These cuts were recorded over a 15-month period from late 1966 to early ’68. They were cut for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Because of strict regulations on the number of phonograph records that broadcasters could play in Great Britain, BBC engineers would record the bands of the day in their studios. The popular groups would appear and do three to five songs each time they were on the show. And, what’s unique here is the length. Cream became known for their long jams. Here, the longest cut clocks in just over four minutes, with a lot of the songs sitting between two and three minutes. For instance, there’s a really nice version of their classic take on “Crossroads.” It’s 1:53. Yes, 1:53. And, yes, Clapton does manage to fit in a magnificent solo.
This really is a nice way to listen to the band. The hits sparkle, as you’d expect. So do lesser-known cuts like “Cat’s Squirrel”(with another brilliant Clapton solo), “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” and the instrumental “Steppin’ Out.” The songs are concise and on the money. There’s no denying this band’s talent at the time and the enormous influence they were having.
There are some nice short interview segments with Mr. Clapton from the BBC broadcasts. It’s fun to hear him explain why they would record a song like “Wrapping Paper.” Okay, great explanation, but the song? Well, let’s just say it’s never been a favorite of mine. It’s also kind of fun to hear disc jockey Brian Matthew. It’s a time capsule that let’s you hear him say things like “… and now, for some more groovy music from the Cream.” And speaking of groovy, you’ve gotta love the packaging. Even the “but it was the times” excuse cannot explain the large Afro Clapton sports on a couple of the pictures. What was he thinking? Oh well, like a friend of mine says, “If you don’t like Clapton’s hair-do, wait a couple of months, it’ll change.” And, as you can see from all the pictures, it did. Fortunately, his playing over this period was brimming with R&B confidence and he and Cream were riding a wave of creativity that was as strong as it was smart. If you are a fan, you’ve got to have this.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sep. ’03 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.