It was recorded at various studios in New York and Los Angeles during a 1969 concert tour of the United States and assembled by Jimmy Page at Olympic Studios in London. Already part of their live repertoire, it saw its first official release on the LP II on October 22, 1969 (Atlantic LP #8236). The song was essentially a cover of the Willie Dixon song "You Need Love", a favorite of the band's as performed by the Small Faces that had also been released by Muddy Waters in 1962. This (and Bring It On Home) would lead to a lawsuit settled out of court in the favor of Dixon in 1985 over the similarity of the lyrics. The song also included lyrical nods to Dixon's "Back Door Man" and "Shake for Me", the latter as recorded by Howlin' Wolf. You Need Love would also inspire the song "Custard Pie" featured on Led Zeppelin's later album, Physical Graffiti.
The song begins with a trademark Page riff and moves into the first chorus. Then, beginning at 1:24 (and lasting until 3:02) the song dissolves to a free jazz-like break involving a Theremin solo and the moans of Robert Plant (sometimes called the "orgasm section"). As audio engineer Eddie Kramer has explained: "The famous Whole Lotta Love mix, where everything is going bananas, is a combination of Jimmy and myself just flying around on a small console twiddling every knob known to man."