Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Song Still Remains the Same: the unauthorized etymology of Led Zeppelin songs. "Whole Lotta Love"

Led Zeppelin, Whole Lotta Love
Small Faces, You Need Lovin'
We return today for Chapter 2 of the The Song Still Remains the Same: The unauthorized etymology of Led Zeppelin songs. Frequent readers will recall our post a few weeks back where we explored the etymology of Dazed and Confused. Take a look at that post for an over-arching introduction to the series.

Today we explore the roots of Led Zeppelin's monster of a song, Whole Lotta Love. Whole Lotta Love is perhaps Led Zeppelin's second most recognized song behind only the anthemic Stairway to Heaven. Whole Lotta Love was originally released in October of 1969 as the first song on Zep's roller-coaster-of-quality Led Zeppelin II and as that album's first single (US 45-2690). The song is credited to each of the band's members. But, as you may have guessed by now, Whole Lotta Love is not wholly original. The song started as a Willie Dixon composition entitled You Need Love as recorded by blues giant, Muddy Waters for Chess Records in 1962.

A few years later a young Mod group out of London began covering the number on stage. That group was The Small Faces which featured singer and guitarist Steve Marriott front and center. In February of 1966, the Small Faces entered IBC Studios to record the number for their debut album, The Small Faces. While the title changed ever so slightly, the music changed and some of the lyrics changed, at it's heart it was clearly the Muddy Waters song You Need Love. However, the Small Faces failed to give Dixon his due credit, instead giving writing credit to Marriott and bassist Ronnie Lane.
It was fantastic, I loved it, Muddy Waters recorded it but I couldn't sing like Muddy Waters so it wasn't that much of a nick. I was a high range and Muddy was a low range so I had to figure out how to sing it. So I did and that was our opening number for all the years we were together. Every time we were on stage that was our opening number. (All Too Beautiful, Steve Marriott. p78).
Then, in a story eerily reminiscent of the introduction of Dazed and Confused into the Led Zeppelin set list, The Small Faces opened for The Yardbirds which presently sported Jimmy Page on guitar. Page caught the opening act and focused in on the Small Faces opening number.
We did a gig with The Yardbirds....Jimmy Page asked what that number was we did. "You Need Lovin'," I said, "it's a Muddy Waters thing", which it really is. (The Small Faces: Young Mods Forgotten Story, Paolo Hewitt).

But the story doesn't stop there. In 1968, Jimmy Page, now holding onto the tattered flag that had been The Yardbirds, approached John Entwhistle and Keith Moon of The Who and Steve Marriott of the Small Faces with a proposition of forming a new band. Moon responded that the proposed band was doomed to go over like a Led Zeppelin. Marriott also had rather harsh rejection words, according to Jimmy Page:
It came down to Marriott. He was contacted, and the reply came back from his manager's office: "how would you like to have a group with no fingers, boys?" or words to that effect. So the group was dropped because of Marriott's other commitment, to the Small Faces. (1977 Jimmy Page interview, Modern Guitar Magazine. Steven Rosen).
But Marriott had a suggestion for another singer. A young mod from Halesowen, England named Robert "Percy" Plant.

Percy used to come to the gigs whenever we played in Kidderminster or Stowbridge, where he came from. He was always saying he was going to get this group together. He was another nuisance. He kept coming into the dressing room, just another little Mod kid. We used to say, "that kid's here again." (The Small Faces: Young Mods Forgotten Story, Paolo Hewitt).
So now Page had his big throated singer in young Robert Plant whose voice bears more than a passing similarity to that of Steve Marriott.

And now, finally, we can turn our focus to Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love. The music of the song bears only the faintest resemblance to the Small Faces You Need Lovin' or Muddy Waters' You Need Love. Lyrically, however, the song is very similar to those earlier versions. It is in fact, the song. But more than that, the vocal delivery is a clear and blatant imitation of that of Steve Marriott's portrayal of You Need Lovin': "A-woman, a choooo need, love."
After we broke up they [Led Zeppelin] took it and revamped it...old Percy had his eyes on it. He sang it the same, phrased it the same, even the stops at the end were the same, they just put a different rhythm to it. For years and years I would hear it come on the radio while driving in America, and I would think, "Go on, my son," until one day I thought, "fucking hell, that's us, that is." The bastards!" (ibid)
It's an imitation so blatant that one can't help but smile wryly when you hear it. In the end Led Zeppelin may have successfully wrested the song away from The Small Faces, but they didn't get it away from the original author of the song. Willie Dixon wasn't going to let the matter rest so easily. According to author Will Shade, the October 8 edition of the Los Angeles Times reported that in 1985, Dixon sued Led Zeppelin for royalties and then settled out of court "with a generous settlement to Willie Dixon" who now shares writing credit on all modern printings of the song.

Willie Dixon died of heart failure in 1992. Steve Marriott died in 1991, the victim of a house fire.

Enjoy. We'll see you soon for more of The Song Still Remains The Same, the unauthorized etymology of Led Zeppelin Songs here on the flip-side.


  1. When I'm not feeling cynical (it happens), I sometimes think that British R&B/blues revival groups weren't being malicious when liberally borrowing from blues artists. After all, bluesmen borrowed heavily from each other. Muddy's "Mannish Boy" and Bo Diddley's "I'm A Man" are, in effect, the same song. Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup borrowed from himself when he wrote, or re-wrote "That's Alright Mama" and called it "My Baby Left Me".

    There is so much recycling in the blues tradition that I wonder if some of these guys were just trying to tap into that same process, without really getting the subtleties, or the legal implications.

  2. I get your point about tapping in. One could make a convincing argument, I think, that The Small Faces were doing that with their swipe of the Muddy Waters tune. Other than lyrically, it really doesn't match up so brazenly that one goes "whoa, that's not write."

    But the Zep take on the Small Faces take, I think that is pretty much beyond the pale. The Zep music is fresh and new (and great), but Plant's copping of Marriott's style and vocal inflections is a tad much for me to let it pass.

  3. I've got to admit, the first time I heard 'You Need Lovin'", my first reaction (well, after being astonished by Steve Marriott's singing), was 'you've gotta be kidding!'. I suppose Plant was finding his feet stylistically at the time, and he varied his technique after 'Whole Lotta Love'. But, it is pretty undeniable that Percy loved the Small Faces', and Marriott's, style.

  4. that small faces song sucks. and you're a wanker. zep rocks harder than you ever will.

  5. Anon -

    I can feel your love radiating from every pore of your tortured soul. Keep up the good thoughts and good things will happen to you. :)

    To help you get even more good vibes in your life, I have posted another Zep-rip song. Seek it out. Take it in. And, of course, illuminate us with your witty insights.

    As they say in the Beverly Hillbillies, y'all come back and see us again real soon.


  6. Ok. how come I can't hear these?

  7. Anon, this is due to format changes with the site. This page will be updated soon. Please check back tomorrow or the next day.

  8. They're up and running now. Please check out the Dazed and Confused post too.


  9. I think you'll find the Moon comment was "go down like a Lead Balloon" and then Entwistle who replied "...lead zeppelin". Possibly apocryphal.
    Nice post anyway

    Some other sites with similar ideas

  10. That middle section of Whole Lotta Love really is amazing though. Listen to it with headies on. Nice post. All new to me.

    1. I agree whole heartedly. Page could engineer and produce with the best of them.