Led Zeppelin: Why You Hear Robert Plant’s Vocals Echoing on ‘Whole Lotta Love’
You can point to several landmark songs in the career of Led Zeppelin. In the early days, “Dazed and Confused” served as a showcase for the band’s explosiveness in live performances. And, later, “Kashmir” represented a high point for Zeppelin on several levels.
But you could argue “Whole Lotta Love” was the song that established Zep as an unstoppable force in rock ‘n’ roll. Between the epic Jimmy Page riff and theremin-fueled “freakout” section in the middle, the first track of Led Zeppelin II made quite a statement in 1969.
More than 50 years later, “Whole Lotta Love” still stands out for the gut-punch drums and other sounds Page and his engineers achieved in the studio. And by this point Zep fans are well aware of the track’s quirks, beginning with the vocals of Robert Plant.
Following an array of stereo pans and other effects, you hear the oddest thing at the 04:00 mark. While howling his “Wayyyyyy down inside, woman,” you actually hear Plant’s voice anticipate the lines he’s about to sing. It was a studio accident Page decided to leave on “Whole Lotta Love.”
You can hear Robert Plant pre-echo his lines late in ‘Whole Lotta Love’
After the opening verses and freakout, Zep transitions to the latter part of the song with a thunderous drum part by John Bonham (around 3:00). Then Page enters the mix with one of his great solos. Once the band runs through another verse, it feels like the song is about to end.
But then the music cuts off and you hear what sounds like Plant’s voice singing in a studio next door. His faint “Way down inside” is followed by Plant’s full-throated “WAY DOWN INSIDE.” Then the same thing happens on the next line.
According to engineer Eddie Kramer (who mixed the album with Page), that happened because Plant recorded vocals on two different tracks. No matter how he tried to get rid of the second, fainter vocal on one of those tracks, Kramer couldn’t do it.
“Even when I turned the volume down all the way on the track we didn’t want, [Plant’s] powerful voice was bleeding through the console and onto the master,” Kramer told the Wall Street Journal in 2014. So he and Page decided to make the best of this “pre-echo.”
Jimmy Page and Eddie Kramer made the accident a feature of ‘Whole Lotta Love’
As Kramer recalled it, neither he nor Page fretted once they realized they couldn’t eliminate Plant’s second vocal. Instead, they both went for knobs on the studio console to make it sound better, making one another laugh in the process.
“Our instincts were the same: to douse the faint, intruding voice in reverb so it sounded part of the master plan,” Kramer told WSJ. For Page, it represented exactly the sort of thing he looked for while producing Zeppelin.
“Robert’s faraway voice sounded otherworldly, like a spirit anticipating the vocal he was about to deliver,” Page told the Journal. “I hadn’t heard anything like that before and loved it.”
Mixed in with the echoes, panning, and other studio effects you hear on the song, many listeners simply assumed Page planned to put it on the record that way. That certainly wasn’t the case at first.