Disraeli Gears: The Cream of the Crop of Psychedelic Blues
Though it may have just celebrated its forty-eighth birthday, Cream’s Disraeli Gears remains one of the seminal albums of the early months of the counterculture “hippie” movement of the 1960s. What’s more, this album had an enormous influence on psychedelic music – psychedelic blues, to be specific. The album was the American breakthrough release for Cream, a group of three British virtuoso musicians, and added further to the hefty bulk of talented British bands then invading the country. The skillful mixing of bluesy playing and psychedelic lyrics and vocals influenced a whole generation of musicians in ways that are mostly forgotten by ours. Blues never fails to be a fun genre to listen to, as a trained ear can always pick up on an artist’s influences, whether they be Delta blues singers from the 1930s or blues rock groups from the 1960s and 70s. The album’s opening track, “Strange Brew”, features a simple but fun solo from guitarist Eric Clapton – which sounds almost as if it’s been played by Albert King, the legendary blues guitarist. The album’s second track (“Sunshine of Your Love”), probably the band’s most famous song, features distinct pop rock influences and showcases some of the band’s unique sounds: Jack Bruce’s soaring vocals, Ginger Baker’s innovative drumming style, and the classic virtuosic guitar playing of Clapton.
The album really is one great song after another, from the melancholic “World of Pain” and “Blue Condition” to the drug-soaked lyrics of “SWLABR” and the magical “Tales of Brave Ulysses.” The blues tunes “Outside Woman Blues” and “Take It Back”, tinged with semi-comical lyrics, show the group’s blues inspirations better than a few of the album’s earlier tracks.
The last song on the album, “Mother’s Lament”, is easily the funniest and also the album’s strangest track. The song tells the story of an impoverished mother bathing her son in in the bathtub; when she reaches around to grab a bar of soap, her son disappears; when she inquires as to where he’s gone, “the angels reply” that, due to his emaciated state, he has “gone down the plug-hole”. Though it may seem grim and macabre in writing, it’s pretty humorous and fun to listen to. This surreal track adds strongly to the unique character of the album and – at least for me – makes it a lot more memorable.
Disraeli Gears was the last great break-out album during the British invasion of the 60s ( excluding Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin I), proving it had both the appeal and the technical innovation of many other great albums of that decade.
If you ask any person who lived during the era for the most important albums of the 1960s, not many people would forget Disraeli Gears, and many of them would rank it near the top of the list – and for good reason. And the pure psychedelic cover artwork – which is even more fantastic in person (I own a vinyl pressing) – seems to perfectly embody the spirit and emotions of both the album and the times.
Image credit: amazon.com