For the sake of thoroughness it should probably be noted that Jimmy Page did collaborate with Robert Plant on most of his solo albums, and Robert Plant lent his voice to at least one song on Jimmy Page’s solo album, so “Walking Into Clarksdale” was not exactly a new concept when examining the actions of both men nearly two decades after the breaking up of Led Zeppelin, but it is the only official time they worked together as a due to produce a studio album credited to both of them.
“No Quarter” was underappreciated, but “Walking Into Clarksdale” was criminally underappreciated.
According to the records “Walking Into Clarksdale” was well received in Europe, but when it came out I could not find anyone, aside from my big brother, who had bothered listening to it, and I mean at all, and that is still true even to this day. It would appear that even the most diehard Led Zeppelin fans have no idea what “Walking Into Clarksdale” is, and I often wonder why that is.
It might have something to do with the fact that the sound on “Walking Into Clarksdale” is very different from the Led Zeppelin classics. The early day works of Led Zeppelin were hard rock, even some metal fans try to claim Led Zeppelin as “early metal,” even though the later albums were beginning to show a sign of slowing down. Come 1998 the music Page and Plant were interested in creating was significantly slower and moodier than what they created in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and people who fail to realize that people change with time, apparently held that against the album. Newsflash, virtually everyone calms in their later years, most musicians and their body of work show this.
Another thing that I suspect might of have hurt “Walking Into Clarksdale’s” commercial reception was the choice of single, “Most High,” a song which I feel is the absolute middle mediocre example of what the album has to offer. However apparently “Most High” did win an award of some kind, so what the hell do I know? Also the title track left a lot to be desired by me, and I imagined others feel the same, it was a disjointed song, decent, not great, and along with “Most High” these would be the probably first two tracks the casual audience was exposed too. Meanwhile the best songs on the album went unnoticed, songs like “Blue Train” a heartfelt final goodbye by Robert Plant towards his son who died in a car accident many years ago; or “When I Was A Child” a gloomy song about growing older and the illusion of innocence dying; or “Shinning A Little Light” an upbeat love; or “Heart In Your Hand” a dark desperate song about putting, well, your heart in someone else’s hands; last we have the song of the hour “When The World Was Young.”
Sometimes it is easy to pick a favorite song off an album.
“When The World Was Young” is a fantastic song. It is reminiscent of Zeppelin classics like “In The Light” or “Ten Years Gone.” It has that sort of grandiose epic quality to it with great rising action, that I always love, slow methodical beginnings with a gradual increase in intensity climaxing with a dramatic rock and roll assembly of layered sounds and ending with a slowing outro. I really enjoy Jimmy Page’s guitar work in this song, after every verse there is a nice short flare of strums that really stand out and give the song a great flow, and it is also a song that is comprised mostly of unique note pickings which make it akin to a classic guitar song, which I am very fond of.
We would normally not think of a song like “When The World Was Young” as a heavy drum song but there is something worthy of mention about the drums in “When The World Was Young.” Songs like “When The World Was Young” are emotional and tender, so a heavy rhythm section is the last thing we would expect, but by the time the climax of the song comes along Michael Lee’s drums have picked up to an agreeably rock solid pace and Charlie Jones’ bass is in there too intensifying the volume, the emotion and the whole song. Working with gods like Page and Plant we are likely to forget who Jones and Lee are, so it is only fair we give them the credit they deserve for their part in “When The World Was Young” as well as the rest of the album “Walking Into Clarksdale.”
Examining the lyrics we are once again, as usual when studying the mind of Robert Plant, met with a great openness for interpretation. Any number of potentially mythical or impossible beings may be referenced. I like to think the song is about an immortal “I’ve been here since all time began” and “my footsteps through eternity.” Or course this being Robert Plant the lyrics are about love, only this time maybe an ancient lost love.
“I saw you,
I knew you,
I touched you,
When the world was young.”
This simple, yet powerful, chorus just sends my mind into a cosmic dance of ideas. Is it about an immortal, or maybe a god, reminiscing about someone they once knew? Maybe I got it backwards and it is about an aged mortal human reminiscing about their long ago contact with a magical being, when the world seemed young. Again though I like to invoke the element of romance, and think this is a song about a long lost love. The chasm of experience between youth and older age can seem like a worldly long time.
I used to think the chorus was saying “him” not “you,” and this gave me two possible ideas about who “him” was. I thought perhaps it was a god, or just god if you prefer, and Plant was singing about some religious experience, or, perhaps more personally entwined, I thought it possible that Plant was singing about his lost son, the one who died in a car accident, the same one he is singing about in “Blue Train.” I do not think these two theories work however, because the earlier exploration of romance just fits too well, “home of my heart, take me dancing.”
For these reasons, as well as a bunch of other I may have lacked the insight of elegance to elaborate on are why it is easy to understand why “When The World Was Young” is a great song. It is the masterpiece of Page and Plant’s later career and it stands as the triumphant gem off of an album that is filled with very majestic tracks of matured minds. Not only does “When The World Was Young” stand alone as a get song, but it harkens back to the sort of Zeppelin produced on “Physical Graffiti,” and not only that it is the epitome of why later day works by Page and Plant should not be overlooked. It is the single biggest reason why “Walking Into Clarksdale” is an underrated album.
Until next month keep on rocking in the free world.
- King of Braves