Eric Patrick Clapton (1945- Present) is arguably one of the greatest musicians of all time. A marvelous composer and an almighty guitarist, his career and achievements are rivaled by few. In addition to having been a member of legendary blues rock acts such as The Yardbirds, Cream and Derek And The Dominos, the English musician enjoyed a successful solo career, where he evolved from a pure blues guitar virtuoso into a full-blown rockstar by releasing mega-hits such as “I Shot The Sheriff”, “Wonderful Tonight” and “Tears In Heaven” and exploring new musical genres such as pop, soul and jazz. With an aura as enormous as his guitar tone, Clapton cemented his status as a pop culture icon and helped popularize the blues across the globe.
To pay tribute to such an amazing musical legacy and to, perhaps, be a sort of point of entry to new listeners, Blues Rock Review lists Clapton’s top 10 albums. Before we move any further, though, some information is necessary. First, due to the nature of this publication, the list is focused on his blues-infused rock material. This means that his adult contemporary and synth-heavy, pop albums are left out. For example, as much as I enjoy August and Pilgrim, it is clear that they would be out of place here. Second, it’s also important to state that our list focuses only on his solo releases (excluding compilations). So, his works with the various (incredible) bands he was part of are not included. Take this into consideration before you feel tempted to comment asking why we left Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs out, for example.
Without further ado, let us begin:
10. Riding With The King (With BB King)
Released in 2000, The Grammy Award-winning (For Best Traditional Blues Album) Riding With The King brings together two of the greatest blues guitarists of all time. In the record (produced and curated by Clapton), the legendary duo revisits some blues standards with sheer passion and fiery intensity. While trading licks and harmonizing vocals, They exude chemistry and passion for the music. The work also features the participation of an all-star backing band, including Doyle Bramhall II. Highlights include the pulsating blues rocker “Riding With the King”, the acoustic, evocative piece “Key To The Highway” and the sensational soul-blues cut “Come Rain Or Come Shine”.
9. I Still Do
Released in 2016, I Still Do has Clapton weaving the flag of blues rock one more time. As the title indicates, the album functions as a testament to Clapton’s longevity and undying passion. Featuring fierce guitar playing and excellent vocals, the record presents intimate slow-blues numbers, funky grooves and forceful blues rockers. Besides, the sensational and delicate piece “I Will Be There” includes the participation of Eddie Sheeran, credited under the pseudonym Angelo Mysterioso. For further analysis, read the album review here.
8. Money And Cigarettes
Released in 1983, Money And Cigarettes is sometimes overlooked in Clapton’s extensive catalog due to, perhaps, having been released in a transitional period in his career. Nevertheless, the record is as entertaining as can be. Filled with amazing rootsy rockers as well as some energy-filled, pop-blues jams, the album, as song-focused as it is, still has Clapton firing away notes of unconcealed blues energy, especially in tracks like the sharp number “The Shape You’re In” and the phenomenal Albert King cover “Crosscut Saw”.
7. Me and Mr. Johnson
Released in 2004, Me and Mr. Johnson is a tribute to Clapton’s long-time musical hero and champion of pre-war delta blues, Robert Johnson. Originating from the Mississippi Delta, Johnson is widely regarded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time and has influenced the playing of pretty much every blues musician that followed. This excellent album is a celebration of this legacy and has Clapton and his band adding an enthusiastic, electrifying facet to Jonhson’s mostly somber material, especially in tracks such as “They Are Red Hot” and “If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day”. In spite of that, the album still includes some haunting pieces, like the take on “Me And The Devil Blues” with its tormented vocal delivery.
6. 461 Ocean Boulevard
Released in 1974, 461 Ocean Boulevard showcases Clapton wandering into pop and reggae territories but still maintaining his bluesy roots. Catapulted by the massive hit “I Shot The Sheriff” (A cover of Bob Marley’s classic anti-authority reggae tune) the album enjoyed critical and commercial success and demonstrated, once again, that Clapton could restrain his guitar pyrotechnics and still be (very) relevant. The album also includes some flaming, powerful covers of blues standards like “Motherless Children” (Blind Willie Johnson) and “Steady Rollin’ Man” (Robert Johnson).
5. E.C Was Here
Recorded live in 1974 and 1975 at various venues in the United States and England and released in 1975, E.C Was Here presents powerful renditions of songs like “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” and “Ramblin’ On My Mind”. Although comprised of only six tracks, the album is 46 minutes long thanks to its extended guitar solos. In other words, the record is a serious axfest as Clapton unleashes the full rampaging power of his Gibson guitar and plays some of the best leads in his career. A must-listen for any blues guitar fan.
4. Eric Clapton
Released in 1970, Eric Clapton is the first solo album of the famed English six-string picker. After Clapton achieved guitar-god status thanks to his Yardbirds, Bluesbreakers and Cream years, he decided to explore music beyond incandescent guitar fireworks. This record, as a result, is more song-oriented and succinct, even though it still contains some great lead guitar work. With influences of pop, jazz and funk, it features amazing tracks like the funky and horn-heavy “Bad Boy”, the sped-up blues rocker “After Midnight”(a JJ Cale cover) and the country-ish pop number “Let It Rain”.
Released in 1992, Unplugged is Eric Clapton’s most successful and well-known album. Recorded live at Bray Film Studios (Windsor, England) for the MTV Unplugged series, the album presents acoustic, laid-back renditions of some blues classics as well as some of Clapton’s own compositions. It includes a touching, heartfelt version of “Tears In Heaven”, an elegant take on the blues standard “Nobody Knows You When You Are Down And Out” and an absolutely stunning, pop-blues version of Derek and the Domino’s “Layla”. Leaving aside Clapton’s power-packed electric guitar sound, the album successfully highlights the guitarist’s more subtle features.
2. From The Cradle
Released in 1994, From The Cradle is Clapton’s first album comprised entirely of blues material. Winner of The Grammy Award For Best Traditional Blues Album, the record has Clapton covering some of the blues’ greatest standards with both precise technique and relentless enthusiasm. Full of fabulous guitar solos and marked by an authoritative vocal performance, Clapton’s execution adds a modern, punchy element to the source material while still managing to be faithful. This can be measured in tracks like the robust blues rocker “Blues Before Sunrise”, the piano-driven, vocal masterwork “Sinner’s Prayer” and the thrilling, immense slow-blues cut “Groaning The Blues”.
Released in 1977, Slowhand is plausibly Eric Clapton’s finest work. The album, named after Clapton’s nickname from The Yardbirds era, enjoyed stupendous critical and commercial success thanks to the acclaim of its first three songs: the sturdy power-rocker “Cocaine”, the soft love-ballad “Wonderful Tonight” and the rootsy, country-pop cut “Lay Down Sally”. These wonderful numbers alone would be enough to lift the record to legendary status, but there’s more. The album also includes the epic rocker (a duet with talented singer Marcy Levy) “The Core” with its huge guitar riffs and horn-section, the mid-tempo blues rock stomp “Mean Old Frisco” and the elegant instrumental number “Peaches and Diesel”.