Blues Power

Eric Clapton *Band* Albums Ranked Worst To Best

by David Bowling

Eric Clapton’s career is now into its sixth decade and shows no signs of slowing down. He is currently the only three-time inductee into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame for his solo work and time spent with Cream and The Yardbirds. While he has been releasing solo albums for the past half-century, he spent the first decade of his career jumping from group to group, never staying long, but carving out one of the best legacies in rock music. The following 11 albums represent his best and worst band albums, although there is no real terrible release.

11. The Yardbirds – Five Live Yardbirds (1964)yardbirds_fivelive_150

The album is now over 50 years old, but the music remains a nice glimpse into the developing British blues/rock scene of the mid 1960s. While Clapton is the lead guitarist, he was part of a band of equals. Still, if you listen to the music, it is obvious there is a master guitarist at work. The music is live without corrections or overdubs. The songs are covers and feature classic blues tunes like “Good Morning Little School” (Clapton’s first lead vocal), “Smokestack Lightning,” “Got Love If You Want It,” and “I’m A Man.”  There is a 2003 reissue of the album that added 10 more tracks, which makes everything a whole lot better.

cream_goodbye_15010. Cream – Goodbye (1969)

Goodbye was indeed the farewell album by Cream. Released to capitalize on the band’s fame one last time, it consisted of three studio and three live tracks. “I’m So Glad,” “Politician,” and “Sitting On Top Of The World” were recorded at the Los Angeles Forum October 19th, 1968 and are average live tracks at best. Studio tracks “Badge,” “Doing The Scrapyard Thing,” and “What A Bringdown” show some growth with the addition of new textures and the use of keyboards. “Badge” is the key, as Clapton’s vocal and guitar, as well as the song’s structure, look ahead to his solo career.

9. Delaney & Bonnie – On Tour With Eric Clapton (1970)delaneybonnie_ontourwec_150

By 1970, Clapton had jumped from the Yardbirds to the Bluesbreakers (twice) to Cream to Blind Faith and was completely burned out. The idea of being part of a band without being the focal point appealed to him, and so he joined Delaney & Bonnie’s backing group. Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett must have thought they had grabbed the brass ring and were savvy enough to put Clapton’s name in the album title. While the album is excellent, Clapton’s guitar playing is relegated to the background, with only occasional flashes that show his brilliance. “Do Right Woman Do Right Man,” “When The Battle Is Over,” “Ghetto,” and “Soldier Of The Cross” are all gritty rock and blues fusion pieces that are excellent. His time with Delaney & Bonnie served the purpose of recharging his engines and he was off again to form another band. Delaney and Bonnie were not so pleased this time, as he took their band members Carl Radle, Jim Gordon, and Bobby Whitlock with him.

yardbirds_raveup_1508. The Yardbirds – Having A Rave Up (1965)

Having A Rave Up was one of those albums that signified a change in rock and roll as Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck began experimenting with a psychedelic sound. They explored territory that the guitar had never traveled to previously. It may sound primitive today, but it was cutting edge at the time. Clapton only appears on side two of the original release, but his work on “Smokestack Lightning” and “I’m A Man” are worth the price of admission alone.

7. The Yardbirds – For Your Love (1965)yardbirds_foryourlove_150_01

Jeff Beck had replaced Eric Clapton as the lead guitarist of the Yardbirds, but while Clapton had played lead guitar on many of the tracks, he was not pictured on the cover. Clapton hated the song “For Your Love.” He felt the Yardbirds were abandoning their blues roots and selling out to gain commercial success, and this was a driving force in his decision to leave the group. In retrospect, it remains one of the signature British rock songs of the era and while he may not have appreciated it, millions of people did.

blindfaith_st_2006. Blind Faith – Blind Faith (1969)

After Cream disintegrated, Clapton formed the super group Blind Faith. He took drummer Ginger Baker with him and added bassist Ric Grech and keyboardist Steve Winwood.  They only released one self-titled studio album, with a controversial nude cover, but the album sold millions and topped the charts in both the United States and U.K. It was both a brilliant and hurried release. The eternal “Presence Of The Lord” and Winwood’s “Had To Cry Today,” “Can’t Find My Way Home,” and “Sea Of Joy” form the foundation of a very good album. Ginger Baker’s 15-minute “Do What You Like” contains a lot of filler. The band decided to tour but did not have enough original material to fill a complete concert, so they resorted to playing songs by Cream, which made the fans happy and Clapton very unhappy. One of their opening acts was Delaney & Bonnie, whom Clapton would soon join as their lead guitarist, leaving Blind Faith as one of the great what if’s in rock history.

5. John Mayall’s Blues Breakers – Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton (1966)johnmayall_bluesbreakerscla_150

John Mayall was another commercially savvy musician who added Eric Clapton’s name to his album’s title. The album is often referred to as the Beano album because of the comic book Clapton is reading on the cover. It is also one of the best British blues albums of the 1960s. It included covers of classic songs of Otis Rush, Little Walter, Freddie King, and Robert Johnson, plus originals by Clapton and Mayall. “Parchman Farm,” “Ramblin’ On My Mind,” “Hideaway,” “and “What’d I Say” were perfect vehicles for Clapton’s 1960 Gibson Les Paul. The result was one of the most influential electric blues albums in music history.

cream_gears 4. Cream – Disraeli Gears (1967)

“Sunshine Of Your Love” remains one of the signature songs of the rock era with Clapton’s guitar runs ranking among the Sixties’ most memorable.  It was only the tip of the iceberg, as the album was a brilliant work of short and technically adept tracks. “Strange Brew,” “Tales Of Brave Ulysses,” “Outside Woman Blues,” and the underrated “SWALBR” are essential listening for anyone interested in 1960s rock music. In addition to the music, the album cover designed by Martin Sharp is brilliant in its own right.

3. Cream – Fresh Cream (1966)cream_fresh_200

I distinctly remember being hooked by the opening notes of “I Feel Free.” It was an announcement by Cream that there was something new being created on the rock music scene. “Toad” contained one of the first extended drum solos, which would become common during the 1970s. Robert Johnson’s “Four Until Late” with a lead vocal by Clapton and “I’m So Glad” helped introduce the blues to a new generation. Not only one of the best debut albums, but one of the better albums of its era.

derekdominos_layla_150 2. Derek And The Dominos – Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs (1970)

When Eric Clapton left Delaney & Bonnie, he took bassist Carl Radle, keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, and drummer Jim Gordon with him in order to form a new band. The addition of Duane Allman on 11 of the 14 tracks helped Derek And the Dominos create one of the most stunning albums in rock history. “Layla” is just about the perfect song with layers and textures that continues to amaze 45 years after its creation. It is a symphony in a little over seven minutes. Then there is the blues of “Key To The Highway” and “Nobody Knows When You’re Down And Out,” plus the explosive rock of Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” Throw in such originals as “Tell The Truth,” “Bell Bottom Blues,” and “Why Does Love Have To Be So Sad” and you have an eternal classic. Through it all, Duane Allman’s slide guitar pushes Clapton to heights he has rarely scaled. An essential album in American music history.

1. Cream – Wheels Of Fire (1968)cream_wheels_150

This is one of the albums I played to death back in the day and one that still graces my turntable with a great degree of regularity. Wheels Of Fire’s one live disc and one studio disc add up to Eric Clapton’s best group studio album. One of Cream’s signature songs “White Room” starts the album and it only gets better. “Sitting On Top Of The World,” “Those Were The Days,” “Politician,” “Born Under A Bad Sign,” and the quirky “Pressed Rat And Wart Hog” form a stunning body of work. The four live tracks are anchored by 16 minute versions of “Spoonful” and “Toad” that are wonderfully exhausting. The four minute “Crossroads” is as close to the Delta blues as a modern electric bluesman can get. Even holding the vinyl album in your hands with the original artwork is an experience.

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