Cream: Wheels of Fire (1968)

[Kronomyth 3.0]
Creme 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.]

Original 2LP Version
A1. White Room (Jack Bruce/Pete Brown) (4:56)
A2. Sitting On Top of the World (Chester Burnett) (4:56)
A3. Passing The Time (Ginger Baker/Mike Taylor) (4:31)
A4. As You Said (Jack Bruce/Pete Brown) (4:19)
A5. Pressed Rat And Warthog (Ginger Baker/Mike Taylor) (3:13)
A6. Politician (Jack Bruce/Pete Brown) (4:11)
A7. Those Were The Days (Ginger Baker/Mike Taylor) (2:52)
A8. Born Under A Bad Sign (Booker T. Jones/William Bell) (3:08)
A9. Deserted Cities of the Night (Jack Bruce/Pete Brown) (4:36)
B1. Crossroads (live) (Robert Johnson) (4:13)
B2. Spoonful (live) (Willie Dixon) (16:44)
B3. Traintime (live) (Jack Bruce) (6:52)
B4. Toad (live) (Ginger Baker) (15:53)

The Players
Ginger Baker (drums, tympani, glockenspiel, vocals, high hat, recitation, marimba, tubular bells, tambourine), Jack Bruce (bass, vocals, calliope, acoustic guitars, cello, recorder, harmonica), Eric Clapton (guitars, vocals) with Felix Pappalardi (viola, organ pedals, trumpet, tonette, Swiss hand bells). Produced by Felix Pappalardi; engineered by Tom Dowd, Adrian Barber, Bill Halverson; remix engineered by Adrian Barber.

The Pictures
Album art by Martin Sharp. Album design by Stanislaw Zagorski.

The Plastic
Released on mono and stereo 2LP in June (July?) 1968 in the US (Atco, SD 2-700), in August 1968 in the UK (Polydor, 582 031/2 and 583 031/2) and in 1968 in France and Germany (Polydor, 2612 001); reached #1 on the US charts (RIAA certified gold) and #3 on the UK charts. Original 2LP featured a shiny gatefold cover. The first record was repackaged as In The Studio on elpee in August 1968 in the UK (Polydor, 583 033); reached #7 on the UK charts. The second record was repackaged as Live At The Fillmore on mono and stereo elpee in August 1968 in the UK (Polydor, 582/583 040) and in 1969 in Japan (Polydor, MP/SMP-1417). The two records were re-released (again, independently) in November 1977 in the UK and Australia (RSO, 2394 136/7). Live At The Fillmore was re-released on white vinyl elpee in 2008 in Russia (Lilith/Vinyl Lovers, 999192).

  1. Re-issued on 2LP in 1969 in the US (Polydor, SD 2-700).
  2. Re-issued on 2LP in the US (Polydor, 2761 109).
  3. Re-issued on 2LP in 1972 in Germany (Polydor, 2658 110).
  4. Re-issued on 2LP in the US (RSO, RS-2-3802).
  5. Re-issued on 2LP in 1973 in the UK (Polydor, 2612 001).
  6. Re-issued on 2LP in 1975 in Japan (RSO, MW-9063/4).
  7. Re-issued on 2LP and cassette in 1977 in the US (RSO, RS2/CT2-3802).
  8. Re-issued on 2LP in 1980 in Japan (RSO, MWX-9954/5) and Spain (RSO, 24 79 127).
  9. Re-released on remastered 2LP and cassette in 1980 in the US (Mobile Fidelity, MFSL2/C2-066).
  10. Re-issued on 2LP in the UK (RSO, 2479 160/1).
  11. Re-ssiued on 2LP in Japan (Polydor, MP-9413/4).
  12. Re-issued on 2LP in Japan (RSO, MWU-9701/2).
  13. Re-issued on 2LP in 1985 in the UK (Polydor, 827 578-1).
  14. Re-issued on 2LP in 1986 in the UK (RSO, SPDLP-2).
  15. Re-released on compact disc in 1986 in the US (Polydor, 827 578-2).
  16. Re-released on remastered 2CD in 1992 in the US (DCC, GZS-1020).
  17. Re-issued on remastered compact disc on April 7, 1998 in the US (Polydor, 1812-2).
  18. Re-released on 180g vinyl 2LP in 1999 in the UK (Simply Vinyl, 202).
  19. Re-issued on compact disc in 1999 (Polydor, 559 425).
  20. Re-issued on remastered 2CD in Japan (Polydor, UICY-9152/3).

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