‘Whole Lotta Love’ (and hate): The Zeppelin conundrum
I love Led Zeppelin. I have every album of theirs saved on my Spotify, several of which I also own on vinyl. I have a huge poster of the band hung up on my dorm wall. I listen to their live album “How the West was Won” literally every single day. I’ve spent hours upon hours trying to learn the chords to “The Rain Song” on guitar. The solo in “Stairway to Heaven” makes me tear up every time I hear it, even after about a million listens. I could gush on an on forever about their music.
Put simply, Led Zeppelin is awesome.
Objectively, their music is among the greatest assortment of raucous hard rock in music history. Subjectively, however, the music of Led Zeppelin is victimized by four blatantly misogynistic members whose behavior much of the time was atrocious, if not illegal.
Lyrically, Zeppelin were an arm and leg, and probably several other limbs, short of any of their musical peers. At their best, their lyrics were a mess of Norse mythology and Tolkien references run amuck, bordering on the pretentious and nonsensical; at their worst, the lyrics were horribly misogynistic or blatantly stolen from their blues idols.
In “Living, Loving, Maid (She’s Just a Woman),” Robert Plant so eloquently howls, “Alimony, Alimony, Payin’ all your bills/ Livin’, Lovin’, She’s just a woman.” Wimmin, am I right, guys? It’s like if the Rolling Stones never got off their “Under My Thumb” kick. For a happily married man, it is dumfounding as to why so many of Percy’s lyrical bursts rely so heavily on blase woman hating. Much of this is attributed to being victims of their time, however their inability so see beyond that is so antithetical to the forward thinking quality of their musicianship.
Let’s not forgot the copious amount of time they outright stole lyrics without giving songwriting credits. “The Lemon Song” is almost a direct rip-off of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor”, and their biggest hit, “Whole Lotta Love,” was pulled right from Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love.” Both songs, as well as many others, ended up landing Zep in court over stolen writer’s credits.
Beyond their musical shortcomings, the members of Led Zeppelin were, putting it bluntly, just horrible people. They had an inclination towards the Keith Moon-inspired fad of trashing hotel rooms. Ah yes, a bunch of rich a——- check into a hotel, destroy it and leave trash for some cleaning person making minimum wage to clean up.
John Bonham, almost universally-acclaimed as the greatest drummer to ever hold two sticks, was somewhere between the cross of a surly pirate and a Neanderthal. He was a violent drunk who enjoyed passing the time by defecating in the purses of groupies and getting into fist fights.
As with most ’70s rockers, Zep fancied themselves a groupie or two, and for Jimmy Page, the younger the better. In the early ’70s, Page began a “romance” with then 14-year-old “baby groupie” Lori Maddox. By “romance,” I mean he became obsessed with her after seeing her in a modeling catalog, instructed his road manager to arrange a meeting with her, kidnapped her and kept her under lock and key for two years as, what some believe, a sex slave. Yet somehow, Page has never been truly labeled what he is: a pedophile.
Led Zeppelin, to me, are the greatest band ever, but at the same time I can’t stand who they were. Their actions and mentality are unjustifiable, yet at the same time their musicianship is undeniable. Robert Plant is, in my opinion, the greatest singer in all of popular music, and Jimmy Page is responsible not only of the greatest single body of guitar riffs, but also the greatest solo in “Stairway to Heaven.”
So the question is, can you separate one from the other? Or do you have to look at them as a whole? I really don’t know what the answer is. I love Led Zeppelin, but I also hate that I love them.