Sunday, June 03, 2007

Musicology 101 - You Need Love

The influence of American blues music on British rock has been well documented, but the plagiarism that was rampant in the 60’s and 70’s is still largely overlooked. Today, we call it ‘sampling,’ but to the original artists, in this case Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters, it was stone cold theft. Everyone knows Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’, but how many people know of the origin of this song? In 1962 Willie Dixon wrote ‘You Need Love’ and Muddy Waters cut the first version of this song at Chess Records in Chicago. Sung in Muddy’s inimitable style, the song is a typical blues theme of a man’s lusty pursuit of a young woman. Do any of these lines sound familiar?

You've got yearnin' and I got burnin'
Baby you look so sweet and cunning
Baby way down inside, woman you need love
Woman you need love, you've got to have some love
I'm gonna give you some love, I know you need love

You just gotta have love, you make me feel so good
You make me feel all right, you're so nice, you're so nice
You're frettin', and I'm petting
A lot of good things you ain't getting
Baby, way down inside, you need love

You need to be hugged and squeezed real tight,
by the light of the moon on some summer night
You need love and kissing too,
all these things are good for you
I ain't foolin' you need schoolin'
Baby you know you need coolin'
Baby, way down inside, woman you need love

Zep’s version owes as much to the Small Faces version, called ‘You Need Loving,’ recorded in 1966. Songwriting was credited to Ronny Lane/Steve Mariott, just as ‘Whole Lotta Love’ is Page/Plant. ‘Whole Lotta Love’ also borrows from Howlin’ Wolf at the end, with the line "Shake for me girl/I wanna be your back door man.” ‘Shake for Me” and “Back Door Man’ were written by Dixon and recorded by Howlin’ Wolf. And of course, Led Zeppelin II closes with ‘Bring It On Home,’ also written by Dixon and recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson.

Somehow I was vaguely aware of this back in the late 70’s when I was in high school. Chicago is home to the blues, and Muddy still had a following, getting airtime on the Loop and playing at Chicagofest to hoards of clueless white folks. At school, a typical exchange probably went something like this:

Stoner: “Man, are you trying to tell me that Whole Lotta Love was really written by some old black dude?”
Me: “Well not exactly, but they sure did copy a lot. A few others, too.”
Stoner: “Oh, shut up dude, Zeppelin rules!”

On Zeppelin’s debut album they gave credit to Dixon for “You Shook Me” and ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby”, maybe because they were pretty straight cover versions. With the heavy metal reinterpretation in ‘Whole Lotta Love’ they must have been reluctant. Ultimately, Dixon sued Led Zeppelin for plagiarism, but that didn’t happen until the mid 80’s. The case was settled out of court and recent Led Zeppelin releases have shared songwriting credit for "Whole Lotta Love" with Willie Dixon.

There’s a fine line between covering a song and reinterpreting it. Part of the complex roots of American music is the liberal reworking of songs, but with each new version, the original gets more obscure. For years Dylan has reinterpreted songs, although claiming songwriting credits. His latest album includes reworked versions of Someday Baby, When the Levee Breaks, and Rollin’ and Tumblin’, songs written by Lightning Hopkins (1948), Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie (1929, and of course redone by Zeppelin in 1971), and Hambone Willie Newbern (1936, made famous by Muddy in 1950), respectively. On the label, Dylan claims songwriting credits, presumably due to the reworked lyrics.

My point in all this rambling is to raise awareness, and encourage you to return to the originals from time to time and understand how music draws so heavily on the past. It’s not for me to decide on credits and royalties, but it sure wouldn’t hurt to pick up a few blues CD’s now and then.

Blues Heaven

You Need Love
Written by Willie Dixon
Recorded October 12, 1962
Chess Recording Studio, Chicago, Illinois
Chess single #1839

Muddy Waters, Vocal
Earl Hooker, guitar
Willie Dixon, bass
John ‘Big Moose’ Walker, organ
Casey Jones, drums
Ernest Cotton and A.C. Reed, tenor sax

Buy these discs:

Blues Masters, Volume 6

Muddy Waters Anthology - 1947-72

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this very interesting history lesson :-)

5:06 AM  

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