Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’: Why It Rocks So Hard

The soundtrack to our first 2014 MTV VMA promo is a monster.

By now you’ve probably checked out our rocking new teaser for the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards, featuring Usher, Ariana Grande and 5 Seconds of Summer. (You haven’t? Well, what are you waiting for?)

The VMA performers get top billing in the clip, but if you’re like us, you were probably blown away by the gigantic guitars on the teaser’s soundtrack. While rock-heads will recognize those riffs from Led Zeppelin‘s legendary 1969 hit, “Whole Lotta Love,” we thought we’d give the uninitiated a little catch-up session about one of the most iconic songs from the legendary U.K. band.

The song first appeared on Zep’s second studio album, Led Zeppelin II, which was released in October 1969. That month, a bunch of other albums that became part of rock history, also dropped, including: Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma, King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King, Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats (and, one month earlier, the Beatles’ Abbey Road).

Sex, Guitars, Rock Gods
With guitarist Jimmy Page’s giant chugging riff, Robert Plant’s signature wailing, sex-charged vocals and drummer John Bonham’s booming beats, “Whole Lotta Love” kicked off an album that found Page and Plant stepping forward to write more of their own original songs (more on that later). Those songs eventually became classics like “Thank You,” “Ramble On,” “What Is and What Should Never Be” and the group-effort, bone-shaker “Heartbreaker.”

Imagine the hysteria unleashed when bands like One Direction or 5SOS take the road, and then amp it up by a thousand and you’ll have a sense of the mania that followed Zeppelin in their native England when they blew up. The combination of Plant’s golden locks, tight jeans and flowy, unbuttoned shirts and Plant’s crunching guitars helped Zeppelin instantly graduate to headliners on just their second U.S. tour. It was on that Stateside run in spring 1969 that they worked out a number of the songs that would appear on their second album.

Setting The Stage For Nirvana, Jack White, Black Keys
At the time, Rolling Stone‘s review of the album called “Love” the “heaviest thing” to come along in some time. During a period when trippy, psychedelic music was reaching a peak, Zeppelin created a unique mix of mind-bending music and thundering beats that set the stage for generations of bands to come, from grunge-rockers Nirvana and Soundgarden to Jack White, Queens of the Stone Age and the Black Keys.

Jack White and Jimmy Page AFP/ROBYN BECK

Monster Guitar For A Monster Track
In a recent interview, Page explained that he came up with the monster guitar part on “Love” during the summer of 1968 while noodling around on his houseboat, mining his love of early rockabilly guitar.

“As soon as I developed the riff, I knew it was strong enough to drive the entire song, not just open it,” Page said. “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.”

In fact, Page felt so strongly about “Love” that when the band went into London’s Olympic Studios in April 1969 he wanted to record it first. And, as he would do in later live performances, he busted out an avant-garde electric instrument called a theremin to create spooky sounds for the session.

Credit Where Its Due
In 1987, blues singer Willie Dixon won an out-of-court settlement from the band over claims that “Love” was based on his 1962 song, “You Need Love,” which was recorded by Muddy Waters. (Similarities were also pointed out to the Small Faces’ “You Need Love.”) The song is now credited to all four members of Zeppelin, as well as Dixon, who used the money from the settlement for his Blues Heaven Foundation.

Plant has readily admitted that he borrowed from Dixon’s lyrics for his own, but Page steadfastly denies that his guitar line was related to the original recording in any way. “My riff — the basis for the entire song — sounds nothing like either of them,” he said of the Small Faces and Dixon songs. “Robert had referenced the Dixon lyrics because with my riff, they felt right. This eventually forced us to give Dixon a co-credit on our song. But if you take Robert’s vocal out, there’s no musical reference to either song.”

The finished song ran more than five-and-a-half minutes long, too long for radio, so the band’s label cut a shorter 3:12 version. Page said he hated it and never listened to it again.

So if you’re not full a LedHead yet, here are a few other things you need to know about the rock classic.

Robert Plant Nailed The Vocal
In one take. ONE TAKE! (Allegedly)

Robert Plant Redferns/Jorgen Angel

It Was Zeppelin’s First U.S. Single
Not only was it the first time the band released a single in the U.S., but it was also their only top 10 hit. It was never released as a single in the UK because the band’s manager had a no-singles policy.

'Whole Lotta Love' single Wikipedia

The Lyrics Are Definitely NSFW
Very explicit is putting it mildly. “Every inch” of them. For example: You’ve been coolin’, baby, I’ve been drooling’/ All the good times I’ve been mission’/ Way, way down inside, I’m gonna give you my love/ I’m gonna give you every inch of my love/ Gonna give you my love.” OK, then.

Parental-advisory-explicit-lyrics

The Video Is A Must-See
Earlier this year, LZ released a video for the song that used classic live footage from the group’s heyday.

Starting with the June releases of Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II, and Led Zeppelin III, the band will reissue all nine of its studio albums in chronological order, each remastered by guitarist and producer Jimmy Page. The albums will also feature dozens of unheard studio and live recordings, including a previously unreleased 1969 concert in Paris, alternate mixes of five songs from the sessions for II and three previously unheard songs recorded for III, including “Jennings Farm Blues,” “Bathroom Sound,” “Keys to the Highway/Trouble in Mind.”

Don’t miss the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards when they air live from the Forum in Inglewood, California, on Sunday, August 24 at 9 p.m. ET.

Often guilty, never convicted. Serving 15 years to life at MTV News.