When it was announced that Hall of Fame Inductees Led Zeppelin would be reissuing their first three albums with a series of box sets featuring previously unheard mixes, live versions and one unreleased track, the group shared a radio edit of a rough mix of the classic cut "Whole Lotta Love" that sounded quite different than the famous radio-staple studio version, most notably Jimmy Page's guitar parts and Robert Plant's vocals. It's a mix as intriguing to listeners as the song's controversial – sometimes litigious – history.
Plant remembers the first time he noted similarities between a Zep-credited composition and an obscure but not that obscure blues. JPage's response was "shut up and keep walking." Led Zeppelin almost got away with "Whole Lotta Love." The crunching riff and relentless thud that opens Led Zeppelin II could be attributed to few other bands in 1969.
But as the lyrics unfolded, certain listeners got a dose of deja vu. "Whole Lotta Love" distinctly recalled the Small Faces' number "You Need Loving." Had the music police paid heed, Led Zeppelin would probably have been charged simply with trafficking in stolen goods. The Steve Marriott/Ronnie Lane "composition" was itself a lift of a Willie Dixon song, "You Need Love," that Muddy Waters recorded in 1962. The story begins in 1985, when Dixon's daughter tossed Led Zeppelin II on the family Victrola and exclaimed, "Daddy! That's your song!"
Maybe its author hadn't imagined backwards echo or a theremin solo in the middle section, but the lyrics were familiar, so Dixon moved to sue Zeppelin and received a tidy out-of-court settlement. Shorn of its explosive center section, "Whole Lotta Love" reached Number Four in the U.S. singles charts. The Led Zeppelin track was never a single in the U.K., but a cover version by "CCS" (a jumbo rock orchestra led by Zep mentor Alexis Korner) became the new signature theme for Britain's perennial Top Of The Pops television program.