If you think Ella Fitzgerald was just a jazz singer, think again. Here, you’ll find a rare recording of Ella singing one of the biggest hits of the summer of love, Cream’s ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’. Taken from her 1969 album of the same name, this cover is an example of the titans of the jazz age attempting to reimagine their act in light of the rock ‘n’ roll age. Miles Davis did it with Bitches Brew, but Fitzgerald’s attempt is perhaps a little less exploratory. Indeed, aside from the presence of the Tommy Flanagan Trio, Ella rarely diverts from the original Cream recording. Still, it’s an undoubtedly mesmerising rendition.
Originally released on Cream’s Disraeli Gears ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ is a collaboration between Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and a beat poet called Pete Brown, who was a friend of drummer Ginger Baker. The story goes that Brown wrote the iconic opening line after being up all night working with Bruce. Speaking to Songfacts, he said: “We had been working all night and had gotten some stuff done. We had very little time to write for Cream, but we happened to have some spare time and Jack came up with the riff. He was playing a stand-up – he still had his stand-up bass, because he’d been a jazz musician. He was playing stand-up bass, and he said, ‘What about this then?’ and played the famous riff. I looked out the window and wrote down, ‘It’s getting near dawn.’ That’s how it happened. It’s actually all true, really, all real stuff.”
On release, ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ quickly became Cream’s biggest hit to date, helping the group to break America. After the album came out in ’67, the track soared to number five, bringing Cream’s music to new audiences. Soon some of the biggest names in music were performing the track live. Hendrix, who had actually inspired the song’s bassline, gave an impromptu performance of this track on the BBC TV show Lulu. Fitzgerald’s jazz rework of the single might seem a little outlandish, but Clapton’s guitar solo is actually based on the ’50s jazz standard ‘Blue Moon’. Ginger Baker, the group’s unruly drummer, was also raised on the music of British jazz drummers. Perhaps Ella understood that rock ‘n’ roll and jazz had more in common than was immediately apparent.
This cover is taken from one of the most diverse recordings Fitzgerald ever made. While the B-side of Sunshine Of Your Love features renditions of Duke Ellington and Bossa nova pioneer Antonio Carlos Jobim, the A-side includes a selection of recordings from the world of pop and rock, with Fitzgerald covering the likes of ‘Hey Jude’ by The Beatles and ‘This Girl’s in Love With You’ by Herb Alpert. With a newly-gravelled voice, Fitzgerald brings a jazz-age smokiness to these classic recordings.
Make sure you check out her cover of ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ below.