Cream is perhaps the greatest trio of musicians to ever be assembled in a single band. The talent from Eric Clapton on guitar, Jack Bruce on bass and Ginger Baker on drums is undeniable, and while their chemistry as a group together was far from perfect, the trio has certainly shown flashes of brilliance together. Their potential shines perhaps the most on their 1967 album Disraeli Gears, which came out exactly four days and fifty three years ago today. The album is not a showcase of brilliant talent, or a highlight of supreme band chemistry, but it is an amazing encapsulation of the time period from which the album comes from.
The cover art alone of Disraeli Gears is enough to bring back recollections of the 1960’s; the vibrant coloring and the psychedelic style font and patterning evoke thoughts of hippie culture and the rise of rock and roll that dominated the decade. The name of the band and the album on cover is off center, while Clapton, Bruce and Baker’s faces are barely noticeable among the bright colors and patterns that capture the eye of the listener. The chaotic yet beautiful patterning is reminiscent of the counterculture philosophy that dominated rock and roll in the 1960’s, and listening to the album further takes one back in time to a decade that is more akin to what is happening in the world today than people might realize.
Right away the viewer is treated to “Strange Brew,” the opening song of the album. Clapton’s high pitched, almost eerie vocals along with his guitar riff that slaps the song on the second beat of every measure set the tone for the riff-based guitar work and psychedelic style vocals that dominate the sound of the album. Bruce’s bass playing is simple yet driving, while Baker’s drums are keep the beat driving without overtaking Clapton or Bruce. The blues pattern of the song gives it the rock and role feel, while Clapton’s vocals and guitar add the psychedelic layer on top. “Sunshine Of Your Love” further sees Clapton introducing riffs into the album (and one of the most recognizable riffs ever into the world), and further exploring the blues pattern that he would eventually master. “Take It Back” is yet another song based in the blues, and is the most fast paced song of the album that shows a level of versatility from the musicians. “Outside Woman Blues” is, you guess it, another blues track, and Clapton introduces another recognizable riff that remains relevant in rock lore.
Of course, Disraeli Gears does much more than see Clapton playing smooth guitar riffs and sing with a psychedelic flare. The ideas of freedom, desire and nature are highlighted across the album, and are a reflection of the time period in which it was conceived. “Dance The Night Away” sees Clapton singing about building himself a castle high in the clouds in which to retreat, as well as sailing into the ocean to be with the water and the fish. His desire to “dance the night away” simply sees Clapton embracing his true desires, a philosophy that is very reflective of 1960’s hippie culture. “Tales Of Brave Ulysses” is a wondrous and imaginative song lyrically, while Clapton plays another extremely recognizable guitar riff throughout the song. Clapton’s lyrics that emphasize nature and beauty again push feelings of love and freedom toward the listener. The album is chock full of natural symbolism, messages of pursuing one’s desires, and ideas of beauty existing in everyday life, and all of these ideas are direct representations of the counterculture in which Cream lived in and helped make popular among the masses.
The ideas and philosophies in the album, while taken from a decade fifty years ago, are actually arguably more relevant now than they have been since they were conceived in the 1960’s. This past year has seen a rise of social unrest, a divided and seemingly broken political system, and a global pandemic. The lack of leadership and stability at the level of the national government breeds thoughts of uncertainty and fear among the people whom the government is supposed to serve, so what are people supposed to believe when the government can’t even be trusted? It is albums like Dirsaeli Gears that can help provide people with possible solutions during times of uncertainty; a song like “Strange Brew” might remind some listeners to let go of their past ideas of what they believe conventional wisdom to be. “Dance The Night Away” might convince some listeners that rather than becoming overly obsessed with the outcomes of political races or the stock market, they have the option to let go and simply live one’s life in the pursuit of their own happiness. “We’re Going Wrong” might give some people the realization that the truth is right in front of their faces through their family or community, and not in the mouth of some politician or talking head on the TV. These ideas aren’t all the most noble or the best for everybody, but they are definitely reflections of the way some people may be thinking in the midst of the craziness that has been 2020. Luckily for those of us that are too young to know anything else, we have albums from 1967, a similarly uncertain time, that reflect some of the ideas that the youth of the day believed in then. And while we don’t have to listen to Disraeli Gears and proceed to adopt our lives after the words of the album, albums like this do provide listeners, young and old, with a glimpse of how people viewed the world fifty years ago, and how some of those ideas can still be used today.
Disraeli Gears is mystical, psychedelic and groovy, without it being a musical triumph or a masterful display of band chemistry. Unrestrained lyrics, deliberately imperfect singing, driving guitar riffs, melodic bass lines and subtle drumming all comprise the sound characteristics of the album. There are certainly flashes of musical brilliance and a band chemistry, but it is the reflection of the culture that makes this album so memorable. Any listener in any time can listen to this album and instantly be transmitted back in time to the 1960’s, because not just the sounds, but also the ideas in this album are a direct reflection of the time period from which it was created. Simply put, few albums are able to embody their time period quite like Disraeli Gears.
Listen to Cream’s Disraeli Gears below: