Clapton & co's '67 high watermark, in stereo and mono, plus outtakes, demos and BBC session tracks
With its earnest covers of material by Muddy Waters, Skip James and Willie Dixon, Cream’s 1966 debut album Fresh Cream had introduced the band as serious blues buffs, inheritors of a rich but rule-bound tradition. But it was the sudden, startling impact of another blues inheritor, Jimi Hendrix, that would exert the greatest influence over their subsequent releases: his “Hey Joe” was released within days of Fresh Cream, and in the ensuing months Hendrix’s incendiary performances became the sensation of London’s scene. By the time Cream were recording their second album in New York the following May, the epochal Are You Experienced was rewriting the rulebook for blues-based rock, and Disraeli Gears reflected those changes in its shift to a more psychedelic blues style.
The first sessions for the LP took place with Atlantic founder Ahmet Ertegun?a man who knew his blues? in March ’67, producing just two tracks, Ginger Baker’s dismal “Blue Condition” and Eric Clapton’s “Lawdy Mama”. Neither hinted at what would happen when the talented young producer Felix Pappalardi took the helm at the May sessions. Given a new, spooky lyric by Pappalardi’s girlfriend Gail Collins, the quotidian “Lawdy Mama” metamorphosed into the haunting “Strange Brew”.
It made a distinctive lead-off to the new album, but it was the next track that would come to define the band forever. Initially derided by Ertegun as “psychedelic hogwash”, “Sunshine Of Your Love” became the riff that took over the world, the tension between its trenchant bass and guitar riff and the rumble of Baker’s tom-toms?their tribal rhythm suggested by engineer Tom Dowd?spawning countless imitations and helping the track become one of Atlantic’s biggest-selling singles.
Elsewhere, the band’s new direction was confirmed by the surreal hippie whimsy of songs like “SWLABR”, full of daffy nonsense about bearded rainbows and moustachioed pictures, and “Tales Of Brave Ulysses”, which condensed Homer’s Odyssey into three minutes. The Hendrix effect, meanwhile, was most evident in Clapton’s adoption of his trademark “womantone” lead style, whose almost infinite sustain rendered individual notes as one long, uninterrupted flow on tracks such as “World Of Pain” and “We’re Going Wrong”.
The album was a huge, Top 5 success on both sides of the Atlantic, transforming the shape of rock music, which still draws deeply on its power-trio innovations. This two-CD reissue includes both mono and stereo mixes, plus the early Ertegun sessions, and primitive demos, including three that never made the final cut: the whimsical “Weird Of Hermiston”, “The Clearout” and “Hey Now Princess”, a put-down song lacking Dylan’s wit and imaginat