Category Archives: Cream

Cream Discography

Cream was the original power trio and one of the leading proponents of the psychedelic blues-rock that would later morph into progressive rock. In fact, their Disraeli Gears (1967) could be considered one of the earliest progressive rock albums. The members of Cream—Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton—had all worked together before, though never all three at once. Baker and Bruce had played together (though not nicely) in the Graham Bond Organisation, while Clapton and Bruce had played together briefly in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.

The band’s first album, Fresh Cream (1966), featured psychedelic rock originals from Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, plus more traditional blues-rock covers that featured Clapton’s by-now legendary guitar. It was an immediate hit. Disraeli Gears (1967) dove deeper into the psychedelic/ progressive side, including such classics as “Strange Brew,” “Swlabr,” “Tales of Brave Ulysses” and “Sunshine of Your Love.” On their third release, Wheels of Fire (1968), one record of progressive rock originals recorded in the studio was matched with one record of live material recorded at the Fillmore. In a sense, it was both a step forward (in the ornately produced material by Felix Pappalardi) and (in the live performances) a return to what they did best.

Given the history of Bruce and Baker, it was always unlikely that Cream would last for long. At the end of 1968, they announced their farewell tour and released one final album, another studio/live hybrid, Goodbye (1969). In the Summer of 1969, Baker and Clapton released the first (and only) album from their new venture, Blind Faith, which featured Steve Winwood on vocals/keyboards and Rick Grech on bass. A few months later, Bruce released his first solo album, Songs For A Tailor. Eventually, all three members of Cream went in their own direction, with Clapton garnering the most attention across a long and very successful solo career.

In the 1990s, Bruce and Baker surprised many by forming a new power trio with guitarist Gary Moore, titled simply BBM. After one album, Around The Next Dream (1994), the group disbanded. In 2005, Cream reformed for a short series of reunion concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. Over the years, the music of Cream has been tirelessly repackaged for future generations, most of whom would be wise to save their money for the original four records, Live Cream (1970) and maybe Live Cream II (1972).

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Cream: Fresh Cream (1966)

Kronomyth 1.0: HALF AND HALF. When Fresh Cream spilled out of the speakers, there was no cleaning up the mess it made. The stain of psychedelic blues rock would remain for the rest of the decade as it was ground into the carpet of our collective conscious by Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Traffic, Santana. By decade’s end, the green fuzz of prog rock (ELP, King Crimson, etc.) had even formed on top of it. So the first Cream record is an historically important document (though perhaps no more important than the early Yardbirds records). I mention that because, nowadays, it’s easy to hear this album without appreciating just how groundbreaking it really was, since so many other bands have tread over the same ground. Fresh Cream is really two halves in one: paisley and blues. The psychedelic rock songs represent the better half in my book: “I Feel Free,” “N.S.U.,” “Dreaming.” They showcase the songwriting of Jack Bruce, who would have been the center of attention in any other band, but somehow manages to get upstaged here by Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker. Clapton is occasionally brilliant, and singlehandedly rescues “Sleepy Time Time” from being a snooze. Baker is the best drummer this side of the Moon and helped pave the way for countless rock drums solos (for better or worse) with the lithe and lumpy “Toad.” The blues half is less impressive, if only because it added little to what Bruce and Clapton had already accomplished with John Mayall. “Spoonful” is a great song, and a paisley remake of “I’m So Glad” is pretty good too. Disraeli Gears was a quantum leap forward, but step back into Fresh Cream and you’ll hear the beginning of something big. [NOTE: This album has been re-released over the years as Full Cream and Cream with an additional song or two.]

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Cream: Disraeli Gears (1967)

Kronomyth 2.0: SO MANY FANTASTIC COLORS. Cream’s second album is one of the earliest examples of progressive rock. Compared to other “artifacts” from the 60s, Disraeli Gears is an Aladdin’s lamp with a genie as accommodating as any to issue from the work of Jimi Hendrix or The Doors. As the cover suggests, this was transportative stuff at the time (and still is): Cream serving as the stylish sportscar alongside Hendrix’ hog or The Doors’ diesel truck in the highways of the mind. Part of the album’s appeal is its beautiful inscrutability: “Swlabr,” “Sunshine of Your Love” and “Tales of Brave Ulysses” replace sense with sensory overload. Those three songs and “Strange Brew” represent a quantum leap forward from Fresh Cream, which was itself a groundbreaking album. In between those miniature monuments of progressive rock are a few silly sidetrips (“Mother’s Lament,” “Blue Condition”), a couple of psychedelic holdovers (“World of Pain,” “We’re Going Wrong”) and the blues-rock that never left (“Outside Woman Blues”). Although producer Felix Pappalardi deserves some credit for providing a more progressive prism for the band’s ambitions, it’s the primary combination of Baker, Bruce and Clapton that form the source of so many secondary colors on Disraeli Gears. Jack Bruce is the sturdy captain straddling the prow in tempestuous waters, Ginger Baker is the cosmic joker with a stolen bag of thunderbolts slung over his back, and Eric Clapton is the legendary pyromancer, both brilliant and burned out. This most colorful chapter in Cream’s history had a profound effect on the music of King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and even The Beatles. Cream’s legacy rests on four albums and, honestly, their star would shine as brightly through the ages if those other three albums got sucked into a black hole, so long as we still had Disraeli Gears to ponder.

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Cream: “Sunshine of Your Love” (1968)

Kronomyth 2.1: SUNSHINE RAINBOW. This was technically the first single from the band’s second album, since “Strange Brew” was released as a non-album single months before the release of Disraeli Gears. “Sunshine of Your Love” may well be the greatest song Cream ever wrote; the opening moments are indelibly written in the history of rock and roll. Reportedly inspired by Jimi Hendrix, its famous riff was actually written by Jack Bruce; Eric Clapton wrote the bridge (“I’ve been waiting so long…”). This Atco single features the song in an edited version (sounds like they just cut out some of the guitar solo, since who wanted to hear Eric Clapton’s guitar solos?, he asked facetiously). It also lists the artist as The Cream (the nerve). Oddly, one of Disraeli’s best tracks was chosen for the B side, “SWLABR,” which stands for “She was like a bearded rainbow.” Identical to the elpee version, the B side is a classic example of Cream’s psychedelic blues rock, its inscrutable lyrics matched with a powerful blues-based riff. Ginger Baker’s drumming on both tracks is amazing.

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Cream: Wheels of Fire (1968)

Kronomyth 3.0: CRÈME BREWLAY. So here’s the rundown on Wheels of Fire, the band’s third release: it’s longer, stranger, but not necessarily better. Divided into two records (one studio, one live), history has salvaged a handful of songs from the Fire including “White Room,” “Politician,” “Born Under A Bad Sign” and the live versions of “Crossroads” and “Spoonful.” Yet the double album unquestionably sags in spots, especially on the last side, where the live versions of “Traintime” and “Toad” form a tepid postscript to what is otherwise an occasionally scorching opus. The studio cuts, on the other hand, often suffer from Felix Pappalardi’s overproduction/overparticipation  (Pappalardi is credited on trumpet, hand bells, viola and organ pedals). For prog-watchers, a few tracks clearly point to the burgeoning prog movement (“Passing The Time,” “As You Said,” “Those Were The Days”), while the nasty “Politician” prefigures King Crimson by a year. These cuts may not stun you like “Sunshine of Your Love” or “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” but over time they work their way into your imagination with a disarming cunning. The live side, recorded at the Fillmore, actually doused my enthusiasm for Wheels of Fire. You sort of figured that Cream could burn their way Robert Johnson’s catalog and turn “Spoonful” into a hearty meal, but I had no idea Ginger Baker could be so boring. Despite Baker’s dozen-plus minutes of drum doodling on “Toad,” his studio cuts are actually quite good, with “Pressed Rat And Warthog” neatly fitting the mold of the kooky drummer established by Keith Moon. What emerges from Wheels is an album’s worth of very good material spread across two records. It’s not the cream of the crop, but it still shakes out to an album’s worth of excellent music. [NOTE: This was also released as a pair of single albums, entitled Wheels of Fire – In The Studio and Wheels of Fire – Live At The Fillmore.]

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Cream: “White Room” (1968)

Kronomyth 3.1: EMPTY, A PART MEANT. Cream recorded the instrumental tracks for this song in December 1967, making it the first of what would comprise the studio side of Wheels of Fire. The “false” opening of strings (or is it guitars?) creates a unique moment of suspense, quickly shattered when the song’s memorable main riff enters the scene. In that sense, this reminds me of the same effect that “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” employed with its orchestral tuning, although I’m sure every Cream fan collectively cringed at the comparison just now. The lyrics, inspired by Pete Brown’s new apartment (the white room), make brilliant use of light and dark imagery. As with “Sunshine of Your Love,” this song was edited down for the single, excising the verses that followed the first bridge (I think, since it’s been a while). The B side is the album version of “Those Were The Days,” written by Ginger Baker (lyrics) and pianist Mike Taylor (music). It’s a terrific song that references the lost city of Atlantis (ah, those were the days indeed). “White Room” has since been reissued on various back-to-back hit singles over the years, and was even used in commercials for Nissan (1995) and Apple (2000). Apparently, Atlantis isn’t all we’ve lost. Oh, yeah, and The Stranglers did an awesome version of “White Room,” which they included as a free single with The Raven if memory serves.

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Cream: “Crossroads” (1969)

Kronomyth 3.2: PAST TIME (FOR WHOM THE TUBULAR BELL TOLLS). The second single from Wheels of Fire came from the Fillmore side, a live version of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” in its unedited album form. Clapton added some new lyrics to the original and stamped his distinctive electric guitar on it, and it might be said that this “Crossroads” is uniquely his own. Oddly enough, over the years, the song “Crossroads” seems to have acquired a curse, beginning with the premature death of its original author. The crossroads is a symbol for a meeting place between two worlds, and it has been suggested that Johnson was referencing a pact with the devil on this song. (I would tell you the operative agent is Ahmet Ertegun, but I’m an inveterate rumormonger who sees tigers crouching in every corner.) The B side is one of Baker’s clever bits, “Passing The Time,” co-written with Mike Taylor, who strangely sadly drowned on January 19, 1969 at age 31—the same month this single was released. Which is, of course, simply (tiger!) an unfortunate coincidence.

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Cream: Goodbye (1969)

“Cream’s last year was extremely painful for me. When we started in 1966, Eric and Jack had one Marshall each. Then it became a stack, then a double stack and finally a triple stack. By 1968, I was just the poor bastard stuck in the middle of these incredible noise-making things. It was ridiculous.” – Ginger Baker, in as quoted in a 2014 Guitar World article.

Kronomyth 4.0: HELLO GOODBYE. Cream had already left the building when Goodbye was released. The album packaging seemed almost gleeful at the prospect: the band was decked out in silver tuxedos on the front, the inner gatefold opened to a cartoon graveyard, Cream’s magical mystery tour complete. Exit through the giftshop and don’t forget to pick up your copy of Goodbye on the way out. Originally planned as a double elpee with an album each of live and studio material (like Wheels of Fire before it), Goodbye was pared down to a single record because of a lack of good material. The live material is louder than loud, with Clapton and especially Bruce much too high in the mix. This version of “Sitting On Top of the World” is good, but the other tracks are sonically inferior to what you’ll find on the two Live Cream discs. As for the individual musicianship on the live tracks, it’s amazing, but the band loses points for not playing nice together. The members also had a homework assignment to write one new track for the album. Clapton tapped George Harrison as his study partner and came up with the brilliant “Badge,” while Bruce and Pete Brown delivered the deliciously surreal “Doing That Scrapyard” and Baker kicked in the psychedelic “What A Bringdown.” All three tracks are strongly influenced by The Beatles, suggesting that Cream (like most of the world) had already worn out their copies of Magical Mystery Tour. It’s nice that the band took the time to write a note before leaving, but I’m far more likely to thumb through the photo albums of Wheels and Gears than take the tear-stained Goodbye out of its crypted envelope and read it. That said, the closing studio tracks are some of the best things they’ve ever done; maybe they should have put those first.

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Best of Cream (1969)

Kronomyth 5.0: THE CREAM IS DEAD. With a name like Cream, I suppose it’s only fitting that their labels milk them for all they’re worth. The release of Best of Cream coincided with the debut album from Ginger Baker’s and Eric Clapton’s new band, Blind Faith, and followed Cream’s Goodbye by only a few months, yet fans still snatched it up—a testimony to the band’s popularity at the time. While the US album cover, featuring drawings of vegetables, may be beyond mere mortal comprehension (for a great band they really had some bizarre album covers), it’s easy to understand why people would pay good money to hear the best of Cream. The selections here are unimpeachable, if not surprisingly weighted toward their first three albums (only one track, “Badge,” appears from their last). The presence of “Spoonful” and “I Feel Free” could also be considered a kindness to collectors, since one or the other would have been a non-album single depending on which version of Fresh Cream you owned. Of course, since the release of this album, dozens of Cream compilations have cropped up, not a few of them named Best of Cream. The future, with its compact disc and jet cars, had little use for a 10-track Cream compilation, and so Best of Cream was allowed to languish without so  much as a digital remaster. If you should encounter it in a used record store somewhere, it’s worth picking up for five dollars, but I wouldn’t pay more than $10 for it unless you’re planning to encase the album cover in Lucite and use it as a cutting board.

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Blind Faith (1969)

Kronomyth 1.0: TREAM TEAM. For years, I saw this album as something of a disappointment. It sounded like Led Zeppelin with a timid folk singer. In truth, Blind Faith sounds a lot like Cream and Traffic, with one caveat: if these songs had been recorded by Cream or Traffic (in its Barleycorn incarnation), they would have sounded better. I like this album but have always felt it was an overrated asterisk. The opening “Had To Cry Today” lays it on the line; Winwood wrote it, but Jack Bruce should be singing it. Conversely, “Can’t Find My Way Home” would have worked better on Barleycorn with Chris Wood (though Baker does an admirable job of playing the drums on a song that doesn’t require them). The main pleasure I get from this record is hearing Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood play on music that matters. “Presence of the Lord,” “Sea of Joy,” “Had To Cry Today” and “Can’t Find My Way Home” belong with the best songs of Winwood and Clapton. Of course, Clapton fans will find as much (or more) to get excited about in Derek & The Dominoes. Blind Faith has been reissued about a billion times, usually with the controversial model cover, honored with a Mobile Fidelity remaster, expanded with a couple of post-session recordings (“Exchange and Mart,” “Spending All My Days”) and given a double-disc Deluxe Edition treatment that includes an electric version of “Can’t Find My Way Home,” two versions of Sam Myers’ “Sleeping In The Ground” and a bunch of instrumental jams (most of them recorded before Grech joined) that aren’t likely to increase your faith one iota. Given the dearth of classic Cream and Traffic recordings, you can’t turn a blind eye to Blind Faith, but I’d leave the Deluxe Edition to the deluded and settle on one of the single-disc remasters.

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