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Music

Revisiting Cream's punchy psychedelic masterpiece 'Disraeli Gears'

Cream‘s sophomore studio album, Disraeli Gears, is an undisputed classic. Widely hailed as one sonic embodiment of the point where rock music shed its overt blues skin – and via drug experimentation and the influence of the counterculture – it became psychedelic rock. It is an essential point in the development of alternative music. Of course, the blues still existed, but it was augmented, and all the better for it.

Released on November 1st, 1967, the album was a hit. It featured some of the British supergroup’s best-beloved tracks, including ‘Strange Brew’ and ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’. One can only imagine what it would have been like to have heard the record when it was first released.

In many ways, 1967 was the year of all things psychedelic. That summer, the momentous ‘Summer of Love’ had occurred, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience released Are You Experienced, the same months The Beatles released their career-defining Sgt. Pepper’s.

1967 was the year where music truly cast off the past, and via the hope of the counterculture, it was going through a metamorphosis and one that would change the face of alternative rock forever. Whilst not the definitive record of the year, Disraeli Gears was undoubtedly up there. It saw Cream build on the experimental style they had laid out on 1966’s Fresh Cream and truly cement themselves as one of the most important and iconic bands of all time.

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Hailed as the first true supergroup, Disraeli Gears confirmed this very notion. Each member, Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker, were all virtuosos in their own right, and by way of their commitment to progression they had vis-a-vis their respective instruments, they created something esoteric and alluring. It is telling that when one thinks of psychedelic rock bands, they think of Cream rather than The Beatles or Jefferson Airplane.

Cream captured all the essential hallmarks of psychedelia on Disraeli Gears, and that is why it has endured. Timeless, but very of its time, it’s like a sonic portal back to the heady days of the counterculture and the promise that permeated the air in 1967.

We know that the counterculture and hippie movement ended in disaster, but they didn’t realise that in 1967. Everything was yet to come. So in this sense, you could argue that Disraeli Gears is also a rather green album; Clapton had grown out his bouffant and was growing a moustache, showing his total allegiance to the movement that had soaked up the frustrations and hopes of the youth. 

We hear all three members deliver vocals on the record, and most notably, Ginger Baker is heard in his cockney accent singing on the album’s most blues driven track, the languid ‘Blue Condition’. Recorded at Atlantic Studios in New York, the sessions were produced by Felix Pappalardi, and it was actually he and his wife Gail Collins who co-wrote ‘Strange Brew’ with Clapton and ‘World of Pain’ solely as a duo. 

Famously, the psychedelic masterpiece ‘Tales of Brave Ulysses‘ was written by Clapton in tandem with Martin Sharp, the first of many collaborations between Sharp and the band. Featuring one of the first uses of the wah-wah pedal, when taken alongside Are You Experienced, you could also claim that 1967 was also the year of the wah-wah.

The album has no real downside, apart from the fact that, dynamically, the three were perhaps rather limited, you have to remember that this was 1967, and we’re looking back with the blessing of nearly 55 years worth of musical development. It’s catchy, Jack Bruce’s vocals and bass playing are unmatched, Clapton gives us some of his best moments on the guitar, and Ginger Baker was, well, Ginger Baker, a total rhythmic iconoclast.

‘SWLABR’, ‘We’re Going Wrong’, ‘Take It Back’, there are many moments of catchy thrills on the records and clocking in at just under 33 minutes, to fit in so many moments of pure genius, again showing that Cream were masters of songwriting.

They managed to be psychedelic but package it in a very traditional popular music setting; only ‘Sunshine of Your Love‘ goes over the four-minute mark. There was none of the overblown pomp that psychedelic music would become. This was psychedelia during its glorious spring, before ego, excess and the rest took a hold.

A classic, and a must-have in every record collection, Disraeli Gears is always worth your time. Listen to Disraeli Gears in full below.