Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Rocktober Album #4: Cream - Fresh Cream (1966)

Before Crosby Still Nash & Young, Asia, or Chickenfoot, there was Cream – the original supergroup. Drummer Ginger Baker was in the Graham Bond Organisation. Bassist Jack Bruce was also in the Graham Bond Organisation, as well as Manfred Mann and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. The guitarist was some dude from Surrey called Eric Clapton.

Fresh Cream, the band's 1966 debut, was a blues rock masterpiece that paved the way for all the hard rock that would follow. The album is half originals and half blues covers. Interestingly, all of the original songs are written by Bruce or Baker.

1. I Feel Free
Anticipation is a great tool in rock and roll. The beginning of "I Feel Free" is just some a capella "bom bom bom bom-bom-boms," some clapping, and some humming that you know are going to eventually break into something. By the time Ginger Baker busts into that initial drum break, you're ready to burst, and the band breaks into a feel-good, uptempo rocker.

2. N.S.U.
One might assume this is Cream's pitch to be the fight song for Northwestern State University, but one might be wrong. Legend has it, the song stands for "Non-specific urethritis," inspired by an unnamed member of the band who got an STD. Ahh, Swinging London. In addition to the rock and roll subject matter, this song is great. It starts with rumbling drums and a creepy guitar, then breaks out into a psychedelic blues rock mélange of lyrics that make no sense, harmonic yelling, and an awesome guitar solo.

3. Sleepy Time Time
As the title implies, this is a slower, bluesy song, with soulful vocals from Bruce and solid blues guitar from Clapton.

4. Dreaming
This is a catchy little ditty, with almost gospel qualities to the vocals. The guitars are muted, and the focus is on the lyrics, which are reminiscent of Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" – sorrow-filled lyrics about dreaming one's life away while waiting for his true love to recognize she needs to be with him. Dude, just ask her out.

5. Sweet Wine
This Baker-penned song has a nice guitar solo and odd stream-of-consciousness lyrics.

6. Spoonful
A cover of a Willie Dixon song, Jack Bruce makes it his own. When I got my first Cream tape at some point in junior high, I wasn't a huge fan of this song, probably because it was more blues than rock and roll, but I have definitely grown to appreciate it since then. It is a fantastic, brooding blues cover.

7. Cat's Squirrel
This is a mostly instrumental song, fueled by an angry harmonica, which makes sense because it's apparently a cover of a blues song, recorded by bluesman Doctor Ross, who was also known as Doctor Ross the Harmonica Boss.

8. Four Until Late
Clapton takes lead vocals on this Robert Johnson cover. Although it's clearly a blues song, it's cheery sounding, and I wouldn't have pegged it as a Robert Johnson song. Like several other songs on the album, "Four Until Late" features some solid harmonica work by Bruce.

9. Rollin' and Tumblin'
This Muddy Waters song is great no matter who plays it, but it really pops in the hands of Cream. It's a frenzied version, with a wicked harmonica, a violent beat, and incoherent yelling, while Clapton plays the melody along with Bruce's frantic vocals. For some reason, when I picture what it would be like to see Cream in concert, I picture them playing this song and just whaling (and wailing) on it.

10. I'm So Glad
I'm not a musician by any means, and my knowledge of music theory, keys, notes, and all that shit is rather limited, especially considering how much I love music. But I think this song – "I'm So Glad" – is in a minor key, which is what we who use words call irony. Apparently, it's a cover of a song originally by Delta bluesman Skip James, which is odd because it just doesn't seem like an old blues song. Whatever's going on, I love this song.

11. Toad
Before there was John Bonham, Keith Moon, or Tommy Lee, there was Ginger Baker. Baker pioneered the use of two bass drums, and the results were generally thunderous. "Toad" is an instrumental written by Baker that showcases his drumming, as evidenced by his awesome drum solo in the middle of the song.

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