Led Zeppelin: Plagiarism? “Whole Lotta Love”

Robert Plant loved the erotic imagery used by bluesmen and the swaggering sexuality expressed in the blues, so much so that he would often lift lines here and there from various blues classics.  On occasion, however, he borrowed a little too much.  Such is the case with “Whole Lotta Love,” which opens the 1969 album Led Zeppelin II.  “Whole Lotta Love” was initially credited to Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham.  In 1985, however, Variety reported that Willie Dixon sued Led Zeppelin, claiming that “Whole Lotta Love” was largely plagiarized from “You Need Love,” written by Dixon and recorded by Muddy Waters as a single for Chess Records in 1962.

To be fair, “Whole Lotta Love” is a creative piece of work that demonstrates Led Zeppelin’s originality. The lyrics, however, do not meet this standard. The opening verse of “Whole Lotta Love” (You need coolin’/Baby, I’m not foolin’/I’m gonna send you/Back to schoolin’/Way down inside/Honey, you need it/I’m gonna give you my love) is readily identifiable from Willie Dixon’s lyrics for “You Need Love” (I ain’t foolin’/You need schoolin’/Baby, you know you need coolin’/Woman, way down inside/Woman, you need love) The next verse of “Whole Lotta Love” (You’ve been learnin’/Baby, I’ve been learnin’/All them good times/Baby, baby, I’ve been yearnin’/Way, way down inside/Honey, you need love/I’m gonna give you my love) strays a little from the original, but is still recognizable (You got yearnin’ and I got burnin’/Baby, you look so sweet and cunning/Baby, way down inside/Woman, you need love/You got to have some love/I’m gon’ give you some love). Robert Plant also takes the words from this verse and turns them into a vocal break near the end of the song. In addition, Robert Plant briefly quotes Howlin’ Wolf at the end of “Whole Lotta Love” with the lines “Shake for me, girl/I wanna be your back door man.” Actually, Plant was once again quoting Willie Dixon, as both of the songs “Shake for Me” and “Back Door Man,” though popularized by Howlin’ Wolf, were written by Dixon.

Whole Lotta Love
by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant,
John Paul Jones & John Bonham
(& Willie Dixon)

You need coolin’
Baby, I’m not foolin’
I’m gonna send you
Back to schoolin’
Way down inside
Honey, you need it
I’m gonna give you my love

Wanna whole lotta love

You’ve been learnin’
Baby, I’ve been learnin’
All them good times
Baby, baby, I’ve been yearnin’
Way, way down inside
Honey, you need love
I’m gonna give you my love


You’ve been coolin’
Baby, I’ve been droolin’
All the good times
I’ve been misusin’
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


Way down inside woman you need love

Shake for me, girl
I wanna be your backdoor man
Keep it coolin’, baby

You Need Love
by Willie Dixon
performed by Muddy Waters

You got yearnin’ and I got burnin’
Baby, you look so sweet and cunning
Baby, way down inside
Woman, you need love
You got to have some love
I’m gon’ give you some love
I know you need love
You just got to have love
You got to have some love
you make me feel so good
You make me feel alright
you’re so nice, you’re so nice

You are frettin’ and I am pettin’
A lot of good things you ain’t gettin’
Baby, way down inside
Woman, you need love
I know you need love
You got to have some love

I ain’t foolin’
You need schoolin’
Baby, you know you need coolin’
Woman, way down inside
Woman, you need love
You got to have some love
She got to have some love

Robert Plant flippantly discussed this in an interview,

Page’s riff was Page’s riff. It was there before anything else. I just thought, ‘Well, what am I going to sing?’ 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… Well, you only get caught when you’re successful.

Bear in mind that when Led Zeppelin were recording their second album it had been only seven years since the release of Muddy Waters recording of “You Need Love”. When the lawsuit was filed in the 1980s, a lawyer for the Led Zeppelin’s record company, Atlantic Records, offered only the weak defense, “It’s strange that someone would wait all that time [to file a suit].” The case was settled out of court and recent Led Zeppelin releases have given songwriting credit for “Whole Lotta Love” to Willie Dixon along with all four members of Led Zeppelin. Willie Dixon used the money received from this settlement for the Blues Heaven Foundation, which he founded in 1984. The mission of the Blues Heaven Foundation is to “to help artists and musicians obtain what is rightfully theirs, and to educate both adults and children on the history of the Blues and the business of music.” Until his death in 1992, Dixon worked on behalf of other artists to ensure that they received the royalties they were due for their music.

Though Led Zeppelin had no doubt heard Muddy Waters’s version of “You Need Love”, the version of this song that appears to have most directly influenced them was by the Small Faces. The Small Faces released “You Need Loving” in 1966 and despite the slight retitling, this track is a straightforward interpretation of “You Need Love” that stays close to Muddy Waters’ version.

“You Need Loving” is credited to “Lane/Marriot,” demonstrating that Led Zeppelin weren’t the only ones who were reluctant to give proper songwriting credit. In a 1977 interview with Ray Coleman, Robert Plant referred to Steve Marriot, the lead singer for the Small Faces, as “the master of white contemporary blues.” Perhaps competing with Marriot, Robert Plant sounds very much like the Small Faces’ vocalist during the climactic vocal break (“Way down inside, woman, you need lo-o-ove”). The Small Faces’ “You Need Loving” included a similar vocal break, but Robert Plant draws out this line even more than Marriot had. Where Steve Marriot’s vocal break lasted 14 seconds, Robert Plant stretches this section out to 26 seconds

Marriot Plant Comparison
Robert Plant’s vocal break in “Whole Lotta Love” is nearly twice as long as Steve Marriot’s in “You Need Loving”

Still, Plant expressed humility in the Coleman interview, “I could never be compared with Steve Marriot because he’s too good, unfortunately! He’s got the best white voice, for sheer bravado and balls.” Steve Marriot, however, was not quite as gracious when he spoke about Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. In Steve Marriott: All Too Beautiful, Paolo Hewitt quotes Marriot as saying, “Jimmy Page asked me what that number was we did. I said, ‘it’s a Muddy Waters thing’.” He went on to say that Robert Plant was a big fan of the Small Faces. Marriot claimed, “He used to come to the gigs whenever we played in Kidderminster or Stourbridge,” and he felt that Robert Plant copied his interpretation of “You Need Loving” in “Whole Lotta Love.” “He sang it the same, phrased it the same, even the stops at the end were the same.”

It’s interesting that Willie Dixon never sued Ronnie Lane and Steve Marriot over “You Need Love”. Here Led Zeppelin’s popularity (and reputation as music thieves) made them more of a target for legal action than the Small Faces, even though though the Small Faces had drawn more freely from the original (Steve Marriot also lifted lines from “Land of 10,000 Dances” as he listed off several of the dances from that song). Willie Dixon may not have been aware of the Small Faces version. The only reason Willie Dixon was aware of “Whole Lotta Love” was that when his daughter, Shirli, was 13 years old, she heard the record at a friend’s house. She thought it sounded familiar so she borrowed it and played it for her father. After Willie Dixon’s death, Shirli Dixon-Nelson and Dixon’s widow, Marie, ran the Blues Heaven Foundation. It was through their efforts that the Blues Heaven Foundation moved into the restored Chess Records Studio at 2120 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago.


2120 S. Michigan Ave. in Chicago,
the former offices and recording studios of Chess Records and now the site of the Blues Heaven Foundation

33 thoughts on “Led Zeppelin: Plagiarism? “Whole Lotta Love”

  1. Everybody is nicking everything from everybody. From where else are all these things to come from ?

      • Jeez, I think he was asking who authored the article. And to Chantal Jones: look in the upper right-hand corner as there is an address to contact the author.

  2. I read that in the lawsuit against Led Zeppelin for stealing the Spirit Song for Stairway to Heaven they also claim that Jimmy Page got the idea to use the instrument called the Theremin in ‘Whole Lotta Love’ from Randy California and Spirit Band as well.

  3. Yeah I would say Led Zeppelin were inspired by a lot of artists, and in some cases credit should be given or even an “inspired by”, but just listen to the music…Zep takes these influences and completely catapults them elsewhere, changes them into something otherworldly. The sonic experience that Led Zeppelin creates is utterly unique, and no one can deny that. I’m so glad we get to experience it.

    Not to mention how hard it is to take an original and make it ten times better.

    • Aleluja …totally on the money man! ..plus all this suing Mambo jumbo has to be put in contest of Zeppelin being ultra mega saccesful… Aka nobody sued Youtube in early days…but moment Google bought it …they were lining up around the block …lol…it’s so unfair that by far best band of late 60’s & 70’s and biggest ever in comerccomm terms.. .. so original so unique… they took blues and turned it up side down..gets sued and posers don’t…. 99% of rock could be traced to Robert Johnson and Dixon should pay some to Johnson? Lol…and Robert Johnson “stole” it from tradtiotrad blues artists …from beginning of 1900”s …songs were passed for generations untill Dixon published it…lol..they did not have publishing in early 1900’s… Picasso quote for the end: good artist copy, grest artist steal ..I’m great artist! I definitely understand Picasso and Zeppelin…:) aka by steal : u make a song ur posesion you owen it ! One make so new experience it’s uniquely theirs ..so: whole lotta love is unique Zeppelin song as are all the rest 🙂 and one more thing all of the albums all of songs are as good and fresh as at the time…no other band or artist come even close!

  4. For all the ignoramuses posting before me, do some research. All of the music recorded by mainstream musicians from the 50s on was copied. Some have been caught, but a whole lot made millions on someone’s back. Do some research and you’ll see EP, CP , ands whole lot more from Memphis hillbillies were guilty !!!
    This makes me sick !!!!

  5. Robert Plant always praises and credits Howlin’ Wolf in his concerts. Jimmy Page’s riffs are all original combined with JP Jones both masters of their craft.

  6. I like the music made by Zeppelin and others, I just think Atlantic records should pay for the usage, since they gave the green light to use it all !!!
    Btw I liked the “black” music before it was ripped off. But the sun people used it before any one caught on. They had it “cleaned” up for white audiences. While their Starr EP was a womanizer drug user, and a really poor roll model
    I heard it( the music)thru Porky Chedwick Pittsburgh pa.

  7. I see on the news and all over you tube led Zeppelin is still being accused of stealing, Howard stern did few shows on the subject. Listen to them, they may have copied a few things off of all people Joan Baez. But their arrangements are second to none . They have their own sound. Atlantic records owned all the music produced In the USA and gave all their groups the green light to use it. Even though I feel for the black musicians but they themselves copied a lot of the music from who knows who !!!!
    Sun records started the ball rolling with Elvis and a few others, but never got called out it !!!!
    Every band in the world plays the music so all I can say Is enjoy whomever you want even if it’s
    Joan Baez or yoko Ono !!!! I prefer Zeppelin so sue me for my tastes !!!!! I buy their music and listen to it daily !!!
    The accusations mean nothing to me, besides irritating me !!!!

  8. The Small Faces also did a version of this song which they titled ‘you need loving’ in 1966, and their performance of the song is almost indistinguishable from led zeppelin’s, even though led zeppelin’s version is from three years later. The only difference is the lack of the chorus lyric ‘whole lotta love’.

  9. Actually, The Small Faces were eventually confronted over this. In his autobiography, McLagan (drummer of Small Faces) “All The Rage” he wrote: “Willie Dixon’s daughter Shirley — or their lawyers — got on to Decca and asked them to stop and desist until they’d paid the money. And Decca got in touch with me: ‘What’s this all about?’ I said, ‘Yeah that’s right’. Steve and Ronnie are dead anyway. I said, ‘Yeah, f*** it, they nicked it. It’s Willie Dixon’s. You should pay Willie Dixon’s daughter.'”

  10. I read years ago that Willie Dixon ripped off a lot of old blues artists who used to borrow stuff from each other but never copywrit it and he was the first to do that so it became his, he was no better than many others using other people’s songs

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