Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs

Derek & The Dominos

Polydor, 1970

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


I have no idea why it took so long to get a review of this disc on the Vault. It is among the greatest in rock history.

For a long while, I felt Eric Clapton's status as a guitar god wasn't quite justified, but that was based on the classic rock pummeling of his later hits like "After Midnight" and "Cocaine." But in the '60s, Clapton really could do no wrong, moving from the Yardbirds to Cream to Blind Faith (one of rock's truly odd stories) within four years. It turns out all that was preparation for Layla, far and away the best music Clapton has ever recorded.

Emotional turmoil often leads to the best art -- Blood On The Tracks and Rumours come to mind immediately -- because that inner pain brings out everything an artist has to offer. What makes Layla special is the sheer necessity of the album; Clapton needed to record this to bare his soul, to profess his love to the world, sales or success be damned. This is a vanity project of the best kind.

The love in question was George Harrison's wife, and Clapton was a good enough friend to know he couldn't steal his best mate's woman, no matter how much he loved her. The frustration built inside of him, coupled with the frustration of Blind Faith not working out as expected, so Clapton took Delaney and Bonnie's rhythm section and Duane Allman and recorded 14 passionate, bluesy rock songs.

Rarely has such personal anguish been made public in rock music, as on "Bell Bottom Blues," which employs descending choruses before exploding in a harmonius chorus where Clapton begs "Do you want to see me crawl across the floor to you / Do you want to hear me beg you to take me back / I'd gladly do it because / I don't want to fade away." The final high notes of that last line send shivers up one's spine, as those hope-filled lines are set against the sadder verses, where a longing Clapton sings "I don't want to lose this feeling / If I could choose a place to die / It would be in your arms." The solos and bluesy leads just carry the song. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It's the only moment on the album that is equal to the title track, one of the best songs in the history of rock. Famous not just for its fiery guitar riff, or for Clapton's anguished vocals, or even the knowledge that a man singing about something he can never have is painful enough ("Please don't say we'll never find a way / And tell me all my love's in vain") -- no, the song's truly defining moment is the complete ease in which the final heartbreaking guitar solo segues into a beautiful four-minute piano outro, the sound of Clapton's love finally fulfilled. Truly a defining moment in rock.

But this album is not about pain as much as it is emotion, whether it be the blues of "Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out," the fun country-rock of "I Looked Away" or the jubilant psychedelic-rock of "Keep On Growing." Clapton even experiments a bit on "I Am Yours," which uses deep vocal harmonies and bongo drums, and on "Anyday" Duane Allman lays the foundation for the upcoming success of the Allman Brothers.

Many of the songs are longer than five minutes, but you hardly notice because not only is the band on fire, they're having a great time, and when they set into a blues jam on "Key To The Highway" you feel right there in the studio, smelling the cigarette smoke and whiskey, hearing the magic. "Tell The Truth" is a fun rave-up and "Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad" is made uniquely Clapton's here, a fast blues piece with some excellent solos. The slower "It's Too Late" and "Have You Ever Loved A Woman" are a bit derivative of the other blues here but are still excellent, while the cover of "Little Wing" is the preferred version over the Hendrix original (sorry, Jimi), as it manages to be much more emotional in the way "Bell Bottom Blues" is.

The disc closes with the Bobby Whitlock original "Thorn Tree In The Garden," sung by the piano player, which seems an odd way to end an album uniquely about Clapton's private self, but a nice coda that sums up the theme of the disc and leaves things on an oddly sweet note.

A lot has happened in rock music, but each year only serves to establish Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs as one of the great moments in all of rock. This is the release that truly establishes why Clapton is so loved and is far and away his best work.

Rating: A

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© 2006 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Polydor, and is used for informational purposes only.