Top 10 Eric Clapton Songs
Eric Clapton boasts one of the most storied discographies in rock ‘n’ roll. He got his start in 1963 with the Yardbirds, playing ramped-up versions of American blues and R&B songs. Within two years, he was gone, gigging with British bluesman John Mayall in his band. It was the start of a lifelong pattern for the guitarist: Before the ’60s were over, he had done time in Cream, Blind Faith and Delaney and Bonnie and Friends (as well as played a searing solo on pal George Harrison‘s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” from the Beatles‘ White Album). He kicked off the ’70s by forming Derek and the Dominos and then properly launching a solo career that’s served as his main vehicle for 40 years. He’s played on tons of great songs, as you’ll see in our list of the Top 10 Eric Clapton Songs.
The opening song on Clapton’s second solo album — and a No. 1 LP, thanks to the hit single “I Shot the Sheriff” (see No. 6 on our list of the Top 10 Eric Clapton Songs) — is a cover of a traditional gospel tune that includes recorded versions dating back to the ’20s. Clapton turbocharges the arrangement and soars through it with one his feistiest slide solos.
Co-written by George Harrison, one of Cream’s last songs (and the shortest on their self-indulgent final LP) was shaped by Clapton’s friendship with the Beatle. The guitar parts, especially the bridge, recall Harrison’s style at the time (check out his work on Abbey Road for proof), but the ripping solo is 100 percent pure Clapton.
For the most part, Clapton’s solo work isn’t nearly as interesting as the material he collaborated on with other musicians. Slowhand is one of the few exceptions, a terrific solo album with memorable songs and some terrific fretwork. “Cocaine,” a cover of a song written by contemporary bluesman J.J. Cale, gets it all started.
Duane Allman hadn’t yet joined Derek and the Dominos when they recorded “Bell Bottom Blues,” so the song doesn’t reach the same epic heights as several others (see Nos. 1 and 4 on our list of the Top 10 Eric Clapton Songs). But Clapton makes up for Allman’s absence by tearing through one of his most eloquent solos. He’s also in fine vocal form on the song, as he is throughout the entire album.
‘I Shot the Sheriff’
Bob Marley’s original version of “I Shot the Sheriff” was a year old when Clapton recorded a cover for his second solo album in 1974. Clapton’s only No. 1 song is more laid-back funk than reggae, but he adapts to the groove, riding a casual vocal wave that occasionally echoes Marley’s lilting drawl. The song itself takes precedent over guitar heroics this time.
Bassist Jack Bruce sings one of Cream’s most popular songs, but it’s Clapton’s positively brutal guitar solo that makes it a classic. A combination of distortion, wah-wah and mind-bendingly awesome fret-based pyrotechnics, Clapton’s guitar sings the song better than Bruce, with his occasionally mannered phrasing.
Clapton’s take on Jimi Hendrix‘s ballad “Little Wing,” from Derek and the Dominos’ only studio album, remains one of rock’s all-time best cover songs. Clapton retains the song’s plaintive tone, but sparks a stinging riff and solo (with some help from Duane Allman) that take the song to a completely new place.
‘Sunshine of Your Love’
Like “White Room’ “see No. 5 on our list of the Top 10 Eric Clapton Songs), Cream’s biggest single is sung by bass player Jack Bruce. But the killer riff belongs to Clapton, who checks in with one of the warmest solos of his career. After “Sunshine of Your Love,” Clapton went from guitar hero to god.
There are many versions of Clapton performing legendary bluesman Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads”(he even named his excellent 1988 career-spanning box set after the song), but the definite one comes from the live half of Cream’s Wheels of Fire album. It’s short, fat-free and a powerful testament to Clapton’s dedication to the blues over the years.
Clapton was in a pretty mess-up place after Cream broke up and his follow-up project Blind Faith busted out after only one album. His drug and alcohol use were nearing critical levels, and his friend George Harrison was married to the woman he not-so-secretly loved. So Clapton went into the studio and spilled his heart and guts all over the best songs of his career. “Layla” is the centerpiece of the album, an epic love song that culminates in one of the loveliest instrumental pieces ever recorded. Duane Allman provides the weeping slide, Clapton — whose singing and guitar playing have never been better — does the rest.