Top 10 Cream Songs
By the time Eric Clapton formed Cream in 1966 with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, he had already logged high-profile gigs with the Yardbirds and British bluesman John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. But his new power trio was bigger, louder and way more popular than either earlier gig. He scored his first No. 1 and first platinum-selling LPs with Cream. Though they released only four albums during their short two-year existence, those records serve as solid cornerstones to blues- and psychedelic-inspired rock of the ’60s. Our list of the Top 10 Cream Songs spotlights their very best.
‘Born Under a Bad Sign’
Albert King’s original version of ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’ was barely a year old when Cream covered it for ‘Wheels of Fire,’ their third album, a double LP that featured half-studio and half-live recordings. ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’ comes from the studio part. Cream deliver a pretty straightforward cover, but Clapton’s searing guitar lines — like so many found on our list of the Top 10 Cream Songs — mix flash and economy.
Howlin’ Wolf’s original version of this blues classic from 1960 is one of his most sinister songs. Cream’s cover from their debut album loses none of the menace. Like their takes on other blues classics found on our list of the Top 10 Cream Songs, their version of ‘Spoonful’ remains pretty faithful to the original. Also check out the 16-minute live version from ‘Wheels of Fire’ to hear Cream at their most epic.
‘I’m So Glad’
Half of the songs on Cream’s debut album are old blues cuts, including this number originally recorded by Skip James in 1931. Deep Purple also recorded a version of ‘I’m So Glad,’ and Cream revisited the song in a live performance on their final album, 1969’s ‘Goodbye.’ The spare, tight take found on ‘Fresh Cream’ remains rock’s definitive version.
‘Tales of Brave Ulysses’
Like many songs from the era, ‘Tales of Brave Ulysses’ was probably created under the spell of a couple of bong hits. The song’s goofy pretentious lyrics are based on Homer’s ‘Odyssey,’ and Bruce delivers them somewhere between wide-eyed earnestness and winking melodrama. But it’s Clapton’s guitar lines, played through a newly acquired wah-wah pedal, that seal the song’s timelessness.
The first single from Cream’s second album (and the first to hit the Top 10) also serves as ‘Disraeli Gears” opening cut. Unlike most of the tracks on our list of the Top 10 Cream Songs, Clapton sings lead on ‘Strange Brew’ instead of Bruce. It’s a perfect intro to the psychedelic shadings that color Cream’s most dynamic album.
‘I Feel Free’
‘I Feel Free’ kicked off the U.S. version of Cream’s debut album, ‘Fresh Cream.’ In their native England, the song was their second single and their first to reach the Top 15. It works both ways, with its bouncy pop-like refrain yielding to a buzzing Clapton guitar solo that takes blooming psychedelia for a bluesy spin.
Blues legend Robert Johnson recorded the original version of ‘Crossroads’ way back in 1936. But after Cream’s electrified reworking of the song started showing up in their set lists (and as a live cut on their third album, ‘Wheels of Fire’), it became one of their most popular cuts and Clapton’s signature tune.
Clapton co-wrote ‘Badge’ with his pal George Harrison. And like on their earlier collaboration on the Beatles‘ ‘White Album,’ ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps,’ the pair swap guitar lines (though that’s Clapton on lead throughout). ‘Badge’ ended up being Cream’s last charting single, stopping at No. 60.
‘White Room’ was originally supposed to be on Cream’s second album, ‘Disraeli Gears,’ but record-company execs thought it sounded too much like ‘Tales of Brave Ulysses’ (see No. 6 on our list of the Top 10 Cream Songs), so it was held over for the studio half of ‘Wheels of Fire.’ It was released as the album’s lead single, reaching No. 6. Clapton’s wah-wah guitar once again delivers the knockout punch.
‘Sunshine of Your Love’
Before ‘Sunshine of Your Love,’ Cream were basically an album act. The handful of singles they released failed to even dent the charts in the U.S. And then ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ hit in late 1967, and everything changed. The song raced into the Top 10, reaching No. 5 and becoming the band’s biggest hit. But more than that, it anchors ‘Disraeli Gears,’ one of 1967’s milestone albums.