461 Ocean Boulevard is an album that has grown on me over the years. Released in 1974 just as I was emerging from my college daze of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and dozens of other hard rock bands, this album disappointed me at the time as it was far from Clapton’s work with Cream, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and Derek and The Dominos. I just considered it too mellow for my tastes, but then as I grew older I came to appreciate this release.
I now consider 461 Ocean Boulevard one of Eric Clapton’s stronger solo albums. It is a laid-back affair with little of the jamming featured on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs yet his signature guitar sound is recognizable throughout. Clapton was also addiction free so he seems relaxed and in control. His vocals are confident and similar to what would sustain him through dozens of albums. The album turned out to be hugely successful in the United States as it is one of only two of his studio albums to top the charts.
Its most famous song (and one of the most enduring of his career) is his cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff.” It was played to death during the summer of '74 on its way to becoming the only number one single of his career. It was just about the perfect cover song as it combines rock and reggae into a wonderful fusion of style and sound.
There are a number of other strong performances as well though. The 1958 Johnny Otis dance hit, “Willie and The Hand Jive,” is given a fun-filled workout that is close to the spirit of the original. If you want to see the Hand Jive performed just check out the prom scene in the movie Grease. “Mainline Florida” features layers of guitars and keyboards and is one of the lost gems of his career. “Let It Grow” demonstrates Clapton’s maturity as a songwriter and is notable for some fine vocal work by Yvonne Elliman.
461 Ocean Boulevard is an album that has held up well over the years as it catches a young Eric Clapton establishing himself as solo artist of note. It is still worth seeking out.