January 1970: Led Zeppelin Peak at #4 on the Hot 100 with WHOLE LOTTA LOVE

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Led Zeppelin is famous for many things. Among them: the band's legendary disdain for releasing singles. Driving Zeppelin's "no singles" edict was notorious manager, Peter Grant, who wanted to emphasize his fledgling young outfit as a live act. For guitarist Jimmy Page, it was about artistic integrity. Nothing about Led Zeppelin could be encapsulated in a three-and-a-half minute single, and he liked it that way.

“I produced ‘Whole Lotta Love’ — and the entire second album — as an un-editable expression, a work that had to be aired on stereo FM to make sense,” is how Page explained it to The Wall Street Journal.

Given the breakout success of Led Zeppelin's 1969 debut album, the anticipation for Led Zeppelin II was palpable. So much so that Atlantic Records was keen on releasing the bombastic opening track, "Whole Lotta Love," as a single.

“I came up with the guitar riff for ‘Whole Lotta Love’ in the summer of 1968,” Page revealed. “I suppose my early love for big intros by rockabilly guitarists was an inspiration, but as soon as I developed the riff, I knew it was strong enough to drive the entire song, not just open it.”

That energy carried over to the recording sessions, where the band leaned into the new number with considerable muscle: “[Robert] kept gaining confidence during the session and gave it everything he had," Page later marveled. "His vocals, like my [guitar] solos, were about performance. He was pushing to see what he could get out of himself. We were performing for each other, almost competitively.”

The label push for a single version of "Whole Lotta Love" launched a battle with Zeppelin manager Grant, who fought valiantly to prevent it from happening. He even suggested that Atlantic issue a special limited edition single for the holidays: “I think that was a cover-up," Grant said later. "We never went in just to record a single. That was the golden rule. No singles."

Ultimately, the pressure from Atlantic proved too much, and "Whole Lotta Love" was edited from it's original runtime of 5:34 down to a scant three minutes and change for maximum radio impact. Jimmy Page was not impressed: “Weeks before its release, [Atlantic] sent me an acetate of the edit. I played it once, hated it, and never listened to the short version again.”

Atlantic Records released "Whole Lotta Love" as an edited single in November 1969. The song arrived to critical acclaim, with Billboard calling out a "powerful, commercial swinger that should have no trouble putting [Led Zeppelin] up the Hot 100." The Cashbox review was a bit more subdued, extolling "a mixture of rock and blues with special production touches and a rousing lead vocal performance."

Billboard was right on the money, as the shortened version of "Whole Lotta Love" did bang-up business at radio, with pop and rock stations both spinning the tune in heavy rotation. The attention sent the track flying up the charts, peaking at #4 for the week of January 31, 1970. It still stands as Led Zeppelin's highest-charting track on the prestigious chart.