Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, and Eric Clapton formed the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band Cream on this day in 1966. By December of that year, one of rock’s first “supergroups” would release their debut album Fresh Cream, writing an exciting new chapter in the history of rock.
As with most supergroups, Cream didn’t last long. They were brought down by the things that bring down most groups and supergroups alike: egos, drugs, creative differences, pressures, and personalities. The things that pulled them apart also helped make them great and that is why their legacy is hard to pin down. They divided critics, and time has done peculiar things to the way some view the band and their music. Some who hailed them at the time can no longer remember what the fuss was all about while some who derided them as “hippie noise” now hear the exploration and intricacies in their music. Of course there are some who picked one camp or the other and have remained there while others merely shrugged.
As for me, I take a pinch of the different schools of thought and blend them. Their catalog has some blights and missteps and there has been more than a little hyperbole in the hosannas but the best moments of their brief career reached towering highs that stand up 44 years later and still sound great. Their highlights were many and here are just a few. Agree? Disagree? Have some highlights of your own? Let’s discuss…
1) “I Feel Free”: My niece knows this song from car commercial that used it but she danced to that beat and hummed right along with that intro. This isn’t the best example of the freeform jams or their blues-based leanings but instead focuses more on the hippy psychedelic leanings.
2) “Sunshine Of Your Love”: Disraeli Gears stands as one of the most heralded, influential records of the era. This is where Cream came into their own as a force, merging instrumental virtuosity with some of their best songs. The ’60s was such an amazingly rich, deep decade for rock but “Sunshine Of Your Love” has to be among the greatest songs of that decade. Eric Clapton’s guitar solo is still a work of beauty.
3) “Politician”: I have to thank Nick Moss for reminding me of this little gem. The trippy rhythms meld with more of Clapton’s great guitar leads and Jack Bruce sings a timely and timeless message.
4) “Badge”: This is one of Cream’s best pop songs and it was co-written by George Harrison, who also played rhythm guitar. This is my favorite song by Cream and one of my favorite things Clapton has ever done. There are some great stories about how the song was written and how it got its name because Clapton, Harrison, and Ringo Starr all remember it slightly differently. Time and the presence of chemical complicators have made a true telling all but impossible but the feeling and the melody are the only truth you need.
5) “Crossroads” (Live): Robert Johnson’s greatness stands on its own but few have done as much to raise the mythical musician’s profile as Eric Clapton and this live performance of one of Johnson’s great haunting compositions is where that started. Cream transformed a song that Johnson recorded solo acoustic into something vastly different and in the process pay respect to it.
6) “Spoonful” (Live): We celebrated what would have been Willie Dixon’s 95th birthday by remembering some of the great songs he wrote and the many times they’ve been covered through the years. This is one of them. Howlin’ Wolf’s version is still my favorite but Cream gave it a more than respectable go. This live version from Wheels Of Fire shows Cream at their expansive, indulgent best.