Even before singer-bassist Jack Bruce died in October 2014, guitarist Eric Clapton had nixed the idea of a Cream reunion with those two plus drummer Ginger Baker. In fact, he suggested that retiring from the road would be his 70th birthday present to himself, though he might record an occasional album.
No reunion was just as well. Over nine years ago, I received The Royal Albert Hall album, and while it was quite good, it could never measure up to my expectations.
Cream represented my first awareness of “Slowhand,” whose guitar prowess had generated “Clapton is God” messages all over England, even when organized religion there was on the wane.
Certainly, I knew of his Beatles connection, with him playing on While My Guitar Gently Weeps. And of course, there was the fact that, at different points, both George Harrison and his good friend Clapton, wrote songs about, and were married to, Pattie Boyd.
This is more about retailing than Clapton: I went to a store in the Binghamton area and bought 461 Ocean Boulevard, Clapton’s second album, from 1974, though I probably bought it the following year. As soon as the sale was completed, the sales clerk told me what a lousy album it was. I took it home, decided that I liked it, particularly Motherless Children, I Shot The Sheriff, and Let It Grow. Suffice to say, I never bought a record from that store ever again.
Here are some of my favorite songs featuring Clapton. The order, other than the top five, is rather fluid.
20. Why Does Love Got to be So Sad? – Derek and the Dominos. Clapton and Duane Allman licks, with a solid foundation from Jim Gordon on drums and Carl Radle on bass
19. Let It Rain. Written by Clapton, with Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett and Eric Clapton, it was the last song on his first solo album.
18. We’re Going Wrong – Cream. I loved Cream’s second album, Disraeli Gears, from its fanciful cover, to its reference to a 19th-century British prime minister. I created in my mind a harmony vocal for this chorus.
17. Politician (live) – Cream. Politician was recorded by the band for the Wheels of Fire album. But it’s the live version on Goodbye Cream which really shows its lyric cynicism.
16. Those were the Days – Cream. Those trippy lyrics, changing rhythms, and the bells. I owned three different songs with this title, and still do: this one (the B-side of White Room, one of the few singles I owned), the Mary Hopkin hit, and the opening theme to the television show All in the Family.
15. Little Wing – Derek and the Dominos. A cover of the Jimi Hendrix song, showing the greatness of Duane Allman.
14. Sea of Joy – Blind Faith. This was the group that rose from the ashes of Cream with Clapton and Baker, plus Ric Grech, bassist with a band called Family, and the distinctive vocals of Steve Winwood, formerly of the Spencer Davis Group and Traffic.
13. I Feel Free – Cream. LOVE the a cappella opening. From Fresh Cream. I recall that my 7th-grade history teacher referred to the group as The Cream, and one of my classmates sternly corrected him.
12. Cocaine. One of many J.J. Cale songs covered by Clapton, this one for the 1977 Slowhand album. I used to sing “this go better with Coca-Cola” in counterpoint to this song; it DOES fit.
11. I Ain’t Got You – the Yardbirds. I love the stops in this song.
10. Strange Brew – Cream. First song on Disraeli Gears.
9. Can’t Find My Way Back Home – Blind Faith. A song written by Winwood that speaks to a basic tenet of my 20s and 30s
8. White Room – Cream. This is one of my favorite Jack Bruce bass lines.
7. For Your Love – the Yardbirds. Despite the fact that it directly led to Clapton’s departure from the band, I’ve always liked this song. Clapton was upset that the band was moving from R&B to pop, and left to join John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers.
6. Tales of Brave Ulysses-Cream. Naturally, from Disraeli Gears.
And you see a girl’s brown body dancing thru the turquoise
And her footprints make you follow where the sky loves the sea
And when your fingers find her, she drowns you in her body
Carving deep blue ripples in the tissue of your mind
5. To Tell The Truth (single)- Derek and the Dominos. This was, according to the Clapton box set I own, the first Derek and the Dominos’ single, but it was withdrawn as not in keeping with the band’s sound. I loved this more frantic version from the first listen, far more than the album version.
4. Badge – Cream. This sounded Beatlesque even before I knew George Harrison co-wrote this with Clapton and plays guitar under the pseudonym L’Angelo Misterioso.
3. Layla – Derek and the Dominos. When the Okie and I lived in Colonial Arms Apartment in New Paltz, NY, our neighbors Howie and Debi had a cat named Layla who was a sister to our cat Doris. Incidentally, this song was re-covered by Clapton in an unplugged version, which The Wife prefers.
2. Sunshine of Your Love – Cream. This was about a perfect pop song: great trading vocals, and harmonies; tremendous playing, especially that tom-tom beat. The Blue Moon guitar solo on the bridge. Of course, from Disraeli Gears.
1. I’m So Glad (live) – Cream. Still, my favorite Clapton performance is on the live version of a Skip James tune from Goodbye Cream. The studio version was on Fresh Cream.