Cream was an English rock trio that was active for 28 months between July 1966 and November 1968. They released three proper albums — Fresh Cream, Disraeli Gears, and Wheels of Fire — and the leftovers roundup Goodbye. Their most recognized songs include the much-covered “Badge” and the FM evergreens “I Feel Free,” “Sunshine of Your Love,” “Strange Brew,” and “White Room.”
At the time of their inception, each member had already attained virtuoso status in other bands: Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers; Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker in the Graham Bond Organization. After Cream ran its course, Clapton and Baker teamed with Steve Winwood in the one-off supergroup Blind Faith.
Cream demonstrated that smaller combos could create the full-band sound without the standard four- or five-person lineup. Their presence spawned the rise of numerous “power-trios,” including the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the James Gang, Taste, Gun, Quatermass, T2, May Blitz, and November.
Members: Eric Clapton (vocals, guitar), Jack Bruce (vocals, bass), Ginger Baker (drums)
Cream started in July 1966 when Eric Clapton — already a renown guitar virtuoso from his time in the Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers — met Ginger Baker, then drummer of the Graham Bond Organization. The two men had grown dissatisfied with their respective gigs; Clapton was weary of Mayall’s autocratic leadership and Baker was tired of Bond’s drunkenness and mental instability. They decided to form a rock trio.
Clapton wanted Baker’s former GBO bandmate, bassist Jack Bruce (recently a member of Manfred Mann), to complete the trio. The guitarist had met Bruce late the prior year and suggested they form a superstar project, Powerhouse, with Steve Winwood and Paul Jones. Powerhouse recorded a cover of the Robert Johnson blues standard “Crossroads” for the 1966 Elektra compilation What’s Shakin’.
While Clapton was eager to work with Bruce, Baker had been at odds with the bassist when both played in the Organization. Baker actually fired Bruce from GBO and, when the bassist still showed up for gigs, threatened him at knifepoint.
For the sake of the new project, Baker and Bruce agreed to bury the hatchet. The trio named itself Cream because each member was widely recognized as the “cream of the crop” on his respective instrument. They made their official live debut on July 31, 1966, at the Sixth Annual Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival. In August, they entered London’s Rayrik Studios with manager/producer Robert Stigwood to begin work on their first album.
On October 7, 1966, Cream debuted with the single “Wrapping Paper,” which Bruce co-wrote with the non-performing lyricist Pete Brown, on ongoing collaborator. The b-side, “Cat’s Squirrel,” is a band arrangement of an instrumental chestnut by American bluesman Doctor Ross.
“Wrapping Paper” is the once-sung opening phrase (“Wrapping paper in the gutter”) that stands for the faded remnants of a love at “the house by the shore.” The song is a mid-tempo piano boogie-woogie (in C) with airy, harmonized vocals and clean guitar licks.
Cream released their debut album, Fresh Cream, on December 9, 1966, on Robert Stigwood’s Reaction label. Bruce wrote two songs (“Dreaming,” “N.S.U.”) and co-wrote a third (“Sleepy Time Time”) with his then-wife Janet Godfrey, who also penned the lyrics to Baker’s “Sweet Wine.”
Side two opens and closes with the instrumentals “Cat’s Squirrel” and “Toad,” a Baker jam. Fresh Cream also contains Cream renditions of blues chestnuts by Willie Dixon (“Spoonful”), Skip James (“I’m So Glad”), and Hambone Willie Newbern (“Rollin’ and Tumblin”’).
Bruce sings everything apart from “Four Until Late,” Clapton’s arrangement of the 1937 Robert Johnson song.
“N.S.U.” is a mid-tempo number with a staccato guitar figure (in C) against a pounding drum pattern; intercut with a swelling, harmonized bridge. The title stands for non-specific urethritis, an inflammation of the urethra unrelated to gonorrhea. Jack claims that he’s only happy when he plays guitar and that love can’t be bought, then sings vague, suggestive lines (“I’ve been in and I’m out… I don’t want to go until I’ve been all around”) suffixed with “What’s it all about, anyone in doubt.”
“Sleepy Time Time” is a slow 12-bar blues shuffle (I-IV-V in C) with crying leads and a rising, harmonized chorus. Jack sings as a shameless layabout who sleeps round the clock and makes each day a Sunday.
“Dreaming” is a slow shuffle (rooted in F) with airy harmonies, clean licks, and misty ride cymbals. Jack daydreams about an absent love that may or may not exist (or have ever existed).
“Sweet Wine” is a mid-tempo freakbeat tune (in C) with harmonized vocables, muted verses, roaming fills, and a searing guitar break. Lyrically, it’s a castoff to “the worry, the hurry of city life” and an embrace of “hay making, sunshine day breaking.”
“Spoonful” (6:26) is the 1960 Willie Dixon blues standard, recorded earlier by Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James, and Harvey Fuqua. Cream’s version is a medium-slow dirge (in E) with deep, wavering vocals and a prominent two-note guitar lick, intercut with harmonica solos. Midway, Clapton plays a scaly solo with smouldering tones.
“Cat’s Squirrel” is a medium-uptempo blues shuffle (3+3+2) with a mono-chordal riff (in E) and torrential drumming, overlaid with wailing harmonica.
“Four Until Late” is a mid-tempo 12-bar blues (I-IV-V in C) with blush drums, standup bass, and raw harmonica.
“Rollin’ and Tumblin’” was first recorded in 1929 by Delta bluesman Hambone Willie Newbern and since popularized by Muddy Waters. Cream’s version is a fast blues shuffle (in G) with brash harmonica, intercut with harmonized vocables and obscured vocal lines. Midway, it swells to a mono-key whirlwind jam. Baker pounds relentlessly toward the climax.
“I’m So Glad” was first recorded in 1931 by Delta bluesman Skip James. Clapton plays a picked electric pattern over a descending, uptempo bassline. Jack exults the title-line with much exuberance. Midway, Eric plays a searing solo over Jack’s two-note bassline (E and D).
“Toad” (5:10) evolved from “Camels and Elephants,” Baker’s contribution to There’s a Bond Between Us, the second of GBO’s two 1965 albums. It’s an uptempo instrumental with a crackling rock riff (in E) cut by smouldering leads and tom-laden drum fills.
“I Feel Free” Starts with a clapping vocable and counter vocalise (in E). Bruce and Clapton synchronize airy falsettos on the revved up chorus against a tambourine-rattling backbeat. Eric pauses on the verse, where an overjoyed Jack tunes out public noise (“I can walk down the street, there’s no one there, though the pavements are one huge crowd”) for the euphoria of new love, as summarized in the chorus:
Dance floor is like the sea
Ceiling is the sky
You’re the sun and as you shine on me
I feel free, I feel free, I feel free
Cream shot a b&w video clip for “I Feel Free” that shows them clad in medieval black robes and engaged in slow-motion hillside frolic. They hang from trees, climb on slides, and form a totem pole.
Cream mimed “I Feel Free” on the December 29 broadcast of the BBC music program Top of the Pops, which aired the song between hits by The Monkees (“I’m a Believer”) and The Who (“Happy Jack”).
Sessions for the album and single took place between July and November 1966 at Rayrik & Ryemuse Studios, London, where Stigwood produced Cream amid Reaction singles by Oscar and The Maze. The engineer on Fresh Cream, John Timperley, subsequently worked with France Gall, The Herd, and Brian Auger & Trinity (with Julie Driscoll).
Fresh Cream is housed in a sleeve designed by Paragon Publicity. It shows Cream dressed as WWI aviators with the title letters shaped like a cream drop. German and Italian copies place the title across the top with a dripping-baseline font. US Atco copies have the title line-enclosed in bold serif all-caps.
In the US, Fresh Cream appeared in January 1967 on Atco with “I Feel Free” in lieu of “Spoonful,” which became their third US single.
In France, Polydor International issued the “I Feel Free” single as an EP with two additional Fresh Cream tracks: “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” and “Four Until Late.” Cream performed “I Feel Free” for the February 25, 1967, broadcast of the German music program Beat-Club, which aired them amid numbers by The Creation, The Equals, Percy Sledge, Remo Four, and Wilson Pickett.
Fresh Cream reached No. 6 on the UK Albums Chart, No. 4 in Finland, and No. 10 on the Australian Kent Music Report.
Level 42 bassist–singer Mark King covers “I Feel Free” on his 1984 solo album Influences.
On February 3, 1967, Cream played Queens Hall in Leeds with fellow newcomers Pink Floyd. In March, Cream played their first shows in the US, where the members were unknowns (Clapton left the Yardbirds before “For Your Love” hit the Billboard Hot 100). They played nine straight nights (March 25–April 2) at Manhattan’s RKO 58th St. Theatre as part of a multiple bill with The Who, Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, Simon & Garfunkel, The Rascals, The Blues Project, and The Blues Magoos.
On Sunday, April 16, Cream played Wembley’s OVO Arena as part of a day-long festival with the Alan Price Set, Chris Farlowe, Cliff Bennett, Dave Berry, Geno Washington & the Ram Jam Band, The Kinks, Lulu, The Move, Paul Jones, and The Troggs. Three weeks later (May 7), Cream returned to OVO for another festival with half the prior acts, plus The Beach Boys, Cat Stevens, Cliff Richard, Dusty Springfield, Small Faces, and the Spencer Davis Group.
On May 29, Cream played Lincolnshire’s Tulip Bulb Auction Hall as part of a multi-act bill with Floyd, The Move, Geno, Zoot Money, and rising star Jimi Hendrix. On July 2, Cream played a four-act bill at London’s Saville Theatre with the Jeff Beck Group, Small Faces, and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.
In late August, Cream returned to the US, where they played six straight nights (Aug. 22–27) at San Francisco’s Fillmore West Ballroom with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Charlie Musselwhite’s South Side Sound System. Cream did a second Fillmore six-nighter (Aug. 29–Sept. 3) with The Electric Flag and Gary Burton.
Jack Bruce plays bass on one song (“Someone Singing”) on Wear Your Love Like Heaven, the 1967 Epic release by Scottish folkster Donovan. He’s also one of two bassists (along with contrabassist Ron Rubin) on Trio, the 1967 Columbia Lansdowne Series release by the Mike Taylor Trio. The album features drummer Jon Hiseman, who joined GBO in its final months after Bruce’s tenure. Hiseman also played on pianist Taylor’s prior release, Pendulum, with bassist Tony Reeves. Hiseman and Reeves, along with GBO reedist Dick Heckstall-Smith, wound up in the Bluesbreakers, where Hiseman replaced Keef Hartley and Reeves replaced (future Free bassist) Andy Fraser (who replaced John McVie). Hiseman, Heckstall-Smith, and Reeves subsequently formed the other big GBO spinoff, Colosseum.
Cream released their second album, Disraeli Gears, on November 2, 1967, on Reaction and Atco. It was produced by American soundman Felix Pappalardi, who collaborated with Clapton on the opening cut, “Strange Brew.” Clapton composed the side two opener, “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” to a poem by Australian cartoonist Martin Sharp, who did the album’s psychedelic cover illustration.
Bruce submitted “We’re Going Wrong” and partnered with Brown on “Dance the Night Away,” “SWLABR,” and “Take It Back.” The pair collaborated with Clapton on “Sunshine of Your Love,” the album’s evergreen. Pappalardi submitted “World of Pain,” a co-write with his wife, Gail Collins.
Bruce sings lead on four numbers and trades vocals on three cuts (“Sunshine of Your Love,” “World of Pain,” “Dance the Night Away”) with Clapton, who sings “Strange Brew” and “Outside Woman Blues,” his arrangement of the 1929 Arthur Reynolds chestnut. Baker sings his sole contribution, the slow-burner “Blue Condition.” The album wraps with the group-sung trad miniature “Mother’s Lament.”
“Strange Brew” is a mid-tempo blues-psych number with fuzzy leads on a two-key progression (Am and D with a rise to E on the chorus). Eric, in an airy falsetto, sings of a “witch of trouble” whose love-bombing (“In her own mad mind she’s in love with you”) traps her prey and strips him of agency (“killin’ what’s inside of you”). The song evolved from “Lawdy Mama,” a 1934 shuffle by Piedmont bluesman Buddy Moss. Cream first cut a faithful rendition then re-cut “Lawdy” with a psychedelic rock arrangement, to which Pappalardi wrote new lyrics.
“Sunshine of Your Love” opens with a 10-note descending guitar figure (in D minor with a diminished fifth). The song proceeds at a moderate pace with the ongoing figure intercut with gruff power chords against a pensive drum pattern. Jack, possibly jet-lagged on a home-bound flight to his loved one, promises to be with her till his (“seeds are all dried up”). Bruce and Brown conceived the song spontaneously after a fruitless all-night session when a fatigued Jack rolled out a bassline and Pete, spotting the early light of morning, came up with the opening line (“It’s getting near dawn… and lights close their tired eyes”). Midway, Eric plays warm, oozing leads against the 10-note figure.
“World of Pain” opens with somber vocals over a strummed electric four-chord progression (F… Am… Dm… C… G…), which cuts to an unexpected key (B major) that triggers a sequence of sharps and flats, followed by the chorus (in A and D). Jack begins the first and third verse with “Outside my window is a tree” — the tree an embodiment of his vulnerability as a lone individual in “the grey of the city” with “no time for pity.” Eric, in his airy tone, observes the “world of pain… in the falling rain,” a lyric colored with cymbal drizzle.
“Dance the Night Away” opens with a pick-sliding guitar figure (A7m… D…) over a nimble bassline and cymbal spray. The verses proceed with ghostly harmonies amid flowing, tom-laden bars; overlaid with silvery leads that rev and echo on the swelling bridge. Jack entertains thoughts of magical measures — building a castle in the clouds; living in the deep sea amid golden swordfish; vanishing into a shadow — to lose all memory of a toxic ex.
“Blue Condition” is a slow, bluesy dirge (verses in G7; chorus in C) with gruff chords, bottom-end bass, and slack vocals. Baker, addressing the lack of communication or clarity in a “blue condition,” advises the listener to be nuanced and measured in his/her decision making:
Don’t take the wrong direction passing through,
Instead of deep reflection of what’s true,
For it’s a combination of judgments made by you
That cause a deep dejection all the way through
“Tales of Brave Ulysses” starts with a fadeout chord that heralds an ominous chromatic bass slope (D… C… B… B♭…), soon overlaid with bleak vocals, watery guitar tones, and pensive drumming (interspersed with tom fills and cymbal dropouts). Jack sings about the plight of Ulysses — the Latin name of the Greek hero Odysseus, the king of Ithaca and the protagonist in Homer’s epic poem Odyssey. During his ten-year voyage home after the Trojan war, his crew encounter sirens — mermaids of seduction (“the colours of the sea bind your eyes with trembling mermaids”). Ulysses resists the lure of their song by tying himself to his ship’s mast (“his naked ears were tortured by the sirens sweetly singing”). In the second verse, Ulysses “drowns” in the body of a temptress who makes “deep blue ripples in the tissues of [his] mind” — a possible reference to Calypso, the nymph who holds him captive on the island of Ogygia for seven years (though named in the third verse as Aphrodite, the goddess of love — not linked to Odysseus). Eric’s watery riff is one of the earliest recorded examples of the wah-wah pedal, first marketed in November 1966 by Warwick Electronics.
“SWLABR” opens with a brisk, arching riff (E G A G E D E D E), accentuated with a warm, fuzzy lead tone. Each verse churns along (in E), interspersed with a three-note lead and the recurring riff. They shift keys on the chorus (C… B!) and bridge (C#m). The title is an acronym for “She Was Like a Bearded Rainbow.” Jack sings of a roaming female who comes on sunny (“You’ve got that rainbow feel”) with an air of duplicity (“But the rainbow has a beard… But the picture has a mustache” — beard and mustache representing blemishes on a perfect picture, or possibly the scent of another man).
“We’re Going Wrong” is a barren number with soaring, elongated vowels over roaming drum fills and a sparse guitar–bass figure (Em… F#… G… F#…). Eric plays crying leads amid Jack’s intensified upper register on the climax.
“Take It Back” is an uptempo three-chord blues-rock march (D… A… G…; bridge in B) with harmonica, noodling licks, and alternately taut/wavering vocals. Jack tells his girl to “take it back, take that thing right outa here” — that thing possibly being a draft card. He doesn’t want to go “to where streams are red” and is “not ashamed” of his “creed” to survive and “need to stay alive.”
“Mother’s Lament” is a comedic piano bar singalong with lyrics about a poor mother of ten who loses her newborn when it falls down a plug during a bath.
Sessions took place between May 11 and 15, 1967, at Atlantic Studios in New York, where Pappalardi befriended Cream and produced the album while veteran jazz soundman Tom Dowd (Atco’s first choice of producer) engineered Disraeli Gears. Cream arrived with Marshall Bluesbreakers, a recently popularized British concert amplifier that generated volume levels (100 watts) five times higher than the Fender Deluxes (20 watts) that were typically used by Dowd’s earlier clients.
Sharp did the Disraeli Gears cover art: a collage of bubbles, bolts, clocks, nouveau floral motifs, and the member’s clustered heads rendered in hot pink and red with touches of yellow, orange, green, and blue.
Beatles photographer Bob Whitaker took the Disraeli Gears group pics, which show Cream in Hyde Park (London) and on Ben Nevis (Scotland). Baker and Clapton agreed on the album’s title after they heard a roadie friend mispronounce “derailleur gears,” a 19th century bicycle chain. For the photoshoot and ensuing promo rounds, Clapton got a frizz-perm hairdo in emulation of Hendrix.
Completion of the visual packaging delayed the album’s release by five months. In the meantime, “Strange Brew” appeared as their third UK and second US single in June 1967, backed with “Tales of Brave Ulysses.” It went Top 20 in the UK (No. 17) and the Netherlands (No. 18).
In Germany, Cream mimed the song on the May 20 broadcast of Beat-Club, which aired “Strange Brew” amid hits by the Bee Gees (“New York Mining Disaster 1941”), The Kinks (“Mr. Pleasant”), Small Faces (“I Can’t Make It”), and The Who (“Pictures of Lily”).
The Beat-Club “Strange Brew” clip aired in the UK on the June 15 broadcast of TotP, hosted by Dave Lee Travis with current hits by The Hollies (“Carrie-Anne”), Procol Harum (“A Whiter Shade of Pale”), The Supremes (“The Happening”), and Traffic (“Paper Sun”).
The title inspired Strange Brew, an unsigned freakbeat band that cut two 1967 songs (“(I Am) The Letterman,” “Mr Paradise”) that later appeared on psych comps.
Cream lifted “Sunshine of Your Love” in December 1967 as the album’s second single, backed with “SWLABR.” It reached No. 3 on Canada’s RPM 100 and No. 5 on the US Billboard Hot 100. In Japan, Polydor lifted “Outside Woman Blues” as an a-side (b/w “World of Pain”).
Disraeli Gears reached No. 4 on the UK Albums Chart. In Europe, it reached No. 1 in Finland and Sweden and No. 2 in France. Down under, the album reached No. 1 in Australia and No. 4 in New Zealand. In North America, Disraeli Gears peaked at No. 10 on Canada’s Top Albums chart and No. 4 on the US Billboard 200.
The Chicago-area doom metal band Trouble covered “Tales of Brave Ulysses” on the back of their 1984 single “Assassin,” a cut from their debut album Psalm 9.
In February 1968, Cream flew back to the US to wrap sessions on their third studio album. At San Francisco’s Winterland and Fillmore, they played four-nighters with the Loading Zone (Feb. 29–March 3) and Blood Sweat & Tears (Mar. 7–10). Pappalardi taped the last six shows with recording engineer .
On April 27, Cream played Chicago’s Coliseum with Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention.
“Anyone for Tennis”
In May 1968, Cream released “Anyone for Tennis,” which Clapton wrote as the theme to The Savage Seven, a biker exploitation film by director Richard Rush. The song appears on the movie’s soundtrack album (ATCO Records – SD 33-24) as “Anyone for Tennis (Theme From The Savage Seven)” along with five tracks by Iron Butterfly and a second Cream number, “Desert Ride,” composed by cue-writer Jerry Styner.
“Anyone for Tennis” (2:35) opens with a folksy acoustic strum (in G), overlaid with viola (on the third with hammered fourths) and piping recorder (on the fifth with hammered sixes). Eric, in a somber tone, sings the verses (in D and C7), which use anthropomorphic play as apparent metaphors for the war situation (“the elephants are dancing on the graves of squealing mice”). Once the lyrics end (at 1:55), Clapton plays twangy slide licks over Baker’s bongos.
Cream recorded “Anyone for Tennis” during sessions for their upcoming third album along with the b-side, “Pressed Rat and Warthog,” a Baker–Taylor number. Bruce plays recorder and bass on “Anyone for Tennis,” which features Pappalardi on viola.
“Anyone for Tennis” appeared in four different picture sleeves. Stateside, Cream mimed the song on the July 14 broadcast of the CBS variety show The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. The clip shows them grouped tight with instruments against an orange-lite backdrop with foreground frogs. Later, they walk amid a valley green screen with tennis rackets as makeshift guitars, passing upright lettuce bundles (‘trees’). Clapton draws laughter when he swats a giant butterfly with his racket. They also mime “Sunshine of Your Love” on the episode.
Wheels of Fire
Cream released their third album, Wheels of Fire, in the US first on June 14, 1968, on Atco. It’s a double-album with one record of studio material and a second comprised of live recordings. The two records also appeared separately as Wheels of Fire (In the Studio) and Wheels of Fire (Live at the Fillmore). In the UK, the album appeared on August 9, 1968, on Polydor.
In the Studio contains four Bruce–Brown numbers (“White Room,” “As You Said,” “Politician,” “Deserted Cities of the Heart”) and three songs that Baker co-wrote with Mike Taylor (“Passing the Time,” “Pressed Rat and Warthog,” “Those Were the Days”). The album also contains blues staples by Howlin Wolf (“Sitting on Top of the World”) and Albert King (“Born Under a Bad Sign”).
“White Room” has an open-cadence 5/4 intro (Gm… F… Dm… C…), overlaid with timpani and Clapton’s octave thirds (D… C… A… G…). It’s a mid-tempo number with tense, dramatic verses and a flowing falsetto bridge. Clapton plays fuzzy chords and leads on the verse (rooted in D minor) and wavering wah-wah on the bridge (rooted in C). Jack contemplates the departure of his weekend lover at the nearby train station from a white apartment with soot-covered roofs and littered surroundings (“Black-roof country, no gold pavements, tired starlings”). He acknowledges that she won’t stay (“You said no strings could secure you at the station”) and how this tugs at him (“As I walked out, felt my own need just beginning”). He remembers how they met and her fiery expressions (“Yellow tigers crouched in jungles in her dark eyes”). Brown wrote the lyrics when he lived in a white apartment where he gave up drugs and alcohol.
“Sitting on Top of the World” is a 1930 blues song by Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon, both members of the Mississippi Sheiks. Cream’s version is a medium-slow blues-rock number with a pent-up chordal riff (G7…. C7…), intercut with soulful vocal passages and fuzzy, scaly leads.
“Passing the Time” (4:33) starts with a pensive, booming, dirgy intro with haunted vocables (in D minor). This fades to a slow, rhythmless passage with tender vocals, violin, and glockenspiel. Midway (at 2:05), they cut to a noisy chorus chant with hyperactive fills and a churning riff (in G). This fades to a repeat of the vocal passage. The lyrics concern a woman who copes with a lonely winter, “drinking red wine” while “She waits for her traveller (possibly a soldier) so far from home.”
“As You Said” opens with a sharp note on cello (an imposed major-seventh [C#] in D). The arrangement settles into a mid-tempo balance of vocals, roaming cello, and strummed, double-tracked acoustic guitar. Jack laments what-if scenarios (“the time that might have been… we might have had”) with acknowledgement to lost time (“the tides have carried off the beach… the rails have carried off the trains”).
“Pressed Rat and Warthog” opens with a trumpet fanfare (in D) that ushers a half-sung cockney tale with drum fills and gruff background riffing (low in the mix). The lyrics contain whimsical couplets, possibly aimed at shady European commercial ventures in Africa.
“Politician” is a slow, heavy blues-rock shuffle (in D and G) with cymbal mist and crying leads against a poking bassline. Jack lampoons political bluster: “get into my big black car” could be a metaphor for marshaling the electorate with soundbites.
“Those Were the Days” winds along with brisk, medium-uptempo power-chords (rooted in D minor) and polyrhythmic drumming (tom fills over a snare-bass-hi-hat beat), punctuated with marimba. The lyrics conjure a time before recorded history (“When the city of Atlantis stood serene above the sea”) with mystical ideas of how Earth might have been (“those were the days… miracles everywhere”).
“Born Under a Bad Sign” is a 1967 song by Booker T. Jones with lyrics by William Bell; first recorded by Albert King on Stax. Cream’s version is a medium-slow blues-rock dirge (in G7 minor) with fuzzy leads and a shuffling bassline against a shaky rhythmic pattern. The narrator correlates misfortune to his rising sign (“If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all”).
“Deserted Cities of the Heart” is a brisk rocker with melodramatic vocals and strummed acoustic chords (rooted in D minor) against a torrential rhythmic pattern. Midway, Clapton cuts through with a searing fuzztone solo, followed by a sweeping string passage. Jack, a jilted party, laments a dead romance (“my heart’s drowned in no love streams”) and ruminates on her loss (“Upon this street where time has died; the golden treat you never tried”).
The Studio sessions took place at sporadic intervals between July 1967 and February 1968. Pappalardi produced the tracks at London’s IBC Studios (July–Aug. 1967) and Atlantic Studios (Sept.–Oct. and Dec. 1967, Feb. 1968). Select tracks feature Pappalardi on viola (“White Room,” “Anyone for Tennis,” “Deserted Cities of the Heart”), Swiss hand bells (“Those Were the Days”), organ (“Passing the Time”), and trumpet and tonette flute (“Pressed Rat and Warthog”). Felix produced Wheels of Fire in succession with albums by Hamilton Camp, Kensington Market, The Youngbloods, and The Apple Pie Motherhood Band.
Live at the Fillmore features four numbers from the March 1968 Winterland and Fillmore West shows: two elongated Fresh Cream songs (“Spoonful,” “Toad”), and set staples from Powerhouse (“Crossroads”), and the Graham Bond Organization (“Traintime”). a song he and Baker recorded earlier in the Graham Bond Organization.
“Crossroads” is a 1936 Delta blues song by Robert Johnson. Clapton and Bruce (as part of Powerhouse) cut an earlier version of “Crossroads,” a staple of Cream’s live sets from their inception. Cream’s version is an uptempo blues-rocker (in A), marked by a poking riff with hammered sevenths. Midway, Clapton cuts loose over Bruce’s low, percolating bassline.
“Spoonful” (16:46) is performed as a medium-slow blues with a repetitive two-note pattern (G→E) that gives way (after 3:00) to a jam of scaly licks on a percolating bassline.
“Traintime” (7:03) is a 1964 composition alternately credited to Bruce and ‘John Group,’ the collective songwriting appelation of the Graham Bond Organization. Bruce and Baker first recorded this song on The Sounds of ’65, the first of GBO’s two albums. The tune stems from a vintage blues song by Memphis Slim. Cream’s version is a brisk blues shuffle (in E) with hyperactive harmonica and caterwauled shouts on a galloping rhythmic pattern.
“Toad” (16:08) is performed as a medium-uptempo rock riff (in E) that cuts to fuzzy runs on a whirlwind drum fill. Shorty in (at 2:20), a galloping snare pattern takes hold and ushers a lengthy unaccompanied Baker showcase.
Despite the record’s subtitle, only “Toad” was performed at the Fillmore (March 7). The Winterland shows account for side one (March 10) and “Traintime” (March 8).
Sharp did the Wheels of Fire gatefold art: a black and silvery gray landscape illustration with the name in bubble letters and the title in wood cuts, surrounded by clouds, eggs, orbs, octopi, cacti, rainbows, and flying saucers. The back gate repeats the title and name (in bubble letters) amid balls, fans, coils, spirals, critters, puzzle pieces, lightning bolts, and a warted tri-clops. The inner-gates have a bright multi-colored spread with two eyes engulfed in dots, circles, squares, blotches, and squiggly lines.
Separate versions of Live at the Fillmore have the front and back gate images reversed with a photo-negative scheme. Sharp’s few subsequent visual credits include the 1969 self-titled release by Mighty Baby and the first of two 1970 albums by Ginger Baker’s Airforce.
Cream lifted “White Room” as a single (b/w “Those Were the Days”) in September 1968 in the US, where it reached No. 5 on the Cashbox Top 100 and No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song reached No. 1 in Australia, No. 2 in Canada and New Zealand, and No. 10 in Finland. “White Room” was later covered by Stranglers frontman Hugh Cornwell, jazz-funk guitarist Jimmy Ponder, and German metal band Helloween.
Wheels of Fire reached No. 3 in the UK and Finland, No. 2 in France, and No. 1 in the US, Canada, and Australia.
Curlew, a New York avant-rock band, covered “As You Said” on their 1991 disc Bee.
By the time Cream completed Wheels of Fire, tour demands and internal frictions came to a head. Just prior to the album’s UK release, manager Robert Stigwood announced that their upcoming tour would be their last.
Cream launched their farewell tour on October 4, 1968, in California at Oakland Coliseum. The West Coast leg included three nights with Deep Purple at The Forum (Oct. 18–19: Inglewood) and the Valley View Casino Center (10/20: San Diego). After swings through Texas and Florida, Cream played the Philadelphia Spectrum with Terry Reid and Sweet Stavin Chain (11/1). On November 2, Cream played New York’s Madison Square Garden, followed by their final US show at the Baltimore Civic Center (11/3).
Back in the UK, Cream played their final two farewell shows on November 25 and 26 at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Their opening acts on the final show were newcomers Yes and Taste, an Irish power-trio headed by guitarist Rory Gallagher. Director Tony Palmer filmed Cream’s set for the documentary film Farewell Concert, which the BBC aired on January 5, 1969, as a six-song set with narration by Patrick Allen. All nine songs from the concert later appeared on home video and DVD.
Cream’s fourth and final album, Goodbye, appeared on February 5, 1969, on Polydor and Atco. It contains six tracks recorded in October 1968, including three new songs: one each by Bruce–Brown (“Doing That Scrapyard Thing”), Baker (“What a Bringdown”), and the Clapton number “Badge,” a co-write with George Harrison. The live numbers (“I’m So Glad,” “Politician,” “Sitting on Top of the World”) come from an October 9 performance at LA’s Forum on their Farewell tour.
“Badge” opens with scratchy chords and an upward bass line (A→D→E); joined on the verses with light barroom piano and understated vocals. Clapton plays a Leslied guitar lick that signals the arching vocal melody of the chorus (in D). Pappalardi plays piano and Mellotron while co-writer Harrison (credited as L’Angelo Misterioso) plays rhythm guitar — a possible return gesture for Clapton’s appearance on the White Album Harrison number “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” The lyrics purportedly stemmed from banter between the two guitarists during a drunken all-nighter, where Eric (eyeing George’s sheet music) misread the word “bridge” as “badge,” hence the title.
“Doing That Scrapyard Thing” opens with jaunty music-hall piano and ticking hi-hat; soon overlaid with Leslied tones that usher the taut, accented verses (in D and G) and arching bridge (in Bm). The lyrics, purportedly written with an early morning deadline, invoke the predawn scramble of lost sleep (“missing the last bed”) and rushed meals (“three salads out… breaking my favorite egg”) with allusions to Jack’s earliest writing efforts (“banging my favorite head”) and run-ins with The Beatles (“missing the walrus, sharing my last banana” — banana a “Yellow Submarine” reference).
“What a Bringdown” opens with a brisk 10/8 pattern of bass and staccato Hammond organ (in E minor) — a torrential feel that carries through the verses. Lyrically, Baker clouds his latest woes in comedic slang (“there’s a tea-leaf about in the family” — tea leaf is cockney slang for thief). Pappalardi plays bass in lieu of Bruce, who plays piano and organ. Clapton marks the fadeout stretch with a fuzzy wah-wah solo.
Pappalardi produced the three new songs at IBC Studios with engineer Damon Lyon-Shaw, a soundman on 1968–69 albums by Eclection, Pentangle, and The Who (Tommy). They initially planned to make this another double album with one record of live cuts and one record of new studio songs but there wasn’t enough new or leftover studio material to fill two sides.
Goodbye is housed in a gatefold that shows Cream as supper club entertainers in silver lamé suits. The photographer, gate illustration, which depicts seven tombstones: six with one song title each and the seventh with a wreath and ribbon that reads “RIP.”
Polydor and Atco lifted “Badge” as the final Cream single, alternately backed with “Doing That Scrapyard Thing” (Germany, Scandinavia, Spain) and “What a Bringdown” (everywhere else). The song reached No. 14 in the Netherlands and No. 18 in Austria and the UK. The American rock band Fanny covered “Badge” on their 1970 debut album.
Goodbye reached No. 1 in the UK, No. 2 in the US, and No. 3 in France and Finland.
In April 1970, Atco issued Live Cream, comprised of the 1967 recording “Lawdy Mama” (before it became “Strange Brew”) and three numbers from the March 9–10, 1968, Winterland shows: “N.S.U.” (10:13), “Sleepy Time Time” (6:50), and “Sweet Wine” (15:15), plus the March 7 Fillmore number “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” (6:42).
Another round, Live Cream Volume II, followed in 1972 with three further Winterland numbers: “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” “Sunshine of Your Love” (7:25), and the Memphis Slim cover “Steppin’ Out” (13:38); plus the October 4, 1968, Oakland Coliseum numbers “White Room,” “Politician,” and “Deserted Cities of the Heart.”
Jack Bruce released eight solo albums between 1969 and 1983 with lyrics by Brown. In August 1968, amid Cream’s looming disbandment, Bruce recorded Things We Like, a post-bop set with Heckstall-Smith and guitarist John McLaughlin, an early GBO member now esteemed in jazz circles. Polydor withheld the album for two years.
Bruce’s second-recorded album, Songs for a Tailor, became his debut solo release in August 1969. He’s backed on the album by Heckstall-Smith, Hiseman, Pappalardi, George Harrison, and trumpeters Harry Beckett and Henry Lowther. Tailor features two songs (“Weird of Hermiston,” “The Clearout”) considered for Disraeli Gears but vetoed by Atco. Bruce continued his solo career with the 1971 Polydor–Atco release Harmony Row, recorded with guitarist Chris Spedding and drummer John Marshall (Nucleus). He released subsequent albums (Out of the Storm, How’s Tricks, I’ve Always Wanted to Do This) at three-year intervals and teamed with ex-Procol Harum guitarist Robin Trower on the 1981–82 albums B.L.T. and Truce.
Eric Clapton formed Blind Faith with Steve Winwood, recently free of Traffic. They invited Baker and recent Family bassist Ric Grech and cut a 1969 self-titled album on Atco and Polydor. Blind Faith disbanded after a brief summer tour after Clapton befriended their opening act, Delaney & Bonnie, and teamed with three of the duo’s backing players in Derek & the Dominoes, which cut the 1970 double-album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. That same year, Clapton released a self-titled solo album and scored a hit with the JJ Cale cover “After Midnight.” After a three-year struggle with heroin addiction, he launched a prolific run with the 1974 RSO release 461 Ocean Boulevard, which spawned a US No. 1 cover of the Bob Marley & the Wailers reggae number “I Shot the Sheriff.”
Ginger Baker followed Blind Faith with Ginger Baker’s Air Force, a jam-rock big band that released two 1970 albums on Polydor–Atco. In 1972, he released Stratavarious, a set of Afrobeat numbers with vocals, organ, and percussion work by Nigerian legend Fela Kuti. Baker then joined the Gurvitz brothers in the Gun follow-through Three Man Army. His arrival prompted their name-change to Baker Gurvitz Army, which cut three 1974–76 albums and backed Moody Blues drummer Graeme Edge on two albums as the Graeme Edge Band. In 1980, Baker surfaced in Hawkwind for the album Levitation. After a brief spell of inactivity, he returned with the 1986 Celluloid release Horses and Trees, produced by Material mastermind Bill Laswell, who linked Baker with another client, Public Image Ltd., for the concurrent PiL release album.
Pete Brown fronted the Battered Ornaments on the 1969 Harvest release A Meal You Can Shake Hands With in the Dark. After they cut him from the band, he formed Pete Brown & Piblokto!, which made the 1970 albums Things May Come and Things May Go, but the Art School Dance Goes on Forever and Thousands on a Raft. He then teamed with Graham Bond on the 1972 album Two Heads Are Better Than One.
Felix Pappalardi produced and played bass on the 1969 Windfall release Mountain by ex-Vagrants guitarist Leslie West. From that project, they formed Mountain, an American hard-rock band that scored a Billboard hit with “Mississippi Queen” and made four 1970–74 studio albums. In 1972, West and Mountain drummer Corky Laing teamed with Jack Bruce in West, Bruce and Laing, which released two studio albums and a live disc on Windfall–Columbia.
In 1993, Cream reunited for the first time in 25 years to play three songs (“Sunshine of Your Love,” “Crossroads,” and “Born Under a Bad Sign”) at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. That same year, Baker and Bruce teamed with Irish guitarist Gary Moore in the power-trio BBM (“Baker Bruce Moore”) for the 1994 Virgin release Around the Next Dream, a UK No. 9 album that spawned the moderate hit “Where in the World.”
In 2005, Clapton reassembled Cream for four shows (May 2–3, 5–6) at the Royal Albert Hall. The concerts sold out instantly and prompted a stateside three-nighter (October 24–26) at Madison Square Garden. They agreed to play the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert in honor of Atlantic’s late co-founder, but the event (scheduled for September 2007) was delayed three months. (The rescheduled December event ultimately featured the surviving members of Led Zeppelin in their first full-length concert since the 1980 death of drummer John Bonham.)
Jack Bruce died on October 25, 2014, at age 71 of liver disease.
Ginger Baker died on October 6, 2019, at age 80.
- Discogs: Cream
- English C Albums Directory (page 6)
- 45worlds: Cream
- 45cat: Cream
- Metal Kingdom: Cream
- tvdb: Beat-Club (all seasons)
- Top of the Pops Episode Guide
- Concert Archives: Cream
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