Cream released their second studio album ‘Disraeli Gears’ on 2nd November 1967. Although they didn’t completely abandon their blues roots, the trio chose to take a more experimental direction after their debut record, issued the year before. Working during the peak of the psychedelic era, they embraced this popular contemporary trend and created one of its most remarkable masterpieces.
The band formed in London after guitarist Eric Clapton quit John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers in July 1966, and was asked by drummer Ginger Baker if he was interested in playing together. Baker had himself just left the Graham Bond Organisation, a jazz and rhythm and blues group. They then recruited bassist Jack Bruce as the third member on Clapton’s insistence, despite Baker’s initial opposition. Bruce had previously played in the Graham Bond Organisation with Baker, and the two were notorious for their frequent quarrels. Clapton had met Bruce when they were both in the Bluesbreakers, and wanted to play with him again because he admired his musical and vocal abilities.
The trio’s jazzy first album ‘Fresh Cream’, released in December 1966, already bears the mark of the musicians’ interest in psychedelia, with Clapton’s groovy solos and Bruce’s dreamy vocals. However, it took them another couple of months to mature as a band and create a more coherent sound.
Astonishingly, ‘Disraeli Gears’ was recorded in only five days, in New York’s Atlantic Studios. It was produced by Felix Pappalardi, who also co-wrote two of the songs: ‘Strange Brew’ and ‘World of Pain’.
The opening track and the album’s first single, ‘Strange Brew’, was at first intended to be a cover of Albert King’s ‘Lawdy Mama’. Although it became a different song in the end, Clapton still plays the original guitar solo, and he also sings on the track. The second single, ‘Sunshine of Your Love’, boasts one of the most recognizable riffs of the 60s. It’s consistently featured on lists of the greatest songs of all time, and is considered an important precursor to heavy metal.
Other highlights from the record are the almost otherworldly psychedelic track ‘Tales of Brave Ulysses’ and the early hard rock composition ‘SWABLR’, whose title stands for “She Walks Like a Bearded Rainbow”. The lyrics for these two songs were written by poets Martin Sharp and Pete Brown, respectively. Sharp was also a painter and cartoonist, and he famously created the iconic cover art for ‘Disraeli Gears’.
The LP’s title is based on the misusage of a word by roadie Mick Turner. When Clapton was talking to Baker about buying a racing bicycle, Taylor commented that he liked the ones that had “Disraeli gears”, meaning to say “derailleur gears”, and accidentally replacing the French word with the name of the 19th century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Clapton and Baker found this mistake so hilarious that they instantly decided it had to be the title of their next record.
Following its release, ‘Disraeli Gears’ peaked at number five on the UK Albums Chart and number four on the Billboard 200 chart. It reached the top of the Australian album chart and the American end-of-year Cash Box chart. Nevertheless, its critical acclaim has only grown since the 60s: in 2001, VH1 ranked it 87th on its list of all-time best albums, and in 2003, Rolling Stone magazine included it as 114th on its “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list. The record was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999, and it was remastered and reissued as a two-disc deluxe edition in 2004.
The double album ‘Wheels of Fire’, released in 1968, became Cream’s most commercially successful LP, having reached number one in the United States and number three in the United Kingdom. The band issued their fourth and final studio record, aptly titled ‘Goodbye’, in 1969. They broke up after a farewell tour the same year, due to the creative tension and constant rivalry between Bruce and Baker. Out of the three of them, Clapton has had the most successful career after Cream, but Bruce and Baker are also recognised as two of the greatest rock musicians. Bruce passed away in 2014, at the age of 71.