The year is 1997 and “The Biggest Band in the World” Led Zeppelin’s time in the spotlight has come and gone. The band split up after drummer John Bonham drank himself to death in 1980. The Live Aid reunion with Phil Collins sitting in as drummer is an unmentionable disaster. Aside from the occasional projects from Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, separate or together, the name Led Zeppelin was looking to be long forgotten by the UK’s pop culture. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, on September 8, “Whole Lotta Love” is the first ever released single by Led Zeppelin in the UK.
I know what you’re thinking. “How could the first Led Zeppelin single be released in the late 90’s?” Well my thoughtful readers, I will explain to you the business savvy that was manager Peter Grant. Grant, probably pressured from the band themselves, wanted to really market the music as something that had to be listened to as a whole. One song could not accurately represent their multifaceted musical identity. They convinced their record label, Atlantic Records, that a single would only hurt album sales. Atlantic agreed to not release a singles in the UK, but in the US, where single sales were critical, Led Zeppelin agreed to choose some songs off their album to be sold individually, “Whole Lotta Love” being one of the few. Even their most famous “Stairway to Heaven” was only released as radio promos. 1200 WPGU points if you’ve ever even seen one.
Maybe its special quality as one of the few Zeppelin singles is why it so well known. Or maybe it’s just because that guitar riff kicks ass. Or maybe it’s because of its clever producing. It sounds like the band is playing out of giant Marshall stacks, but Page achieved this sound by little more than a 100w amp and some unique distance miking. There’s also the groundbreaking use of a backwards echo and the middle section in which Page and an engineer “twiddling every knob known to man.” The mystery may stay as long as this song still inspires wailers and air guitarists, which doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon.