The powerhouse song “Whole Lotta Love” served as the opening track for Led Zeppelin’s second album. A few months after its debut, this innovative and ground-breaking song was certified gold and became their first smash single in the US. It’s a song that set the bar for hard rock and was much ahead of its time.
One of the most instantly identifiable rock riffs is the guitar hook at the start of the song. It was invented by Jimmy Page in 1968 while he was living aboard a houseboat on the River Thames in England. However, John Paul Jones allegedly said that Page came up with the concept during an onstage improvisation when the band was performing “Dazed and Confused.”
Page, however, refuted it and stated the following in an interview with Marc Myers that was included in his book “Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B, and Pop”:
“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.”
He added, “I had this avant-garde master plan for “Whole Lotta Love” and could hear the construction coming together in my head. From the start, I didn’t want “Whole Lotta Love” — or any of our songs — to be a single. I had been a session musician since the early 1960s, as had [bassist] John Paul Jones. We had recorded on hundreds of singles and hated the abbreviated, canned format. I also knew that stereo FM radio was emerging in America and playing albums. I wanted to develop our songs emotionally, beyond just lengthy solos.”
Furthermore, Page opposed their record “being chopped up into singles for AM radio.” It was fortunate that he and JPJ were familiar with the recording environment.
He went on, “During the band’s rehearsals in early ’69 for our second album, “Whole Lotta Love” sounded strong enough to open it, so I wanted to record the song first. In April, we went into London’s Olympic Studios and cut “Whole Lotta Love” with engineer George Chkiantz, who had recorded Jimi Hendrix there.”
Because Page was clear about what he desired, their experimentation led to the fresh ground being broken.
He informed Guitar World. “During the mix, with the aid of engineer Eddie Kramer, we did all the panning and added the effects, including using Low Frequency Oscillators on the tape machine to really pull the whole thing down and lift it back up so the sound is moving in rhythm.”
“It was something no one had ever done before in that context, let alone in the middle of a song. That’s how forward thinking we were, that’s how avant-garde it was, and that’s how much fun we were having.”
Everything had to be done perfectly, especially John Bonham’s part. Page stated, “For the song to work as this panoramic audio experience, 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.”
“Whole Lotta Love” is still relevant and unmatched after 50 years.