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Eric Clapton has always been one of my favorite artists. Although I do prefer his earlier works, there have been some great songs throughout his career. It has been a career sprinkled with heavy drug addiction, alcoholism, some controversy, and many different bands and groups, but it is also full of great music and guitar playing.
I thought it would be appropriate to do some sort of tribute to Eric Clapton today as today is his birthday, so I thought I would put together a list of ten underrated songs spanning his career as well as a little bit about why I like them. Some were singles and are pretty well known, while others might not be (at least be the casual fan). Overall the list doesn't contain any massive hits (no "Sunshine of Your Love" or "Layla") but each is one of my favorite songs that Eric Clapton has performed throughout his career.
"Old Love" Eric Clapton from Journeyman
As I said in my introduction, I'm a little more fond of Clapton's early work then his more recently albums. Out of all his works, I think the era I'm least likely to listen to is those albums from the 1980s. They just have too slick a quality for blues and too many 80s clichÃ©s like synthesizers and polished studio production. Still, 1989's Journeyman was one of the better albums from a songwriting perspective and it does include a great duet with another great blues man, Robert Cray, called "Old Love." This song is a nice slow bluesy ballad and sounds a bit closer to Cray's work the Clapton's in my opinion. Still, it is soulful and features some great guitar work from Cray and Clapton despite sounding slightly over processed.
"The Core" Eric Clapton from Slowhand
The Slowhand album as a whole has a bit more of a country feel than previously heard from Clapton and "The Core" does have a little of that flavor. It is a bit of a country styled stomp, with a recognizable guitar riff, and it fits in nicely with the subtler feel of Clapton's solo work (versus Cream etc). This song was co-written by Marcy Levy and I think her vocals are really what make this track great. The trade off between Levy and Clapton give the song a unique earthy feel. Where Clapton sounds more like one of the road weary blues men he idolized, Levy's vocals are fiery and soulful, making for a nice contrast. As I said, the song also has a great guitar riff and the guitar work on the solo is equally impressive.
"Got to Hurry" The Yardbirds from For Your Love
Although I am also a fan of the Yardbirds as a band without Eric Clapton, some great songs were made while he was in the band. The instrumental blues jam"Got to Hurry" was included on the album For Your Love, but (to my knowledge) features Eric Clapton on guitar despite the fact that he had already left the group at this point and his name appears nowhere on the album. This song is a great illustration of what all the hype was over Clapton's guitar work back in 1964. It is bluesy and fluid with a lot of grit (like all blues should have). Although it has no vocals, the song is still a good listen, and as I said, the guitar work is great. I always found it amazing that three great guitarists (Clapton, Beck and Page) all came out of the same group. This song is a good illustration of the first of the three, in my opinion.
"Mean Old World" Eric Clapton & Duane Allman from numerous albums the first Clapton album being the Crossroads (I think...)
Another duet with another great blues guitarist, "Mean Old World" was recorded during the "Layla Sessions" and features Duane Allman on slide guitar. This song has been released in two versions that I know of. The version I prefer is a simple acoustic blues duet, but there was also a full band version. The acoustic version is great as it is rough, raw, gritty and borders and sounding straight out of the era of Robert Johnson and Son House. Although not quite as intense as those blues masters, the track still features some soulful slide playing, and a very authentic blues feel. This is one of the first tracks to inspire me to seek out the original recordings of Son House and Robert Johnson because of how it hints at the realism and soul that makes those artists great. It is a great collaboration and a great take on the song, just go with the acoustic version that is on the Crossroads set, and the Blues compilation. (I think it also appeared on the Duane Allman Anthology, but I can't confirm which version was included).
"Double Crossing Time" John Mayall from Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton
A great slow blues track from what some might consider the album that changed guitar playing forever. Clapton's guitar work on the Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton album has become the stuff of legends because of his use of the Les Paul with its overdriven blues sound. The album as a whole is an amazing piece of blues/rock history but I'm particular fond of this track: "Double Crossing Time." First, it is one of the tracks co-written by Clapton, and second, it features some great soulful and raw guitar work. This album is known for establishing Clapton as a guitar hero, and this track is a good example of why. His raw talent and influence from players like B.B. King and Buddy Guy is evident on this track. It is just a great little blues jam.
"Why Does Love Have to be So Sad" Derek and the Dominos from Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
This is another legendary album that seems to get mixed reviews (I think it's great and I even wrote a Rock 'n' Roll Feature column about it, others seem to think it is more disappointing). Known both for the collaboration of Clapton with Duane Allman and producing the huge hit "Layla", there are also a number of other great tracks off this album. "Why Does Love Have to be So Sad" is an upbeat rocker with some great guitar soloing. Although lyrically it might fall short at times, the dual guitar solo and the intensity of the song itself make it great. I can imagine this song being a show stopper during the short time the band played live as it just has that rock 'n' roll quality with high speed guitar work. Towards the end it slows to a leisurely pace with almost the same feel found at the end of "Layla." I guess I can understand how some people aren't fans of this album (I can understand how some people are or are not fans of anything) but I'll guess we'll have to agree to disagree because I think it is a classic and this track is one of the highlights.
"I Feel Free" Cream from Fresh Cream
Although this might sound strange to other Cream fans, this is my absolute favorite Cream song. Don't get me wrong, they made a lot of great music i(and I love all of it) but there is something about this song that just rings true to me. Starting with an mellow introduction, it has a catchy pop verse before launching into a chorus with a bit of a psychedelic feel. The song had has some strange lyrics (like a lot of Cream songs), but what really makes it great though, is the solo. It is a simple series of riffs based in blues and starting with a mellow sound that builds over the pulsing background music in a pattern. Then Clapton switches pickups (or rolls up the tone control) and just lets the guitar scream. That change in the sound quality of the guitar is so perfectly timed that the simple riff that he plays just bursts forth with excitement and really adds a lot of to an otherwise fun, but simple song. Great guitarists have a way of adding just that perfect little something to the song to put it over the edge and I think the solo in "I Feel Free" is a great example of that. It isn't an overly complex solo, just perfectly crafted for the song.
"Presence of the Lord" Blind Faith from Blind Faith
The very short lived super group Bind Faith can be one of the more overlooked parts of Clapton's career by the more casual listener, but despite their short existance, this band did produce some great tracks, including one of my favorites. "Presence of the Lord" starts as a slow ballad with hints of blues, R & B and soul before exploding with an awesome guitar riff and a screaming solo. It then pulls back into its original feel again to conclude the song. I love this song for its guitar riff. It is completely unexpected and puts the song in an entirely new context that is not only soulful, but pretty rockin' as well. The second half of the song is also emphasized by some subtle, soulful guitar work. Personally, I think the studio version of this was good, but if you can find a live version like appeared on the Crossroads II box set, it is far better. Clapton stretches out the middle section live and slows down the beginning and end making the buildup to that rock and roll freak out in the middle all the better.
"Motherless Children" Eric Clapton from 461 Ocean Boulevard
I must say that if I was going to pick only a single album of Clapton's solo career to have in my collection (which I probably would never do) I'd go with 461 Ocean Boulevard. It also features one of my favorite Clapton songs of all time: "Motherless Children." Based in a traditional number, Clapton's take on the song is soulful but subtle with a lot of earthiness and a rough feel. It hints at the more country style that would follow on albums like Slowhand, but doesn't sound twangy. Instead it sounds more like earthy delta blues gone electric. It also features a great slide guitar riff and a blues stomp beat that encourages more than a little toe tapping. Although this album is an interesting addition to Clapton's catalog (he was trying to downplay his image of a guitar hero and make it more about melody, so there is not a lot of extended soloing) this song, the opener, is a great inclusion and a great rock 'n' roll song in general.
"Let it Rain" Eric Clapton from Eric Clapton
I think this along with "Motherless Children" might be my favorite songs Clapton did, after the huge hits of course. "Let it Rain" is an upbeat, hand clapping, rock/pop song that is lighthearted, but soulful. With a catchy riff and some catchy lyrics that definitely would encourage audiences to participate, it is a song that just stuck with me from the first listen both musically and lyrically. There is also some nice extended soloing. The album version is great but once again (as with a lot of Clapton's work) if you can find a live version it is probably better. Personally, I am fond of the version that appeared on the second disk of the deluxe re-release version of 461 Ocean Boulevard (and probably elsewhere) because at this live show from around 1974 the soulful wailing in the background of the chorus is absolutely spine tingling. Great album song, great live song.
I don't think anyone can really disagree that Eric Clapton has had quite an impact on modern music in a lot of different ways. His music has definitely had a significantly impact on me. He seems to be one of those artists that will always have fans, both casual and die hard. Everyone knows of the classic songs he was a part of during the 60s and 70s, songs like "Layla" and "Sunshine of your Love", but his work is so diverse from band to band and even from album to album, that there are a lot of songs that might get lost in the shuffle. I've listened to most of his work, and it can be hard to keep track of everything.
Although, not everyone is a Clapton fan, and even Clapton fans have different favorites, I think the songs I've mentioned above are worth checking out both by fans and casual listeners. There are lots of songs I might have left out I'm sure, but these ten are some of my favorites and each stuck with me the first time I heard them.
Maybe by seeing some of my favorite songs from Clapton's career you might find a new favorite Clapton song yourself.