|Producer: Felix Pappalardi
Recorded: Live - October 19 1968, Forum, Los Angeles; Studio - Oct & Dec 1968, IBC Studios, London.
Recording Engineers: Live - Bill Halverson, remix by Adrian Barber; Studio - Adrian Barber & Damon Lyon-Shaw;
Released: UK 3/69, US 1/69.
Highest Chart Position: UK 1, US 2.
Virtually before Wheels of Fire was released, Cream announced their breakup. They would do one more tour of the US and a final album. Stigwood planned another double album with a live and studio record like Wheels of Fire. It was not to be, as Cream was exhausted by December when the studio album was to be completed. Instead this single album with three live and three studio songs was released.
The final tour was carried out under great personal animosity and general duress. These three recordings from it are surprisingly excellent showing that their creative chemistry was such that it could still burst through their interpersonal difficulties. Well it definitely did at the Forum on the 19th October, at least.
The final studio sessions were carried out in a more relaxed atmosphere after the release of tensions with the end of the band. However, the creative spirit was distracted and only one of the songs could be counted as among their best, but realistically that wasnt too bad an effort.
Sound quality is OK overall but the mix on the live tracks is at odds with other releases. The bass and guitar are swapped over to the opposite channels and the bass mixed higher which also drowns the bass drums. The effect is rather disconcerting despite the bass guitar being well defined. I can only guess that Felix wanted to highlight Jacks playing, which he held in the very highest regard. But as to the channel swap did they play opposite to normal at the Forum?
The studio tracks are each even more highly produced than any on "Wheels", which is indicative of the problems of the sessions, but also a tribute to Felix.
Im So Glad (Skip James)
Eric lead guitar, harmony vocals; Jack bass, lead vocals; Ginger drums.
Opens with Erics guitar, then into the verses just like the original recording. The guitar sound is atypical Eric, dryer*, which still doesnt prepare us for the solo. He launches and the notes and lots of block chords cascade out in unflagging improvisation. Jack and Ginger combine intuitively and cooperatively interact with Eric. It is one of their most extraordinary performances brought to superb release by the stop/restart ending.
* Jeff Aarons confirms that Eric is playing the Firebird I.
Politician (Jack Bruce/Pete Brown)
Eric lead guitar; Jack bass, lead vocals; Ginger drums.
Eric opens with the powerful riff that was always going to make a strong live song. It is still a core component of Jacks repertoire. Jack is in full blues shouter mode and the usual counter-pointing, driving bass. Ginger syncopates on snare, top toms and bass drums. Erics playing and solo is flowing, inventive and distinctive he was in a different mode on this night.
Jeff Aarons confirms that Eric is playing the Firebird I.
[Vinyl Side 2]
Sitting on Top of the World (Chester Burnett)
Eric lead guitar; Jack bass, lead vocals; Ginger drums.
This doesnt open with the fuzz riff of the studio version but as a more standard blues. By now Erics style is full of notes and block chords i.e. the rock blues style that was much copied. He commences his solo and after about 10 bars a change a dirtier sound. This type of blues performance is Cream territory that few others could ever enter power, invention, interplay and individual brilliance in ensemble playing.
Jeff Aarons confirms that Eric is playing the Firebird I and the tonal chanbge I noted above is the result of "hard, crunching picking, more passionate grasping and muting by the left hand, a very slight probable shift of his picking hand toward the bridge. "
Badge (Eric Clapton/George Harrison)
Eric lead & solo guitar, lead vocals; Jack bass; Ginger drums; Felix Pappalardi piano, mellotron, harmony vocals; LAngelo Misterioso [George Harrison] rhythm guitar, harmony vocals.
George, at this time, was in his most creative song writing period. Indeed at this time, with hindsight, he was writing better songs then Paul or John. His collaboration with Eric resulted in a classic, both as a song and in form. They took the stop-pause-restart device of "Im So Glad" to its zenith as core element of the songs structure.
It opens with a fine bass riff and guitars (Georges with block chords); after four bars joined by vocals, drums and piano; pause at the end of the first verse with fading guitar/piano notes; restart and repeat and then, after the 2nd pause Erics lead through Leslie Box joins in. After another verse but no stop, Eric solos (overdubbed) against a back drop of vocals and then is joined by mellotron behind the last vocal verse. The song ends with a stop and fading notes a restart is anticipated but doesnt occur. A beautifully executed production from George, Eric and Felix. Jack basically sticks to the written bass line, which is a very good one, but Ringo could have easily replaced Ginger.
And the title means: Eric misread "bridge" in Georges hand written music. Latter, in his solo career, he took advantage of the mistake by adding an ending coda with a chorus of "Where is my badge?"
Doing That Scrapyard Thing (Jack Bruce/Pete Brown)
Eric lead guitar; Jack bass, piano, lead vocals; Ginger drums; Felix Pappalardi mellotron.
An adequate song from Jack, but nowhere near as strong as those on "Wheels". Jacks solo album "Songs for a Tailor" was to contain several much stronger Cream suitable songs.
Eric plays a distorted guitar line, which is almost merged with the mellotron, and no solo. Jacks vocals and piano dominate this song.
What a Bringdown (Ginger Baker)
Eric lead guitar, lead vocals; Jack piano, organ, lead vocals; Ginger drums, percussion, harmony vocals; Felix Pappalardi bass, vocals.
Another very good song from Ginger in 5/4, 3/4 propelled along by his drumming and percussion. Felix plays bass and sounds like Jack, a clear indicator of what was to come. Jacks organ is also quite good showing, once again, his enormous instrumental versatility. Erics lead is distorted wah wah with a short, heavily distorted solo break (the Firebird I?). Good lyrics and singing from Eric and Jack a gem.
The ending was also quite fitting as the finale for the final album.
Anyone for Tennis (Eric Clapton/Martin Sharp) Note: not on original vinyl release
Eric lead guitar, acoustic guitar, lead vocals; Jack bass, harmony vocals; Ginger congas, percussion; Felix Pappalardi violas, mellotron.
[Recording: Basic - Sept/Oct 1967, Finish Jan/Feb 1968, Atlantic Studios NY, Tom Dowd eng]
This song was recorded in the Wheels sessions for the soundtrack of the film "The Savage Seven"(a B-Grade motorcycle movie). It was clearly written around the "Gears" time and is a very different style of song being basically acoustic guitar, bass, congas and vocals. Eric just provides some slide type notes on electric with the violas. Interesting but not outstanding and would have fitted in better as an addition to "In the Studio".
Trying to create this as a single one-off made Cream forswear any repeat of the process i.e. no more singles just albums, from which singles could be lifted.
Corrected 13th Oct 1997
© 1997 by Graeme Pattingale