Cream, made up of three incredibly talented musicians, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker – who famously didn’t always get along – were one of the most explosive rock acts of the late 1960s, responsible for some of the genre’s most enduring classics – “Sunshine of Your Love,” “White Room,” “Strange Brew,” “Badge” and “Crossroads,” to name but a few.
Now, for the very first time, USM are to release a vinyl box set comprising of the power trio’s entire recorded output from 1966 to 1972. The full list of albums included here is Fresh Cream (1966), Disraeli Gears (1967), Wheels of Fire from 1968 (the world’s first platinum-selling double album), Goodbye (1969) and the live LPs Live Cream (1970) and Live Cream Volume II (1972).
Fresh Cream begins with doo-wop style vocals and hand-claps, before the psychedelic groove of “I Feel Free” kicks in. It’s a good song, different to the kind of heavier rock Cream later became renowned for, but a rewarding listen nevertheless. The next track “N.S.U.” is the kind of flowery, mid-to-late ’60s dirge that has not aged well, though it does offer an interesting snapshot of a particular moment in time.
Much better is the bluesy “Sleepy Time Time” and the very groovy “Spoonful.” After these chilled out slow-burners, “Cat’s Squirrel,” with its infectious harmonica, picks up the pace a little before the toe-tapping “Four Until Late” (written by Robert Johnson) comes in to almost steal the show. More energetic harmonica, courtesy of the late Jack Bruce, is again used to great effect on “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.”
Although Fresh Cream was a solid debut, it only hinted at what was to come in the years that followed. The first track on the follow-up Disraeli Gears, “Strange Brew,” is better than anything heard on the previous album and the second number, the aforementioned “Sunshine of Your Love,” has one of the most instantly recognisable riffs in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.
Other pleasurable moments on their superior sophomore effort include “Outside Woman Blues,” “Take It Back” and “SWLABR,” although it has to be said there is some rather dreary warbling on there, too (“Dance the Night Away” and “Blue Condition,” for example).
Next up, we have the double album Wheels of Fire, probably Cream’s finest LP. It opens explosively with “White Room” and contains a number of tunes that should be more pleasing to fans of the trio’s “heavier” stuff, among them “Sitting on the Top of the World,” “Born Under A Bad Sign” and storming live versions of “Crossroads,” “Spoonful” and “Traintime.”
Goodbye is, as the title suggests, the group’s last studio album, released in early 1969 after they had bade farewell with a sold-out concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 26th November 1968. It’s not their best record by any means, but it does have its fair share of decent songs, especially “I’m So Glad” (that lasts for nearly 10 minutes), “Badge” and the quirky “Doing That Scrapyard Thing.”
Rounding things off nicely are two reminders of what a stunning live band Cream were, Live Cream and Live Cream Volume II. Of the two, the first is probably the most satisfying, containing as it does the toe-tapping “Lawdy Mama” and an epic 15-minute version of fan favourite “Sweet Wine,” written by Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce’s then-wife Janet Godfrey.
As highlighted, Cream went their separate ways in 1968, though happily that now legendary gig at the Royal Albert Hall was not the end of the story. Rock’s first “power trio” reunited in 1993 for their induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and then again in 2005 for a well-received series of dates at the Albert Hall and at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Unsurprisingly, ticket prices were astronomical.
With the death of Jack Bruce in October 2014, there can never be another Cream reunion, but at least we’ll always have the music to remember them by, and if any fans of rock, blues or psychedelia who were there at the time fancy a trip down memory lane – or if anyone unfamiliar with the band would like to see what the big deal was back then – this box set would be the ideal place to start. For me, though, skip the psychedelia and listen to the rock ‘n’ blues.