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"We felt the riff was addictive, like a forbidden thing."
June 1, 2014 5:05 AM   Subscribe

The Making of Led Zeppelin's 'Whole Lotta Love'. An oral history from guitarist Jimmy Page and the engineers who helped place Robert Plant's vocals at the top of the charts.
posted by paleyellowwithorange (45 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
For a short time I wishfully thought that Robert Plant was singing "Shake for me girl. I wanna be your vat grown man". But no.
posted by euphorb at 5:30 AM on June 1 [21 favorites]


I love how they took what was essentially a mistake --Plant's accidentally doubled vocal-- and turned it into something iconic. I would have sworn that pre-echo was intentional. But this is better. Genius: squeezing lemonade from lemons. Squeeze those lemons, Zep! Until the juice runs down your leg!
posted by umberto at 5:44 AM on June 1 [1 favorite]


For guitarists who don't already know, the riff is hypnotic and evil partly because it must be performed with a slight out-of-tune aspect.

It is played at the fifth fret and the second note of the riff is a D. You fret the D on the A string at the fifth fret but the key thing is you must *push the A string up and make the note sharp a tiny bit* while hitting the open D string below it at exactly the same time. You want just a fraction of a difference between the two D notes to sound every time you hit them. It sounds like a tape effect.

It is genius and once you start it, it's easy to see why you can't stop playing it.
posted by colie at 5:45 AM on June 1 [29 favorites]


And the theme tune for Top Of The Pops in the 70s, rather to Led Zep's dismay, but thus heavily imprinted on a generation in the UK, in an entirely different context...
posted by Devonian at 5:49 AM on June 1 [1 favorite]


Jimmy Page's focus on making sure they got a great drum sound in the studio is, in my opinion, the greatest thing about Jimmy Page.

I'm not especially crazy about his guitar playing, I'm not really a fan of Robert Plant's singing, and though I think John Paul Jones was a solid bass player, I don't find his playing especially remarkable. But Bonham's drumming? Good god, that's the holy goddam grail of rock drumming. And thanks to Jimmy Page, we could really hear how great it was. Monstrously great. Thanks, Jimmy!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:51 AM on June 1 [20 favorites]


the difference between classic rock and not-classic rock is Full Drum Sounds

knowing how to mic drums is the difference between successful classic rock wannabes like the white stripes and the black keys and unsuccessful ones like Jet and Lenny Kravitz.

KAK = bad
WHOP = good

Thus endeth the lesson
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:00 AM on June 1 [16 favorites]


I didn't mike the snare, since that would have reduced the size and space of the drum sound. Instead, I used a stereo mike on an 8-foot boom above the drums along with two distant side mikes, to give the tom-toms edge, and a huge AKG D30 mike positioned about two feet from the bass drum. Jimmy knew that high-end mikes didn't have to be up against an instrument to maximize the sound.

This
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:02 AM on June 1 [4 favorites]




Just reading the song title now has it reverberating in my head on this Sunday morning, that's how good this song is. Masterful. Great article.
posted by arcticseal at 6:07 AM on June 1


Someone's gotta say it: the radio edit was an improvement.
posted by ogooglebar at 6:40 AM on June 1




led zep was a great band. we will not see its like again. the bands of today are puny by comparison.
posted by bruce at 7:08 AM on June 1 [3 favorites]


Page can really sell a song with his narration. It's like I'm reading a SkyMall catalog.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:09 AM on June 1 [6 favorites]


I met Jimmy Page on the street not that long ago, not far from his house. I've met a fair amount of famous and semi-famous and interesting people, but it blew me away how this one time my brain melted into a 12 year old mess, back to that point in the late seventies when I didn't think humans were responsible for those sounds. He was cool, so luckily it was a good experience.

Double odd to go past Olympic Studios in genteel Barnes, the room where Led Zeppelin, The Stones, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, the Who, David Bowie, and so many more laid down epic sounds. Music production has come down out of the realms of magic when every laptop has Garageband on it, but places like this shut down.
posted by C.A.S. at 7:29 AM on June 1 [1 favorite]


Love the part about turning Plant's tape mistake into a plus (and learning the Wall Street Journal has an "Anatomy of a Song" series), and I suppose it's worth emphasizing, if you're Jimmy Page, that the settlement with Willie Dixon was over the vocals/lyrics and not the instrumental track:

Mr. Page: Some people said later that "Whole Lotta Love" was based on Willie Dixon's "You Need Love" [recorded by Muddy Waters] and the Small Faces' "You Need Loving." My riff—the basis for the entire song—sounds nothing like either of them. 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.

For the record, Robert Plant acknowledged it as "a nick" in a 1990 interview:

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.
posted by mediareport at 7:37 AM on June 1 [3 favorites]


One of many, many, many nicks.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:46 AM on June 1 [3 favorites]


I love the part of It Might Get Loud when Page starts playing the Whole Lotta Love riff. Until that point the film maintained the facade of the three being equals. It's so cool to watch the Edge and Jack White just melt back into 12 year old kids with these goofy looks of utter awe on their faces. In that moment they're fans, just like everyone else.
posted by jimmythefish at 8:48 AM on June 1 [18 favorites]


For a short time I wishfully thought that Robert Plant was singing "Shake for me girl. I wanna be your vat grown man". But no.

Orphan Black Dog

Led Zep Rules \m/
posted by Room 641-A at 8:59 AM on June 1


I love the part of It Might Get Loud when Page starts playing the Whole Lotta Love riff.

That was my main problem with that movie. Page was just so far into another league that you just wanted to watch and listen to him instead of spend any time with the other two.
posted by octothorpe at 9:03 AM on June 1


Man that is such a good song. I'm not really a Led Zeppelin fan -- not in the sense that I don't like them, just in the sense that there are Led Zeppelin Fans and I'm not one of them -- but even just from a technical aspect you have to admire how they could be so loose and so tight at the same time. That riff is a thing of beauty, I don't even understand how you WRITE that with your brain.

Reading the technical details of how it was recorded and mixed was really, really interesting. I do some recording work but my part of it starts and ends with me singing, I know nothing about the rest of the details. What a great article, thank you.
posted by KathrynT at 9:33 AM on June 1 [1 favorite]


"knowing how to mic drums is the difference..."

Knowing how to hit the drums is a bigger difference. Some of those old rock guys are unbelievably loud. I've recorded different drummers on the same kit with the same mics and the good drummers get a completely different sound.
posted by bhnyc at 10:06 AM on June 1 [5 favorites]


Steve Marriott (Small Faces' lead singer) on the relationship between "You Need Lovin'" and "Whole Lotta Love":
Willie Dixon wrote it, called it "Woman, You Need Love" or something like that. It was fantastic, I used to love it! Muddy Waters recorded it, but I couldn't sing like Muddy Waters, so it wasn't that much of a nick. Whereas Robert Plant could sing like me. That's basically where it's at. I had to make up a lot of my own phrasing -- I couldn't sing like Muddy Waters, Long John Baldry had that down. 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, unless we had a short set. That's where Jimmy Page heard it. He asked about it, and Robert Plant used to follow us around at the time -- he was like a fan, a very nice chap. That was one of his favorites. [...] When I heard "Whole Lotta Love" I couldn't believe it. I was astounded, quite astounded. The phrasing was exact. I thought "Go on, my son, get on with it!" I couldn't believe it, but I was glad someone took it and did something with it. It was always a good song, but the phrasing was direct. As I said, he could sing like me -- he could sing a lot higher than me but he got a bit screechy -- but he took that note for note, word for word.
posted by scody at 10:14 AM on June 1 [1 favorite]


I love the part of It Might Get Loud when Page starts playing the Whole Lotta Love riff. Until that point the film maintained the facade of the three being equals. It's so cool to watch the Edge and Jack White just melt back into 12 year old kids with these goofy looks of utter awe on their faces. In that moment they're fans, just like everyone else.

I loved that part, too -- but I think the moment I loved the most was where Page is listening to Link Wray's "Rumble," and he starts turning right back into that 12-year-old fan himself. Aw, even Jimmy Page gets all gooey over his musical heroes.
posted by scody at 10:21 AM on June 1 [6 favorites]




The Small Faces track is an earnest, cheerful, energetic mid-60s rip-off of a blues song, with plenty of similarities in the vocals with LZ's song. Loads of boring and worthy British bands did this, well before 1966. All part of colonialism/racism.

But... just like the Rolling Stones took blues songs and moved them into some other specifically angsty-white-boy-late-60s-guilt-rock-madness territory by 1969 (Gimme Shelter etc), for better or for worse, so did LZ with Whole Lotta Love.

It's also a technology story: the Small Faces did not have the technology (or did not have the desire or brains to invent/nurture it) required to create such ludicrous, hypnotic, neurotic, pounding riff-mania. (Tech is always part of pop: Paul McCartney befriended an electrical engineer in 1961 specifically so that the man could build him the loudest bass amp in history up till then).
posted by colie at 11:49 AM on June 1 [2 favorites]


For guitarists who don't already know, the riff is hypnotic and evil partly because it must be performed with a slight out-of-tune aspect.

also Satin
posted by philip-random at 12:07 PM on June 1


If you listen to Plant's vocals between 0.50 - 1.10 they are full of the very strange gasps and gulps and 'comments' on the music that later on Michael Jackson would make a common part of pop. He couldn't really match up to them in the somewhat embarrassing 'freakout' section in the middle of the song, but he was really finding a whole new white singer vocabulary earlier.

The extreme stereo pan between the speakers for Page's slide guitar chord (appears for the first time at roughly 0.37) will also be a sound texture familiar to anyone who has taken acid/mushrooms.

Page also seems to hit a lot of open strings at 0.54 by mistake, which is nice.
posted by colie at 12:07 PM on June 1


The riff is TOTALLY addictive, to listen to, and to play. There's just something about the way it drives the song forward and also just has this weightless bounce to it. The only other riff I can think of that works the same is Jumping Jack Flash (not the studio version so much as the "Get Yer Ya Yas Out") version. There's certainly other riffs that do that, I just can't think of any right now. But where the song really knocks me on my ass is Page's solo. GOD. DAMN. but that solo is the absolute form and definition of hard rock. It is attitude. It is swagger. It is SEX. All of Plant's moaning and wailing and fake orgasming in the middle section is just foreplay and teasing. The guitar solo is a hardcore gonzo porn money shot filtered through a cocked wah-wah pedal.
posted by wabbittwax at 7:54 PM on June 1 [3 favorites]


Great article!

"I also knew that stereo FM radio was emerging in America for albums and I wanted to develop our songs emotionally, beyond just lengthy solos. "

Is there anyone here who can explain how AM and FM radio were different at this point in time? Did FM radio play entire albums?
posted by koakuma at 8:54 PM on June 1


Probably referring to album oriented rock and progressive stations.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:17 PM on June 1


Is there anyone here who can explain how AM and FM radio were different at this point in time? Did FM radio play entire albums?

Sometimes, yep. And also just songs from albums that weren't released as singles.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:22 PM on June 1


I'm a big fan of sampling, mashups and remixes, as long as people get credit for it. Led zeppelin were brilliant at it, but it's a shame they didn't credit the appropriate people.
posted by empath at 10:29 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]


Also, I find it interesting that people describe Robert plants moans, etc, in that song as orgasmic. As far as I know, men don't generally make those sorts of sounds.
posted by empath at 10:31 PM on June 1


FM was like the internet, a new wide open frontier, where traditional rules and boundaries were broken. But it was only 1978 when F.M. overtook A.M. in audience size.

The history of pop music was A.M. The roots of country, RnB, blues, and later rock n roll all spread via a.m. WLS in Chicago, WSM in Nashville, King Biscuit Flour Hour, the cultural history of the 20th century was in a.m. Tightly formatted, pop songs of a certain length, the 7 inch single. Most of the national radio network ownership was concentrated in a few hands as well.

Post-Woodstock rock expanded beyond the single into the concept of albums, and that audience wanted a different radio.

"The shift in popularity of FM radio over AM in United States during the 1970s has been called by record producer Steve Greenberg "a seismic technological shift that had torn apart the very idea of the mass audience upon which pop hits depended"" from good old wiki
posted by C.A.S. at 1:21 AM on June 2


For guitarists who don't already know, the riff is hypnotic and evil partly because it must be performed with a slight out-of-tune aspect.

This is not difficult for guitar players!
posted by thelonius at 3:22 AM on June 2 [3 favorites]


As far as I know, men don't generally make those sorts of sounds.

Most men don't have Robert Plant's vocal range.
posted by wabbittwax at 5:05 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


Most men don't have Robert Plant's vocal range.

Nor his lengthy list of conquests, during which he had plenty of on-the-job training in developing a varied repertoire or utterances.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:16 AM on June 2


…a varied repertoire OF utterances.

where's my 20-minute edit window?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:35 AM on June 2


By the way, this is part of The Wall Street Journal's ongoing, "Anatomy of a Song" series, which includes:

* The Hues Corporation's "Rock the Boat": How a musical team crafted a bouncy hit that helped launch the disco era.
* "Kansas City": How an unknown piano player helped turn a song into one of rock 'n' roll's most enduring standards.
* 'Ramblin' Man': How former Allman Brothers guitarist Dickey Betts rockified a country song he was planning to sell in Nashville.
* "Big City": The Fit That Led to a Country Hit for Merle Haggard
* Keith Richards: 'I Had a Sound in My Head That Was Bugging Me.' Turning 70 next week, he talks about '"Street Fighting Man"
* Linda Ronstadt's 'Different Drum': she and songwriter Michael Nesmith talk about her first hit
* "London Calling": The Sound of Going to Pieces. The Clash's surviving members recount the making of a punk anthem
* An oral history of Gladys Knight and the Pips' 1973 hit, 'Midnight Train to Georgia,' that began as a country ballad inspired by a phone call with Farrah Fawcett and wound up a Grammy-winner.
* "Proud Mary," From John Fogerty to Tina Turner: Anatomy of a Song. An oral history of the Creedence Clearwater Revival 1968 hit that went on to be covered by Solomon Burke, the Checkmates Ltd. and Ike and Tina Turner (Behind a paywall)
posted by zarq at 7:24 AM on June 2 [9 favorites]


Is there anyone here who can explain how AM and FM radio were different at this point in time?

FROM THE DEEP ARCHIVES:

The radio of 1972-73-74 was definitely helping. Because I was listening to FM now, with its longer, heavier, more important sounds, the DJs themselves programming the shows, playing the stuff that mattered to them, guiding the musical journey with their cooler than cool voices. Which would get you Neil Young, The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, King Crimson, Sly and the Family Stone, the Allman Brothers, the Doobie Brothers (before they went all lame), Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull ... An ever expanding universe of significance and cool. Just turn the radio on, maybe catch a whole side of Pink Floyd, into some old blues, some Tangerine Dream, then the latest David Bowie. Like the world's best buffet, always serving and I was always hungry

But this was about to change – fast.

Do your research and you'll discover that 1974 was pretty much the turning point – the year the consultants took over FM radio and ruined everything forever. I'll even name names, having bothered to do some research a while back.

Burkhart + Abrams.

Maybe it was inevitable. Maybe if it wasn't those two evil clowns, it would've been someone else, the FM airwaves being suddenly way too lucrative to be trusted to mere lovers of music. But Burkhart + Abrams are the ones that put their names to the crime, killed a beautiful thing and got filthy rich for their trouble.

Suddenly the DJs didn't have a say in what they played. Suddenly the DJs would get fired if they didn't follow the consultant's playlist. Suddenly that cool guy (or girl) with the alluring voice was the enemy … or working for them anyway. Suddenly, so much that was cool and dynamic and worth living for was just gone – or certainly driven well underground.

Curse them all.
posted by philip-random at 8:36 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]


For flapjax at midnite (and everyone, really): Isolated drum tracks of Bonzo (I can call him that because we're close personal friends) playing Fool in the Rain. It's hypnotic. So many people get lost in Bonham's power -- he hits like a damn gorilla -- but his technique was impeccable.
posted by gern at 10:08 AM on June 2 [4 favorites]


So many people get lost in Bonham's power -- he hits like a damn gorilla -- but his technique was impeccable.

Oh, you'll certainly get no argument from me on that point. His technique was very very good, and all used to further the groove and the feel, which he had in spades.

(I can call him that because we're close personal friends)

Are you a musician? A former neighbor? His tarot card reader or washing machine repairman? Tell us more, please! :)

Also interesting how you used the present-tense "we're" for a deceased person, as opposed to "we were". Perhaps he's actually still alive somewhere?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:05 PM on June 2


But his REAL friends, of course, called him, simply, "'zo", So I think you're pulling our legs,,,
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:11 PM on June 2






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