Six definitive songs: The ultimate beginner’s guide to Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton is an artist who is a daunting one to step into the world of due to the vast amount of music that he has released over the course of his career which began way back in the 1960s. He has released 24 studio albums,14 live albums and six soundtrack albums as a solo artist and that’s without even discussing his releases with The Yardbirds or Cream.
“Clapton is God” was once spray-painted across a wall in London, it stayed there for a considerable time too and saw him become eulogised whilst he was more alive than ever, producing holy riffs. While we’re not accustomed to believing everything we read, on this occasion we will take it as read that Clapton is some kind of guitar deity sent down from the sky. One only needs to look back at his CV to see some divine skills and his work across several different acts such as Cream, Blind Faith and his own solo career has proved time and time again that it’s an undeniable fact that one of the greatest guitarists to have ever lived.
Clapton can play the blues, can make sunny bubblegum pop, has a way with psychedelic rock and is equipped to cover everything in between, which he has done. There’s just so much to digest from Clapton’s output over the last half a century and more that it can be somewhat overwhelming after all this is the man that even blew Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page away when he first witnessed him live in action.
“On this day in 1965, I went to see John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers at the Pontiac Club in Putney, London,” Page said in a post on social media. “It showcased Eric Clapton’s magnificent mastery of the blues guitar,” he added. “Eric came to stay at my home in Epsom that night as I had told him about the recordings and guitar sound I was getting from my Simon recorder and we played together,” Page recalled.
If you’ve always wanted to get into Clapton but just don’t know where in the world to begin then panic no more as here at Far Out we have your back with this Ultimate Beginners Guide to Eric Clapton, let’s get stuck in.
Six definitive songs of Eric Clapton:
Cream – ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ (1967)
The two years that Clapton spent with Cream were undoubtedly the most fruitful of his career and that chemistry that he had with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker was almost brotherly, having just one song from this period in the list of six essential Clapton tracks would have felt criminal. You simply cannot leave ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ off any list that it qualifies for, a true bonafide classic.
This was also Cream’s biggest commercial hit and their first track to do better Stateside than in the UK, as America started to fall in love with the brand of rock ‘n’ roll that Clapton, Bruce and Baker were knocking out like there was no tomorrow.
Cream – ‘White Room’ (1968)
Cream were only together for two years but what this three-piece achieved in that time is truly a thing of legend. This song from 1968’s Wheels of Fire has often been lauded as one of the finest of the decade. The power that he, Ginger Baker on drums and Jack Bruce on bass, may have been a small outfit but they packed a hefty punch.
Across the entire decade, one could argue, the studio was likely one of the most musically intimidating places to be. So when the band sat down to record ‘White Room’, Clapton may have been one of the better axemen in the country but he was faced with a fearsome ensemble of the powerhouse Baker on drums and the pin-sharp ear of Jack Bruce. Clapton would have to step up.
Of course, in 1968 there really weren’t many guitarists more respected than Eric Clapton, excluding the obvious shapes of Mr Page and Mr Hendrix in the corner, so he delivered a searing track for the song. Though the effort was, of course, a wholistic project, and it showed off the talents of all the members of the band—even including their producer Felix Pappalardi who played the viola and Pete Brown’s lyrics— it is Clapton’s performance that shines brightest.
Derek & The Dominos – ‘Layla’ (1970)
Following the demise of Cream, the next step for Slowhand was to form a new group and alas Derek & The Dominos was born. They may have only released one album during their time as an outfit, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs but what an incredible piece of work that record is with the ‘Layla’ being the headliner from the album as the name suggests.
Of course, no Clapton list would be complete without his ode to Pattie Boyd (then the wife of his friend George Harrison), the classic rock number, ‘Layla’. A seven-minute track built upon the foundations that Clapton and Duane Allman lay down on guitar and it is purely magnificent.
There are six guitar tracks on this single and each one plays a hand in creating one of the most memorable guitar songs of all time. One particular moment of joy is the dual solo between Clapton and Allman that may be one of the best-equipped tracks ever recorded.
Eric Clapton – ‘Cocaine’ (1977)
Despite what is largely assumed, the track is actually intended to have an anti-cocaine message which resonated with Clapton. It is one of the reasons why he chose to cover the song originally written and performed by JJ Cale in 1970. He did just that in splendid fashion in 1977.
The lyrics are about drug addiction, which had played a large part in Clapton’s life and, as he explained in his autobiography Clapton when he recorded this song, he had finally kicked his heroin habit but began to fill that void by resorting to heavy drinking as well as cocaine — it was a habit he knew he had to snap out of.
“It’s no good to write a deliberate anti-drug song and hope that it will catch,” he wrote. “Because the general thing is that people will be upset by that. It would disturb them to have someone else shoving something down their throat. So the best thing to do is offer something that seems ambiguous that on study or on reflection actually can be seen to be ‘anti’ which the song ‘Cocaine’ is actually an anti-cocaine song.”
Eric Clapton – ‘Wonderful Tonight’ (1977)
‘Wonderful Tonight’ is taken from Clapton’s fifth full-length studio album Slowhand which was released in 1977 and remains one of his most commercially and critically successful studio albums. The track is a stark contrast away from the visceral world of Cream and is a soft, tender, ballad for the ages.
Clapton wrote ‘Wonderful Tonight’ in 1976 while waiting for his girlfriend (and future wife) Pattie Boyd to get ready for a night out and the song is just his jaw-dropping reaction to her beauty at that moment. They were attending a Buddy Holly tribute that Paul McCartney put together every year with Linda and that evening led to Clapton writing his finest love song.
Eric Clapton – ‘Tears In Heaven’ (1992)
‘Tears In Heaven’ was born out of a truly unthinkable tragedy that Clapton suffered and one that turned his life upside down. Clapton wrote this about his four-year-old son Conor, who died in 1991 when he fell out of a 53rd-floor window in the apartment where his mother was staying in New York City.
Clapton wrote about this song in his 2007 autobiography: “The most powerful of the new songs was ‘Tears in Heaven.’ Musically, I had always been haunted by Jimmy Cliff’s song ‘Many Rivers to Cross’ and wanted to borrow from that chord progression, but essentially I wrote this one to ask the question I had been asking myself ever since my grandfather had died. Will we really meet again? It’s difficult to talk about these songs in-depth, that’s why they’re songs.”
“Their birth and development is what kept me alive through the darkest period of my life. When I try to take myself back to that time, to recall the terrible numbness that I lived in, I recoil in fear. I never want to go through anything like that again. Originally, these songs were never meant for publication or public consumption; they were just what I did to stop from going mad. I played them to myself, over and over, constantly changing or refining them, until they were part of my being.”