Imagine a freight train speeding toward you at midnight. Or a rockslide barreling down a hill as you try to outrace it. That’s the feeling of the ominous, chugging Jimmy Page riff that kicks off [url id=”http://www.mtv.com/music/artist/led_zeppelin/artist.jhtml”]Led Zeppelin[/url]’s 1970 Stonehenge of rock, “Whole Lotta Love.” And that’s before singer Robert Plant leans into one of the nastiest, ecstatic rock screams this side of the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
That’s the song Adam Lambert chose to sing on “American Idol” rock night Tuesday (May 5), and, needless to say, it was a challenge that the eyeliner-loving Los Angeles stage veteran was more than up for, hitting a series of high notes and rock screams that would have made Plant proud. It was a risky maneuver that paid off for Lambert, who chose a tune that came in at #75 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” in 2004.
The legendary British rock act recorded the tribute to Chicago blues icon Willie Dixon during their second U.S. tour after working it out in their live show, including it on their 1969 classic album Led Zeppelin II. Like many of the songs Zeppelin performed early in their career, “Love” was a blues standard turned on its head with a heavy dose of crunching psychedelic guitar and thundering drums, courtesy of late drummer John Bonham. The song was based on a 1962 tune by another blues forefather, Muddy Waters, called “You Need Love,” which was penned by Dixon.
For Zeppelin’s version, Plant customized the lyrics by adding some lyrical quotes from a few other songs Dixon wrote for Howlin’ Wolf, “Back Door Man” and “Shake For Me,” nailing the tricky vocal in a single take. It was also inspired by 1966’s “You Need Loving” from the British rock group the Small Faces, for whom Zeppelin had great affection, but they also did not credit Dixon for his part in writing the original lyrics. The song became Zeppelin’s first U.S. single and their only U.S. top 10 hit. Though their manager would not let them release singles in the U.K. because he thought it cannibalized album sales, the song was finally released as the band’s only British single in 1997.
Dixon sued Zeppelin over the song in 1985, claiming it borrowed too heavily from his “You Need Love,” and Zeppelin reached an agreement with him, with Dixon using the money he received to set up a program that provided musical instruments for schools. A cornerstone of heavy rock, the tune — which was the theme song for the long-running British countdown show “Top of the Pops” in the 1970s and ’80s — has been covered by dozens of artists over the years, from Tina Turner and Ben Harper to Prince, Slash, Leona Lewis, Train’s Pat Monahan, the London Symphony Orchestra and Jane’s Addiction.
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