Sunday, June 3, 2012

203. Wheels of Fire- Three guys playing together

Album: Wheels of Fire
Artist: Cream
Year: 1968
Genre: Rock


  1. White Room
  2. Sitting on Top of the World
  3. Passing the Time
  4. As You Said
  5. Pressed Rat and Warthog
  6. Politician
  7. Those Were the Days
  8. Born Under a Bad Sign
  9. Deserted Cities of the Heart
  1. Crossroads
  2. Spoonful
  3. Traintime
  4. Toad
Eric Clapton is a brilliant sideman. Or at least he should be. The guy is an incredible guitar player, adequate but limited vocalist and occasional songwriter. He has a real feeling for the blues, a tried and tested ability to rock and a tendency to descend into mawkish waffle. He's the sort of guy who was perfect as a lead guitarist in The Yardbirds or John Mayall's Bluesbreakers or would be brilliant if he could find a Mick Jagger to hitch his wagon too. He needs a singer to liberate him from the microphone and a songwriter worthy of his ability. Instead he has a career littered with former bands, less then inspiring solo albums and moments of magnificence playing other people's songs (and very occasionally his own).

Cream was Clapton's third major band and one of the first supergroups, with all three members bringing a successful past history to the band. Clapton played guitar and chose blues covers, Jack Bruce played bass and co-wrote the hits and Ginger Baker was in charge of drums, ugliness and odd children's poems. Together they performed incredible stage shows which showed off just how much they hated each other. The band was notorious for playing loud shows in which the three members would ignore what the others were doing and solo frantically on their own in an attempt to outshine the others.

Listening to live Cream you can appreciate how truly great improvised music requires an ability to pay attention to your bandmates. Miles Davis led groups who weren't just great players they were great listeners as well. Wheels of Fire is a snapshot of a band who never really liked each other in the first place not getting on well. It's made up of two discs- a collection of studio material with some terrible originals (Pressed Rat and Warthog is just dire) and a live album full of ego-driven self indulgence. Wheels of Fire would be a fairly tedious listen if it wasn't for White Room, one of the greatest songs recorded in 1968 and Crossroads one of the most exciting five minutes of music ever played on an electric guitar. The notes he flings out of that thing are just blistering. If all of Cream's live shows were that focused, intense and jaw-dropping they would be one of the best live acts ever, and if they consistently wrote songs of the quality of White Room they'd be known as so much more than just a failed experiment that briefly flared brilliant. Eric Clapton's career is what happens when the perfect sideman thinks he's a band leader. Cream is what happens when he plays with two other sidemen who have the same idea.

Influenced by: The Blues and The Beatles
Influenced: The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Highlight: Crossroads
Lowlight: Pressed Rat and Warthog

Favourite Amazon Customer Review: "If you feel that "Pressed Rat and Warthog" is just a humorous or novelty song, please pay more attention to the lyrics."

-Ooh no don't go doing that. And by the way I never thought it was humorous (or much of a novelty).

So are you glad the wheel was invented or do you wish they'd turn it in? Let me know below.

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