Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cream: Disraeli Gears

Every once and a while an artist will record a complete album that holds up well over time. Cream’s “Disraeli Gears” is one of those efforts and is showcased with today’s recording of “Tales of Brave Ulysses.”

I created the video by combining a live performance with the audio track from the album. While the live performance’s audio was good, Jack Bruce’s vocals seem to be coming from him directly and not via the microphone. He is overshadowed by the instrumentation in places, which is a shame as this is a great recording. I took it upon myself to create this faux live version that was a little more difficult than I expected as the live recording is at a slower tempo, so things didn’t match up. Some creative editing took care of some of this and I did the best I could with the rest.

As far as the song, the lyrics were penned by Martin Sharp who did the cover art for the album. Sharp had returned from a Mediterranean vacation where he based the lyrics on Homer’s Odyssey.

The Story behind “Tales of Brave Ulysses”

Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce wrote the music, which was loosely based on Zal Yanovsky’s guitar riff from the Lovin’ Spoonful’s hit, “Summer in the City.” Clapton also uses a Cry Baby wah-wah pedal throughout the song. During the slower breaks, Ginger Baker employs mallets on his cymbals to get the shimmering effects that correspond with lines like, “The tiny purple fishes run laughing through your fingers, and you want to take her with you to the hard land of the winter.” What amazes me is the speed in which Baker switches from regular drumsticks to mallets and then back again to sticks.

Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City”

Recorded at Atlantic Studios in New York, Cream’s “Disraeli Gears” served to be one of this power trio’s greatest efforts. Its unusual name comes from a malapropism of derailleur gears from a bicycle that substituted derailleur with the name of 19th Century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Sources have conflicting accounts of who actually made this verbal gaffe; however, it stuck and became the title for Cream’s second album.

It was not my first Cream album, as I had received their fourth LP -“Goodbye Cream” as a Birthday present in 1971 from my brother Chuck. I had heard Cream’s hits on the radio, but it wasn’t until I was exposed to “Goodbye Cream” that I took an interest in this band. “Disraeli Gears” remains one of my all time favorite albums.

I remember buying “Disraeli Gears” at H.L. Green’s in downtown McKeesport. This five and dime’s record department was one of the best in the area and the prices among the lowest. Typically, I would take the bus from East McKeesport into McKeesport (about seven miles) every week or so and peruse there selection of albums.

I bought many albums during the early 70s at Greens (including Cream’s third album “Wheels of Fire”), as their prices were often a dollar cheaper than National Record Mart. The only thing that NRM had on other stores was their small selection of imported albums – from which I purchased Cream’s debut LP (“Fresh Cream”). The domestic release of “Fresh Cream” replaced the classic Willie Dixon composition “Spoonful” with the single “I Feel Free.”

Of the original seven ATCO releases from Cream, I am missing three: “Best of Cream,” “Live Cream,” and “Live Cream, Volume II.” As previously stated, “Disraeli Gears” is my favorite Cream album and one of my top favorite LPs of all times.

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