There’s really nothing that Mary J. Blige can’t do, so we didn’t even blink an eye when we heard she’s now covering Led Zeppelin, but even we didn’t expect it to be so great. We’re calling it right now: her version of “Whole Lotta Love” is going to become a cult classic and is headed straight to No. 1 on the Dance Club Play charts.
Today, Blige released her versions of “Whole Lotta Love” and “Stairway to Heaven” on iTunes. She sings the latter on “Oprah” today as well (which you can still catch it you're on the West Coast). The tunes are also on the U.K. version of her latest album, "Stronger with Each Tear." Embeds for both are below so you can hear for yourself.
She tears through “Whole Lotta Love,” turning it into a spacey, dance, guitar-driven jam. She even replicates Robert Plant’s orgasmic sighs, although they’re very muted. She honors the original—the guitar riffs are pretty much note for note—but still turns it on its head with her beat-driven, relentlessly uptempo take instead of Plant’s sexy, slow grind. But the real magic comes at the end. At around 2:45, with the whisper of Plant singing in the background, Blige slows it down and growls, in a cross between Plant and Janis Joplin, “Way down inside, Honey, you need me…” If that doesn’t make the hair on the back of your head stand up, check for a pulse. If she’d done the entire song in such a fashion, I’m not sure any of us would be left standing it’s so powerful. We’d just be little puddles of goo on the floor.
We, apparently, have Bono to thank for this rendition. After the two tackled U2’s “One” so successfully in 2005, he suggested that she take on “Whole Lotta Love.” If the music thing doesn’t work out for him, Bono would make one hell of an A&R guy. Joining Blige on the tracks are Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, guitarists Steve Vai and Orianthi (from Michael Jackson's band) and bassist Randy Jackson (yeah, the “American Idol” judge).
Blige also tackles “Stairway to Heaven,” but it’s in a much more straightforward manner, although the string arrangement changes at the end. She nails it and infuses it with an emotional weight. But the simple fact is if you listen to “Whole Lotta Love,” your brain will still be so singed from that that “Stairway to Heaven” sounds gorgeous, but not earth shattering. Nice cover, but the revelation here is “Whole Lotta Love.”