While some were spray painting the buildings of England with proclamations that Eric Clapton was God, the real star of Cream was bassist Jack Bruce. Not only was Bruce the songwriter behind some of the group’s biggest hits, but it was his voice that defined the group’s sound. Ginger Baker, of course, laid down the backbeat that drove the machine to greatness, and as for Clapton, he’s been literally coasting on the stellar guitar work he laid down with this group for over 40 years ago.
They were, indeed, one of the early “supergroups” with very high pedigree. Clapton had played with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds and had backed blues greats like Sonny Boy Williamson and Champion Jack Dupree. Baker played with Jazz artist Acker Bilk (of “Stranger On The Shore” fame), Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated and the Graham Bond Organisation. Bruce had played with Baker in Korner’s Blues Incorporated and The Graham Bond Organisation, with Clapton in The Bluesbreakers and Powerhouse (that also included singer Paul Jones and Steve Winwood), and briefly with Manfred Mann. And for once, this supergroup was much better than the sum of its parts, especially since Bruce and Baker didn’t get along at all.
That said, Cream never made a solid studio album, and even so, the band’s studio recordings are far more preferable than their live workouts that featured endless jamming extended to maddening proportions. Even though albums like Disraeli Gears, Fresh Cream and the half studio-half live Wheels Of Fire are considered classics today, they really are patchy affairs, each featuring a clutch of classic singles surrounded by throwaways.
So if you’re looking for just the cream that rose to the top, the 1995 CD compilation The Very Best Of Cream is the one to have. It’s all here…71 minutes of the heaviest of heavy Cream including the requisite hits “Sunshine Of Your Love,” “Tales Of Brave Ulysses,” “Strange Brew,” “I’m So Glad,” “Spoonful,” “White Room,” “Born Under A Bad Sign,” “Badge,” “Crossroads” and “I Feel Free.”
But the collection doesn’t stop with the hits that everyone wants. Also included are single-only rarities, B-sides and album tracks that have gained classic status over the years, like the album cuts “N.S.U.” and “Sweet Wine” (from Fresh Cream), “SWLABR” and “We’re Going Wrong” (from Disraeli Gears), “Politician,” “Sitting On Top Of The World,” “Those Were The Days” and “Deserted Cities Of The Heart” (from Wheels Of Fire) and the rare singles “Wrapping Paper” and “Anyone For Tennis” (which was recorded for the film The Savage Seven). In my estimation, the only essential Cream track that’s missing from this collection is “Cat’s Squirrel.”
Oh, and for those that don’t already know, “SWLABR” was also the B-side to the “Sunshine Of Your Love” single, and the title stands for “She walks like a bearded rainbow.” Don’t ask, it was 1967 after all…