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Cream - Wheels of Fire

On August 9, 1968, the album "Wheels of Fire", the third album by the band "Cream", was released in England (and on June 14 in the USA).

Beyond the fact that this album is probably the the band's best work that has been included in "Rolling Stone" magazine's 500 greatest albums of all time, it is historically the first double album in the world to have received platinum status (over a million units) in sales.

The first record consists of songs recorded at the studio in late 1967, while the second vinyl was recorded at live performances at "Fillmore West" and "Winterland Ballroom" in San Francisco, in early 1968.

This is a more ambitious and experimental project of the amazing trio of Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. The band here is one step further than what they did on previous albums, with complex compositions and asymmetrical time signatures on the one hand and expanding to new genres like jazz while using additional musical instruments like brass and string instruments, on the other.

The material for the studio record consists of two covers of blues songs chosen by Eric Clapton, along with original material written by two duos. The first duo, are lead bassist and singer Jack Bruce who co-wrote with lyricist Pete Brown four of the studio tracks, while the second duo consisted of drummer Ginger Baker who co-wrote three more songs with musician Mike Taylor.

During the sessions for the album Clapton wrote the song "Anyone for Tennis", which was released as a single and also entered the soundtrack of the movie "The Savage Seven". The song also went into the later extended versions released of the album.

(Photo: George Stroud)

The album includes one of the band's greatest song "White Room", which is the opening track that was also released as a single and reached number six on the US charts and became the band's biggest hit. The song began with a section by Jack Bruce based on the chords in the song "Tales of Brave Ulysses" from the band's previous album. The lyrics were written by Pete Brown who also helped Jack Bruce write the hit "Sunshine Of Your Love". Drummer Ginger Baker was the one who devised the opening rhythm, but he did not receive credit for it. Clapton uses the Wah-Wah effect under the influence of Jimi Hendrix. He reached the second place for it, in the greatest Wah-Wah songs of all time by "Guitar" magazine. By the way, in the first place was chosen "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" by Jimi Hendrix from which Eric Clapton was influenced.

Immediately after that comes the cover version of "Sitting on Top of the World" known from Howlin' Wolf. This is a particularly heavy version whose effects and guitar sounds will be heard a year later by Jimmy Page playing on Led Zeppelin's debut album.

"Passing the Time" was written by the duo Ginger Baker and Mike Taylor is made up of three sections that were joined together. It opens with a strange drumming with vocal harmonies, from there we move on to a quiet and psychedelic section that includes organ and viola, with the third section being rhythmic and "rockish", after which everything dissipates to the second quiet section that leads us to the end of the song.

The psychedelic line continues with "As You Said" a track by the duo Jack Bruce and Peter Brown finishing the first side of the vinyl to the sounds of an acoustic guitar and viola played by Felix Pappalardi. A magical and beautiful piece whose acoustic playing reminds us again what "Led Zeppelin" will sound a few years later.

The other side of the vinyl on the first album opens with Baker and Taylor's song "Pressed Rat and Warthog" which includes a recitation of Baker's which he initially intended for his daughter, but eventually performed himself.

"Politician" is one of the most beautiful on the album. A classic "Creamy" blues-rock song, with a mesmerizing riff and guitar sentences recorded on two different channels and hover above between the speakers in the stereo mix.

We continue with the rock line with "Those Were the Days" which includes drums and amazing percussion by Baker and beautiful vocal harmonies by Clapton and Bruce, which even reminded us at times of "Gentle Giant".

"Born Under a Bad Sign" is the second cover version on the studio album. A song written by Booker T. Jones and William Bell and performed by Albert King among others. It is strange that although this is a song that Clapton chose for the album, he is not the one who sang it, especially since there are rumors that the bass line, which is complex and different from the rhythm of the singing, made it very difficult for Jack Bruce to sing.

The studio album ends with "Deserted Cities of the Heart" perhaps the best song on the other side of the vinyl featuring a wild rhythm where the rock blends with a bit of folk and even jazz with an amazing bass work by Jack Bruce.

As for the live album, it features 4 songs carefully selected by producer Felix Pappalardi, who also plays on a number of instruments on the studio album, such as viola, organ and trumpet. The songs were selected from six different performances recorded at "Fillmore West" and the "Winterland Hall" in San Francisco. In the selection of song, Papaldi tried to balance the inflated egos of each of the three members of the band. "Traintime" was chosen to highlight Jack Bruce with his harmonica solo playing, while "Toad" was designed to "lift" Ginger Baker with the drum solo included, significantly longer than the studio version from the album "Fresh Cream". Eric Clapton, on the other hand, received the classic blues tracks "Spoonful" and "Crossroads" whose insane performance in the show became synonymous with "Guitar God" and was used for the guitar festival inaugurated by Clapton in 1999, as well as the box name he released in 1988 and includes the best repertoire from all periods and lineups in his career. It is interesting to note that Eric Clapton actually thought that the specific performance of the song, which was not edited at all, was not good enough. "Cream"'s performance of this song particularly influenced Geddy Lee bassist of "Rush", who noted that Jack Bruce's playing and his improvisations on the Gibson EB3 guitar in this song, not only made him want to play bass guitar, but to play bass on a power trio. Of course, "Rush" will later perform their own cover version of the song, which was included on their "Feedback" EP.

This album also marked the beginning of the end of the formidable supergroup. Shortly after completing the recordings of the album, the members of "Cream" decided that they wanted to go on separate ways. At the request of the label, they went on a final tour in late 1968, when almost the entire set played on it included songs from the double album "Wheels of Fire". The record company's pressures led the Power Trio to release one last album called "Goodbye", another one which is a hybrid of live and studio material, which came out in early 1969, after the band had already disbanded.

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