It’s no secret that George Harrison and Eric Clapton were good friends. They first met in December 1964, when the band Clapton then found himself in The Yardbirds supporting The Beatles as part of the Fab Four’s Christmas Show at London’s iconic Hammersmith Odeon. What would ensue would become one of rock’s most famous friendships, featuring a shared wife, voodoo magic and some iconic songwriting.
Famously, Clapton helped Harrison perfect his magnum opus and provided musical backing to his third studio album, 1970’s introspective outing All Things Must Pass. Furthermore, the most iconic convergence of the two elite guitarists undoubtedly came on The Beatles track ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’. It was long believed to be Harrison who played the classic guitar line when, actually, it was actually old ‘Slowhand’ all along, and ironically, it is one of his best moments of the six-string.
The friendship between the two was so interesting that there is ample discourse concerning it. It is said that when Clapton fronted the short-lived group Derek and the Dominos, he penned their hit single ‘Layla’ and their album title Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs as a tribute to his infatuation with Harrison’s then-wife, Pattie Boyd. This undying love for Boyd would define his life for much of the ’70s, but by 1979, she would eventually become his wife. However, that is a story for another day.
Regardless of the love triangle, during the latter years of The Beatles’ existence, Harrison had become more and more disillusioned with the whole project. He started not enjoying playing with the rest of the band and felt himself gradually moving further away from his old friends. Luckily, his musical ability was not totally stifled; it was just within the confines of The Beatles that Harrison had grown unhappy.
During this time, Harrison would jam with his other friends, including Ravi Shankar, Bob Dylan and Clapton, to freshen himself up. In fact, during a trip across the pond in late 1968, Harrison found himself in a star-studded jam session with both Dylan and Clapton. At this point, Clapton was still playing in the psychedelic rock trio, Cream, who were also reaching their expiry date.
During this hallowed moment, Harrison and Clapton joined forces once again and wrote a classic song that would make it onto Cream’s fourth and final record, 1969’s Goodbye. Any guesses for the track? It turns out it is none other than track four, ‘Badge’. Many people are unaware of this fact as Harrison is credited under the pseudonym ‘L’Angelo Misterioso’ due to his binding contract with The Beatles’ record label Apple.
Harrison played rhythm guitar on the song, which is a grooving rock number. When you heed that Harrison co-wrote the track, it is easy to pinpoint where the song got its soulful essence from. The song is nothing short of a forgotten classic. It features a brilliantly wailing Clapton guitar solo that is ballasted by the effortless cool of Harrison’s rhythmic expertise.
In 1977, Harrison revealed to Crawdaddy: “I helped Eric write ‘Badge,’ you know”. Speaking of the songwriting predicament that Cream found themselves in, Harrison explained: “Each of them had to come up with a song for that Goodbye album and Eric didn’t have his written.” This account of the songwriting operation for Goodbye explains a lot, as at some points the album feels a little incomplete. Furthermore, if you pay attention to the lyrical content of ‘Badge’, you’ll be left a tad confused. “Thinkin’ ’bout the times you drove in my car/Thinkin’ that I might have drove you too far” and “I told you not to wander ’round in the dark/I told you ’bout the swans, that they live in the park” are just some of the weird, childish lines.
In the same 1977 interview, Harrison remembered how ‘Badge’ was put together, and it was clearly not intended to be an overly serious song. He recalled: “We were working across from each other and I was writing the lyrics down and we came to the middle part so I wrote ‘Bridge.’ Eric read it upside down and cracked up laughing – ‘What’s BADGE?’ he said. After that, Ringo (Starr) walked in drunk and gave us that line about the swans living in the park.”
Of course, who else could have been the one behind the silly line about foreboding swans that inhabit the park? The Beatles drummer and comedic extraordinaire, Ringo Starr. A perennial joker, the line is drenched in his typical, almost surreal humour.
Either way, the song is a Cream classic, and the fact that the track contains five of the era’s most iconic musicians is awe-inspiring. Cream are widely hailed as the first musical supergroup, as each member was a virtuoso in their own right. Drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce, who were constantly at loggerheads, inspired legions in their respective fields and need no real introduction.
The key change in the middle of ‘Badge’ as it jumps into the solo is nothing short of glorious. In a way, it can be regarded as an early progenitor to the soft-rock wave that would wash over music in the ’70s. Weirdly, it contains similarities to Boston’s 1976 classic ‘More Than a Feeling’.
The cameo appearance of Ringo Starr is also interesting, a signifier of things to come for The Beatles drummer. He would continue to pop up in random situations across the ’70s, featuring on a host of obscure albums such as John Lennon and Harry Nilsson’s Pussy Cats, and star in a variety of films such as the spaghetti-western, Blindman.
Listen to ‘Badge’, below.