Top 10 Eric Clapton Songs

When this article was suggested I jumped at the chance to write it. I am after all a huge Eric Clapton fan. After contemplating it a little though some fear and dread started to set in. What did I get myself into…? How do I sum up a career that spans over 50 years and by my count when you throw in all the guest recording work that he has done has appeared on well over 350 different recordings…? No matter what I do there are so many songs that are “classics” that someone is going to be upset that I left “Wonderful Tonight” off the list. This truly looks like an impossible task. This could be a top 25 list easily. With all that in mind, I tried to avoid covers of someone else’s songs. Which for a blues-based musician is difficult, since it ruled out amazing albums like “From the Cradle” or “Me and Mr. Johnson”. Trying to stick to songs where he had a key role in the writing of the song, which could have been just providing a truly memorable guitar solo for it, also ruled out classics like “I Shot the Sheriff”, “Cocaine”, “After Midnight”, “Crossroads,” and a lot more. I set myself a goal of songs that his contribution was paramount or critical to the song. And yes… I left “Wonderful Tonight” off the list.

Here are the Top 10 Eric Clapton songs.

10. “Bell Bottom Blues” – Derek and the Dominos (Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, 1970 & 24 nights, 1991)

Layla is a treasure trove of material written by Eric. In this case, Duane Allman had not yet joined the group when they recorded “Bell Bottom Blues.” A slow blues that paints a picture of a man who desperately wants to keep a relationship going. You can hear the anguish in his voice as he describes their fight. Bobby Whitlock who received a co-writing credit on this song 40 years later, claims that this was not written about Pattie as was the rest of the album. Eric started writing it well before they entered the studio. He claims that it was actually written about a girl that Eric met in France after recording Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album. While the version on Layla is good, Eric improved on the song when he added an orchestra during one of his residencies at the Royal Albert Hall.

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9. “Sunshine Of Your Love” – Cream – (Disraeli Gears, 1967)

There is a blues base to this song with some of the ’60s psychedelia mixed in. The story is that it started out based on a bass line by Jack Bruce after a trip to see Hendrix play in London. Later both Clapton and lyricist Peter Brown added to the song. The atypical tom-tom drumming for a rock song that emphasizes 1 and 3 instead of the typical 2 and 4 gives the song a unique groove. Eric even squeezes in a reference to the pop standard “Blue Moon” during his solo. The song really gets special though when the three members of the power trio play take it out for an extended drive live. When they all start soloing at the same time it is a mixture of chaos that only a couple of virtuoso musicians could pull off. For many, this is the track that took Eric from guitar hero to God.

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8. “Layla” – Derek and the Dominos – (Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs, 1970)

The wall of guitars from Clapton and Duane Alman hooks you right off the start with that riff and if that does not do it for you then the most heartfelt vocal performance in rock should seal the deal. Some of the best songs ever written deal with loss or heartbreak and unrequited love and this album is jam packed with them. At the time this album was recorded Eric was inspired by George Harrison’s wife, Pattie. Clapton was having an affair with her and was tormented because he was good friends with George. This album eventually sealed the deal and Eric ended up with Pattie. Clapton was all deep down the well of drug and alcohol addiction at the time, but he entered the studio and spilled his heart and guts all over the best songs of his career. “Layla” which is the centerpiece of this album and was inspired by the Arabic poem Layla and Manjun. Clapton felt it was a corollary to their situation. You see Layla and Manjun were forbidden to be together by their families much like Eric could not be with Pattie. Duane Allman provides some emotional almost crying slide work and Clapton whose impassioned singing and guitar playing have never been better does the rest.



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7. “Presence Of The Lord” – Blind Faith (Blind Faith, 1969)

We will slip another song inspired by Pattie Harrison in between songs from Layla. Clapton explained in the fascinating documentary, Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars (2017) that the song’s line “I have finally found a place to live” is about his love for Patty. After Cream fell apart Clapton teamed up with Ginger Baker, Rich Grech and Steve Winwood for the short-lived Blind Faith. This is Clapton’s only contribution to the self titled album. With strong songs like “Had to Cry to Today” and “Sea of Joy” alongside it, it is hard to pick a standout song from the album. However, Presence of the Lord makes its case when it starts out with Winwood’s Soul/Gospel influenced signing over his R&B electric piano. At this point, it is nothing like Cream at all, and then suddenly at 2:20 during the bridge, Eric steps on the gas and his wah-wah pedal at the same time and reminds you that this was a rock group.

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6. “Easy Now” – (Eric Clapton, 1970)

You can make the argument that this could be the best song on this list if it was not criminally underrated at the time. From a song writing standpoint it very well might be the finest song Clapton has ever written. Music historian Marc Roberty describes it as “a very underrated love song” that he finds “far more sincere” than Clapton’s more famous love song “Wonderful Tonight.” This song is proof that it does not have to rock to be a great song.

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5. “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” – Derek And The Dominos (Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs, 1970)

The album is full of songs about heartbreak and unrequited love after all Clapton was having an affair with Harrison’s wife Pattie and was tormented because he was good friends with George. The tempo of the first half of the song makes it clear that this is not some sad song about lost love. This song is filled with lots of frenzied guitar solos; the best of them is probably the 45 second stretch only 1:15 into the song. Combine that with Duane’s counter points and it is a simply wonderful rollicking song.

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4. “Got to Get Better in A Little While” – Derek And The Dominos – (In Concert, 1973)

Again, we are going to go back to the well that is probably one of Eric’s most creative periods. The song was played live in concert and then was recorded in the studio after the release of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs for the planned release of a second Derek and the Dominos studio album which never happened. Instead, the song first appeared in a live version on the 1973 live album In Concert. The studio version was not released until 1988 on Clapton’s career spanning Crossroads box set and even then, it was just an unfinished jam. Finally, in 2010 for the deluxe, 40th-anniversary edition of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs—Bobby Whitlock was asked to finally complete “Got to Get Better in a Little While” so it could be included on the expanded album.



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3. “Badge” – Cream – (Goodbye, 1969)

Rumor has it the song got its name from Eric misreading “bridge” upside down on L’Angelo Misterioso’s, who is actually George Harrison but credited as such because of contract issues, notebook while writing the song during a late-night songwriting/jam session. Unlike anything else in Cream’s catalog, there is clearly a lot of George’s influence on this song but when Eric lets the solo fly at the bridge it is simply amazing. This song is a study in a songwriter’s ability to build tension and then release it when Eric’s solo work breaks out during the bridge.

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2.The Core(Slowhand, 1977)

After a few commercial disappointments, 1977’s Slowhand with tracks like “Cocaine” and “Wonderful Tonight” was a bit of a comeback album for Clapton. The highlight of the album though is a hidden gem of an almost-nine-minute-long duet with Marcy Levy. With its killer riff it could have easily been single if they could have edited it down. There is even a rare appearance of a sax solo by Mel Collins. This song helped everyone at the time remember Eric’s guitar hero chops with probably the best solo in a long time after the laid-back 70s work.



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1.While My Guitar Gently Weeps– Beatles – (White Album, 1968)

Eric and George Harrison wrote a lot of material together and while he might not have an official credit on this track his contribution of the lead guitar work for it made it into a monumental track for the Beatles. Legend has it that frustrated by his bandmate’s opinion of the song George invited Eric to stop by the studio and play. He then proceeded to overdub the lead work in one take. In order to lay down something that stunning he had to have participated in the development of the song with George previously. There is a point in the solo break where Eric’s use of vibrato literally makes his guitar sound like it is crying. Simply a stunning piece of work.

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Honorable Mentions….
“My Father’s Eyes” -(Unplugged, 1992)

“I Wanna Make Love to You”
B Side to Before You Accuse me – Later released on the Crossroads, 1988 box set.

27 thoughts on “Top 10 Eric Clapton Songs

  • September 2, 2020 at 2:04 pm
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    My coice is Sunshine of your love

    Reply
  • September 3, 2020 at 11:03 am
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    The idea of a “top ten” or “top twenty” or any ranking, really, is seductive but doomed. There really is no way to take the output of someone like Clapton and pick a few, let alone rank them. My own favorites would probably change from day to day. That said, I think that it might be easier to rank something more specific, like his top 5 solos, than just songs. In Clapton’s case, he did so much great work on “covers” – although something like “Crossroads” has been covered hundreds of times anyway and his version is very much his own thing. So by skipping the “covers,” you’re skipping the things that many would consider classic or even iconic Clapton. Like, er, Crossroads. Or Steppin’ Out.

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    • September 5, 2020 at 5:10 pm
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      Planning on doing a top Clapton covers list also. Had to limit it somehow or like you said it becomes a top 50 list for an artist like EC.

      Reply
  • September 3, 2020 at 12:34 pm
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    Let it Rain should be on the list.

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  • September 3, 2020 at 2:14 pm
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    I’m Comming Home may be the most underrated song that Clapton was associated with and should be on the list.

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    • September 5, 2020 at 6:29 pm
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      David,
      I’m Coming Home – Written by Winwood. Agreed great tune but not written by EC.

      Reply
  • September 3, 2020 at 3:32 pm
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    Pick something, anything, from John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. That’s all.

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    • September 5, 2020 at 5:34 pm
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      Gary – Agree awesome album and he totally smokes on it. However, I don’t think anything on there was written by EC pretty much all Mayall or cover tunes. Love ECs reference to the Beatles “Day Tripper” on the Ray Charles cover “What I Say”

      Reply
  • September 3, 2020 at 4:11 pm
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    “Let It Grow” is a masterpiece and shouldnhave been on list.

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  • September 3, 2020 at 5:32 pm
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    The best singer and guitarist to ever perform

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    • September 5, 2020 at 5:30 pm
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      Promises – Excellent song.

      Reply
  • September 3, 2020 at 6:38 pm
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    Crossroads, Let It Rain and All Your Love (Bluesbreakers) replace Easy Now, The Core and Got to Get Better, and White Room is neck and neck with Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad.

    Reply
  • September 3, 2020 at 7:00 pm
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    🌅🗽🌉💖🎇💖🎇💖🎇💖🎇💖🎇💖🎇💖🎁😘🎆🎐

    Reply
  • September 3, 2020 at 7:06 pm
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    I think there’s some unbelievable music he made, sandwiched between his break-out work with the Bluesbreakers and the big-hit wonder of Disraeli Gears/Sunshine of Your Love……when Eric and his two bandmates were still in the thrall of what they were accomplishing spontaneously in studio and, live. Fresh Cream, the first album….is just that—-fresh with their talent-laden energy and enthusiasm. Clapton isn’t the featured lead singer..but his guitar work is on a plane that defies description….still maintaining the raw edge of his electrifying blues from the Beano album era….but not yet having transcended the psychedelic trips they pursued in Tales of Brave Ulysses, etc., on the second album. I invite you to find the time when no one’s in the house, you’ve got your favorite smoke or a nice glass of preferred whisky….and crank your speakers as high as you can stand it….or alternatively, slip on some quality headphones for the ride ahead. This is Clapton ascending the mountain, a perch he has occupied for a long time!

    Reply
  • September 3, 2020 at 7:30 pm
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    If ever there was an artist for whom the phrase ‘diminishing returns’ applies so aptly it is Eric Clapton. And in the genre of blues/blues rock he is without a doubt an artist I would return to the least to play. Listening to his music growing up I thought he was creative, maybe not always exciting but at least someone who added something special to the songs he wrote and played. Sadly, as I’ve grown older I have found more exciting artists/albums that I will return to and enjoy. While my personal favourite is Bell Bottom Blues, I do agree with Tom M. above that much of his great(er) work was on covers and as seen by your list, collectives. As a solo artist he does little to enhance the reputation that was written on the walls.

    Reply
  • September 3, 2020 at 9:42 pm
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    Better songs on Disraeli Gears than Sunshine such as Deserted cities of The Heart, Tales of Brave Ullyses. Badge is over rated. Change the World was number 1 and should be on the list. The solo in Pretending was phenomenal. I Feel Free was incredible. Tears in Heaven NOT on the list?. Comon man.. You missed the boat…

    Reply
    • September 5, 2020 at 5:17 pm
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      Al,
      I agree all are great songs. However the list was songs written by EC so that rules out:
      “Deserted Cities of the Heart which was Jack Bruce and Brown
      “Change the World” was not written by EC it was written by Tommy Sims, Gordon Kennedy, and Wayne Kirkpatrick.
      “Pretending” was written by Jerry Lee Williams.
      “I Feel Free” was written by Jack Bruce.

      “Tales” though was EC and you can make the argument that it should have been considered. There is some awesome Wah-Wah work in there.

      Reply
  • September 4, 2020 at 3:12 am
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    “Crossroads” from Wheels of Fire is nowhere in this top 10???? Then the entire top ten is BOGUS!!

    Reply
    • September 5, 2020 at 6:01 pm
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      Val, Heavily modified Robert Johnson cover. Great tune though and look for it an the list of EC cover tunes.

      Reply
  • September 4, 2020 at 11:57 am
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    TEĹL THE TRUTH FROM DEREK AND THE DOMINOES, WHO I WAS LUCKY TO SEE AT THE FILLMORE EAST IN 1970

    Reply
    • September 5, 2020 at 5:41 pm
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      I totally envy you. I wish I was old enough to have seen them back then.

      Reply
  • September 4, 2020 at 12:45 pm
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    A personal list can never be divulged as a definitive truth, because it is too subjective!

    For example – you like his phase in the band Cream better, leaving out precious jewels from his solo career.

    Not that this is reprehensible and that the songs are not excellent, it just proves a personal taste of the author, totally individual, without any collective alignment.

    Another huge misconception (I consider it a brutal, very amateur mistake) of the author is to put a song written by George Harrison, in which Eric Clapton participated only as a guest, in the first place.

    Anyway, each one with its own predilections, but that it is very arrogant to publish a strictly personal list like “The ten best songs …”, as if it were a definitive universal record, when in reality, it works only as a curiosity for its admirers.

    Reply
    • September 5, 2020 at 5:22 pm
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      I expected that … I debated hard the inclusion of “While My Guitar gently Weeps”. I contend that there is no way that EC wasn’t involved in the writing on that song considering how strong their friendship was at the time. They wrote too many things together at that the time and there is very little that anyone other than the Beatles are credited for on their albums. I strongly believe that it was a similar situation to how George isn’t credited as himself on Badge. Legal contracts at the time really limited individuals abilities to cross pollinate at the time.

      I also agree that there is a TON of solo material that I didn’t include that he wrote. Promises, Bad Love, Old Love, Miss You, Pilgrim, I can keep going. Heck I’ll bet very few of the people reading this have ever heard “Lady of Verona” which he wrote also. Have to draw the line somewhere….

      And yes any top 10 list is totally the author’s opinion.

      Reply
  • September 5, 2020 at 5:55 pm
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    Wow – I’m surprised by the amount of reaction to this article. Please understand that it was focused on songs WRITTEN by EC and yes I contend that he was an unattributed writer of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Planning a top “covers” article also and I now expect that to be just as controversial. Yes it’s my opinion. Sorry if you don’t agree with it. I’m up for a healthy and friendly debate on the subject though.
    Something that we need more of in this day and age. 🙂

    Reply
  • September 6, 2020 at 2:00 pm
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    Impressive list! I never tire of EC. Let It Grow is in my top list. Clapton does something special as he brings his guitar to life on this. I could never understand why he doesn’t play this in concert, I’ve seen him many times. Don’t get me wrong, he does this in so many of his songs, but this song is really special for me.

    Off topic, I saw a comment by someone named Steve Murtha. Wondering if he’s my old friend.

    Reply
  • September 8, 2020 at 8:26 am
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    Why not a top 1000 ( and you Will shrot todo)

    Reply

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