Bruce, Baker, Clapton. Cream was the original power trio, setting a high bar for a band configuration that many of rock’s most important acts have adopted. With only bass, drums, and guitar, Cream unleashed copious amounts of sound, while blending blues, hard rock, and psychedelia into a sonic stew that expanded musical horizons for fellow artists and audiences alike. During their brief three-year run, the group combined the triad of prodigious talents into an act that felt equally adept at writing timeless originals as they did reinventing blues staples—in the process, introducing fans to the vast tradition that inspired their music.
Blues Rock Review examines Cream’s best 10 tracks.
10. “Cat’s Squirrel”
A frantic, instrumental adaptation of Doctor Ross’s gem, Cream substitutes the original lyrics for more volume. A few dirty electric guitar licks punctuate the second half of the band’s interpretation, but much of its forbearer’s mood remains. With a loose feel and a nifty unison guitar/harmonica riff, it serves as a testament to their ability to grasp and expand core blues principles.
9. “I’m So Glad”
This Skip James classic explodes with the deep, funky verve of Cream’s thick sound. Owing much to Jack Bruce’s throbbing bass and the haunting backing vocals, this version sounds as if it were one of the band’s original compositions. For good measure, Eric Clapton spices up James’s riff by throwing in his signature mini-licks.
8. “Outside Woman Blues”
A half-cover where Clapton takes the verse structure from Blind Joe Reynolds, but creates everything else, it features a crunchy intro and that famous “woman” guitar tone. Clapton could have called the song his own and few would have cared. Instead the band acknowledges the old along with the new, and in the process introduces a whole generation of rock fans to pre-war blues.
7. “Sunshine Of Your Love”
One of rock’s most iconic guitar riffs anchors this hard, psychedelic Cream tune. Setting the tone for perhaps their most colorful album, Bruce gets a chance to showcase his vocal talents while Clapton receives ample time to rip into a huge overdriven solo that begs to be listened to over and over. For as much as they covered other artists, this track repays the favor as one the band’s most imitated offerings.
6. “I Feel Free”
The a capella opening to this song has little to do with the overall tone of the rest of the track, or the rest of the Fresh Cream album. Listeners get a better idea of the band’s ethos when all three members abruptly pick up their instruments and proceed to wash over the mix with wave upon wave of sound. Whether it’s Bruce and Jack Baker’s throttling rhythm, or Clapton’s overdriven solo, the sound is inarguably heavy.
Robert Johnson’s legendary tune about meeting The Devil receives a thorough makeover while serving as arguably an entire generation’s largest entry point to the blues. Clapton’s interpretation of the main riff would be considered cliche if not for its enduring greatness. Ironically, Cream’s version has supplanted Johnson’s as the go-to option when covering the song.
Co-written by George Harrison, this Clapton number from Goodbye stands apart from the other selections on this list. More melodic than fiery, the track hews closer to post-Cream Clapton than earlier compositions often dominated by Bruce’s pen. Nevertheless, Bruce leads with an unforgettable bass line as the lyrics now wax poetic instead of scream psychedelic. “She cried away her life since she fell off the cradle…”
Near their peak of psychedelia in both lyrics and sound, Cream tears through this acronym of a track on the back of an oddly metered, unforgettable riff. Full-throttled from the opening guitar crunch to the unresolved ending note, the guitar sings while the drums crash, filling the song with an overflow of energy. It takes something a bit stronger than a cup of coffee to come up with the lyric, “got that rainbow feel, but the rainbow has a beard.”
2. “Tales Of Brave Ulysses”
Cream’s version of the Homeric tale of a lost warrior serves as one of the earliest examples of a rock group transforming poetry into song. Colorful in both lyrics and sound, the ode does justice to the cover art of Disraeli Gears as arguably its pinnacle moment. The drastic loud/quiet dynamic that alternates with each verse, and one of the earliest uses of a wah-wah pedal create a surreal mood. For bands looking to paint a true sonic picture, “Tales Of Brave Ulysses” still provides a worthy blueprint.
1. “White Room”
Cream’s best lyrics (Pete Brown) and best melody (Bruce) appear together on Wheels of Fire’s “White Room.” The individual instrumental performances, song structure, and strident rock-god attitude all hit nearly perfect levels. Odd pauses filled with haunting vocalizations give way to wah-wahed guitar solos, all sandwiched between powerful vocals and obscure lyrics. One of rock’s true masterpieces from one of rock’s greatest bands.