[Review] Eric Clapton: August (1986)

Great material, august guests and Phil Collins’ magic bag of Motown produce one of Clapton’s best albums from any period, period.

Kronomyth 14.0: Thriller in vanilla.

More than a comeback, August is the story of how Clapton got his groove back. Until now, Clapton had been, for better or worse, the white curator of dead black men’s music (Sleepy John Estes, Robert Johnson, Bob Marley). August eschews the blues/reggae history lesson for a full immersion in modern R&B featuring Lamont Dozier, Greg Phillinganes, Robert Cray, Tina Turner and Stephen Bishop. The results are sometimes unexpected (“Behind The Mask,” “Hung Up On Your Love,” “Walk Away”) and often exciting (“Run,” “Miss You,” “Holy Mother,” “Tearing Us Apart”).

In this new setting, the opening “It’s In The Way That You Use It,” recorded with Albert Lee and Henry Spinetti, almost sounds like a throwback to the old days rather than the contemporary hit that it was. Warner Bros. had to be happy with the results this time, as August is exactly what you would hope for in the pairing of two of the 80s biggest and most bankable stars, Phil Collins and Eric Clapton. Behind The Sun, his last record, was interesting but disjointed and ultimately underwhelming. August comes out swinging and never stops. Granted, ending the elpee with “Behind The Mask” is unsettling; the epic and guitar-driven “Grand Illusion,” which appeared only on CDs, brings the album full circle.

Those expecting flashes of guitar brilliance may miss them if they blink, but in exchange for extended solos are some of Clapton’s best vocals in years; anyone who can get the best of Tina Turner in a duet is no second stringer. Rolling Stone, in their original review, called the album “stilted and disappointing,” but their zealous veneration for the blues is well documented and August is simply not a blues album in any sense; even the Robert Cray cover (“Bad Influence”) has a strong streak of mainstream pop in it. If, however, the idea of Clapton playing the King of Pop for a day is intriguing, August lives up to its name.

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Original elpee version

A1. It’s In The Way That You Use It (Eric Clapton/Robbie Robertson) (4:09)
A2. Run (Lamont Dozier) (3:38)
A3. Tearing Us Apart (Eric Clapton/Greg Phillinganes) (4:24)
A4. Bad Influence (Robert Cray/Mike Vannice) (5:06)
A5. Walk Away (Marcella Levy/Richard Feldman)  (3:51)
A6. Hung Up On Your Love (Lamont Dozier) (3:52)
B1. Take A Chance (Eric Clapton/Greg Phillinganes/Nathan East) (4:52)
B2. Hold On (Eric Clapton/Phil Collins) (4:56)
B3. Miss You (Eric Clapton/Greg Phillinganes/Bobby Colomby) (5:03)
B4. Holy Mother (Eric Clapton/Stephen Bishop) (4:53)
B5. Behind The Mask (Chris Mosdell/Ryuichi Sakamoto/Michael Jackson) (4:46)

CD bonus track
12. Grand Illusion (Wesley Stephenson/Dave Robbins/Bob Farrell) (6:22)

The Players

Eric Clapton (guitar & vocals), Phil Collins (drums, percussion & backing vocals), Nathan East (bass guitar), Greg Phillinganes (keyboards & backing vocals) with Dave Bargerone (trombone), Michael Brecker (saxophone), Randy Brecker (trumpet), Gary Brooker (keyboards & vocals on track 1), Laurence Cottle (bass on track 1), Richard Cottle (synthesizer on track 1), Jon Faddis (trumpet), Richard Feldman (additional keyboards on track 5), Katie Kissoon (backing vocals on tracks 7, 10 & 11), Magic Moreno (backing vocals on track 7), Tessa Niles (backing vocals on tracks 7, 10 & 11), Leon Pendarvis (horn arrangements), Henry Spinetti (drums on track 1), Tina Turner (vocals on track 3, backing vocals on track 8), Larry Williams (synthesizer programming). Produced by Phil Collins in association with Tom Dowd except track 1 produced by Tom Dowd and Eric Clapton; engineered Magic Moreno, Peter Hefter, Paul Gommersall except track 1 engineered by John Jacobs and Steve Chase.

Did You Know?

  • The album is named in honor of Clapton’s son, Conor, who was born on August 21, 1986.
  • Legendary songwriter Lamont Dozier provided two songs for the album at the invitation of Phil Collins. Clapton and Collins later returned the favor by appearing on Dozier’s 1991 album, Inside Seduction.
  • “Behind The Mask” originally appeared on Yellow Magic Orchestra’s 1979 album, Solid State. Michael Jackson recorded a new version during the Thriller sessions (which included Greg Phillinganes), but didn’t release it. Phillinganes had a dance hit with his own version in 1985 and suggested that Clapton record it as well.
  • “Bad Influence” first appeared on The Robert Cray Band’s 1983 album of the same name.

The Pictures

All album photographs by Terry O’Neill. Artwork by Zarkowski Designs Ltd.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and expanded compact disc (with one bonus track, “Grand Illusion”) on November 24, 1986 in the UK (Duck, WX-71/C), the US (Warner Bros., 25476-1/4/2), Brazil (Reprise, 6709 236), Germany and Greece (Duck/Warner Bros., 925476-1/2), Japan (Duck, P-13390/PSC-107), Mexico (Warner Bros., LWB-6549) and Venezuela (Rodven Discos, 3157); reached #3 on the UK charts and #37 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record).

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in 1990 in Japan (Warner, WPCP-3990).
  2. Re-packaged with Unplugged on 2CD in 1995 in Australia (Warner Bros., 46068).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in 1998 in Japan (Warner, WPCR-10115).
  4. Re-released on remastered compact disc on September 19, 2000 in the US (Warner Bros., 47736-2).
  5. Re-packaged with Money And Cigarettes and Journeyman on 3CD in 2005 in Australia (Warner Bros., 49493).
  6. Re-released on remastered 180g vinyl elpee in 2010 in the US (Reprise, 47736-1).

The Word
“He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame.” (Proverbs 10:5)

1 thought on “[Review] Eric Clapton: August (1986)

  1. Despite selling millions of records with Genesis and as a solo artist, Phil Collins cites playing with Eric Clapton in the 80’s as the highlight of his career. Go figure.

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