Jimmy Page Describes the Creation of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”

For all the praise deserved­ly heaped on Jim­my Page for his tech­nique as an inno­v­a­tive rock-blues shredder—with his vio­lin-bowed walls of noise and motor speed­way licks—one can lose sight of just how great he was as a dri­ving rhythm play­er. The rough mix of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lot­ta Love”—which chugs along with­out the stu­dio ver­sion’s sig­na­ture stock car-engine sound in the refrain—brings Page’s rhythms to the fore. The song’s pro­duc­tion also demon­strates Page’s skill in the stu­dio. The gui­tarist mas­ter­mind­ed the sound of “Whole Lot­ta Love” and the record­ing of AOR ground­break­er Led Zep­pelin II, and he tells the sto­ry of the song’s cre­ation, along with that unfor­get­table riff, in an inter­view with The Wall Street Jour­nal:

I came up with the gui­tar riff for “Whole Lot­ta Love” in the sum­mer of ’68, on my house­boat along the Thames in Pang­bourne, Eng­land. I sup­pose my ear­ly love for big intros by rock­a­bil­ly gui­tarists was an inspi­ra­tion, but as soon as I devel­oped the riff, I knew it was strong enough to dri­ve the entire song, not just open it. When I played the riff for the band in my liv­ing room sev­er­al weeks lat­er dur­ing rehearsals for our first album, the excite­ment was imme­di­ate and col­lec­tive. We felt the riff was addic­tive, like a for­bid­den thing.

The rough mix above trav­eled with the band as they toured the U.S. in May and June of 1969, over­dub­bing in stu­dios in Los Ange­les and New York. Page describes how he, engi­neer George Chkiantz, and mix­er Eddie Kramer cre­at­ed the song’s reverb-drenched son­ic enve­lope, design­ing each piece to work specif­i­cal­ly for stereo FM radio. “For the song to work as this panoram­ic audio expe­ri­ence,” he says, “I need­ed Bon­zo [drum­mer John Bon­ham] to real­ly stand out, so that every stick stroke sound­ed clear and you could real­ly feel them. If the drums were record­ed just right, we could lay in every­thing else.” He com­pares Robert Plant’s sear­ing vocal to his gui­tar work:

Robert’s vocal was just as extreme. He kept gain­ing con­fi­dence dur­ing the ses­sion and gave it every­thing he had. His vocals, like my solos, were about per­for­mance. He was push­ing to see what he could get out of his voice. We were per­form­ing for each oth­er, almost com­pet­i­tive­ly.

As for the pre-echo and mas­sive amounts of reverb on Plant’s vocals in the song’s breakdown—all of this came about by acci­dent. An alter­nate take of Plant’s voice bled through on the mas­ter tape. Page and Kramer decid­ed to leave it in and add the effects to make it seem inten­tion­al. More impro­vi­sa­tion­al stu­dio wiz­ardry between the two pro­duced the crazed out­ro. “Jim­my and I went nuts on the knobs,” recalls Kramer, “We had eight dials con­trol­ling the lev­els on eight indi­vid­ual tracks, so we rehearsed the chore­og­ra­phy of what we were going to do to cre­ate the far-out sounds.”

Like cur­rent claims against the band for musi­cal theft in “Stair­way to Heav­en,” “Whole Lot­ta Love” engen­dered a law­suit from Willie Dixon, who wrote Mud­dy Water’s “You Need Love.” Page and Plant both admit the debt, but Page defends his con­tri­bu­tion, say­ing “if you take Robert’s vocal out, there’s no musi­cal ref­er­ence.” In any case, they were even­tu­al­ly forced to give Dixon co-cred­it for the song. In a 1990 inter­view with Musi­cian, Plant waxed philo­soph­i­cal about the con­tro­ver­sy: “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.”

Of course, the essence of the blues is musi­cal quo­ta­tion, and the affair was more a mat­ter of mon­ey, not a case against the song’s cre­ative pow­er or the orig­i­nal­i­ty of that killer riff. Read more about the mak­ing of “Whole Lot­ta Love” from Page, Chkiantz, and Kramer at The Wall Street Jour­nal.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Whole Lot­ta Led Zep­pelin: Live at the Roy­al Albert Hall and The Song Remains the Same–the Full Shows

Jim­my Page Tells the Sto­ry of “Kash­mir”

Hear Led Zeppelin’s Mind-Blow­ing First Record­ed Con­cert Ever (1968)

Decon­struct­ing Led Zeppelin’s Clas­sic Song ‘Ram­ble On’ Track by Track: Gui­tars, Bass, Drums & Vocals

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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  • Ludo says:

    I think this part is a bit far off… how­ev­er, there are clear­ly ele­ments in ‘Whole Lot­ta Love” lift­ed from a song by the Small Faces… that is well doc­u­ment­ed. Maybe not enough to give cred­it, but very few musi­cians stay in some kind of bub­ble… the love music and they lis­ten to oth­ers…

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