Hearing that, standing in front of the stage, was an incredible experience,” Morris says. “I was a fan, and the place was packed because they had a phenomenal breakthrough. They had a unique sound, they were the first to play that kind of music. The way the instruments (interacted), there was nothing like them then, or ever since. Their music still thrills. Bonham played the solo for Moby Dick with his bare hands, that was amazing.”
Morris had a backstage pass, but the crowd was so thick he couldn’t move: he shot six rolls on that bright sunny February afternoon. “They were the best band to photograph, especially Robert who was continually pulling poses.” Two of his favourite photos came from the day. One was Page rubbing his bow over his guitar while Plant looked at the camera. Another captured all four in the same shot, even Bonham who was usually hidden behind his drums.
Like many of Zeppelin’s early songs, “Whole Lotta Love” nicked ideas from American bluesmen.
In this case, the lyrics came from a 1962 single by Muddy Waters of a Willie Dixon song You Need Love. Later, the mod London band The Small Faces rewrote it as You Need Loving and credited it to themselves. In the mid 80s, Chess Records sued Zeppelin, and Dixon got a co-credit. He used the settlement money to set up a program providing instruments for schools.
Plant later recalled, “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 (it was in fact 7 years) and influence that... well, you only get caught when you’re successful. That’s the game.”
It’s interesting that for his vocal, Plant adopted the vocal approach of the Small Faces’ Steve Marriott. After all, Marriott had been Page’s first choice for Zeppelin. But Marriott’s thuggish manager Don Arden (Ozzy Osbourne’s father-in-law) got wind of these moves, and threatened to break Page’s fingers.
Whole Lotta Love came together in Page’s house in London when the band met to work on the second album. Page already had the riff. It was recorded on the run in Los Angeles and New York, and finished off at London’s Olympic Studios. Page played the riff for the intro, on a Sunburst 1958 Les Paul Standard through a 100W Marshall “Plexi” amp top with distortion from the EL34 output valves.
The strange sound midway was the theremin, an electronic instrument consisting of a black box and antennae. The sound changes as one’s hand gets closer to or further from the antennae. It was generally used in horror movies, and it’s generally accepted it was first used in a major way in rock music by The Beach Boys on Good Vibrations.
The sound collage in the middle came from Page and engineer Eddie Kramer “twiddling every knob known to man on a small mixer.”
Kramer also claims credit for the “pre-echo” where Plant’s voice is heard as an echo just before he yells “wo-man, you need it”. He says an earlier vocal had bled-through. “Since we couldn’t re-record at that point, I just threw some echo on it to see how it would sound and Jimmy said ‘Great! Just leave it’.” Plant nailed the whole vocal down in one take.
Whole Lotta Love was the last song Led Zeppelin ever played live in their original lineup. It was however performed again at the band’s reunions at Live Aid in 1985 and at the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary concert in 1988, as well as at the Ahmet Ertegün Tribute Concert at the O2 Arena, London on 10 December 2007, with Jason Bonham sitting in on drums for his late father.
Kramer once said, “I was very pleased to have worked with Jimmy Page and the band, I did five albums with them. Certainly they were the greatest rock & roll band that I’d ever worked with, especially with Bonham being in the band - the greatest heavy rock drummer, I feel. There were certain similarities between Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix, who I’d previously worked with, in that they were both very much in control of their own destiny in the studio. They would have this very clear picture and laser-like concentration: ‘OK, this is the song and here’s where we’re gonna go with it.’ There’s a remarkable similarity between the two men. Completely different styles of playing, of course.”
an interview with the CCE Artists from Whole Lotta Love
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Memories of Led Zeppelin, from the 7.30 Report 2008
The piece below was shown in commemoration of Led Zeppelin's only Australian tour on the 7.30 Report in 2008.
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