Friday, December 8, 2017

Cream – "Badge" (1969)

Then I told you about our kid
Now he’s married to Mabel

I’ve read that “our kid” is Cockney slang for “little brother.”  That makes the “Badge” lyrics quoted above slightly less puzzling.

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The story goes that each of the members of Cream were supposed to write a song for the group’s aptly-named final studio album, Goodbye, but that Eric Clapton wasn’t able to come up with anything.  So he sat down with his friend, George Harrison, and wrote “Badge.”  

This was in 1968, years before Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd, divorced him and moved in with Clapton – but perhaps not long before Clapton first got the hots for Boyd.  

The story also goes that Harrison had written “bridge” next to the lyrics for the song’s bridge, which Clapton misread as “badge” – hence the song’s title.  

While Harrison and Clapton were laughing about the “bridge”/“badge” misunderstanding, Ringo Starr walked in three sheets to the wind and suggested the line about the swans that live in the park.

Harrison and Clapton (1969)
(By the way, Pattie Boyd said the reason she left Harrison was the fact that he had a number of affairs while they were married – including one with Ringo Starr’s wife, Maureen.  I’m not sure if that was before or after Boyd had an affair with Faces guitarist Ronnie Wood, who later replaced Mick Taylor in the Rolling Stones.)

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The last 2 or 3 lines discussed the Civil War-era High Bridge near Farmville, Virginia, which has been converted from a railroad bridge to one suitable for use by hikers and bikers.

It also discussed a different kind of bridge – the musical bridge, which is a section of a song that is usually inserted between the verses of a song, and which contrasts musically with those verses.  The particular musical bridge that was the subject of that discussion was the bridge (or “middle eight”) of “Ticket to Ride” by the Beatles.

The bridge in “Badge” – which begins at 1:07 of the song – is the most interesting feature of that song.  It really steals the show from the verses.  (“Badge” doesn’t have choruses.  Its extremely simple structure can be notated as AABA, where “A” is a verse and “B” is the bridge.)

Like all great bridge, the bridge in “Badge” contrasts with the verses, but complements them.  It’s not one of those bridges that sounds like it should have been the foundation of a whole different song – not a complementary section of the song it is part of.

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Shortly before “Badge” was recorded, Eric Clapton joined the Beatles at Abbey Road Studios to play the lead guitar part on Harrison’s song, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

George Harrison returned the favor and played rhythm guitar when Cream recorded “Badge.” 

For legal reasons, neither Clapton’s nor Harrison’s name could appear on those records.  (The rhythm guitar part on “Badge” was credited to “L’Angelo Misterioso” – or “Mysterious Angel.”)

George and Ringo at Abbey Road Studios
Some people think Harrison played the lead guitar part that accompanies the bridge in “Badge.”  The guitar arpeggios that introduce the bridge do sound very Abbey Road-ish, but most sources say that Clapton – not Harrison – is the one playing there.

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“Badge” is a very economical song.  It clocks in at less than three minutes long.  

The song featured in the previous 2 or 3 lines, “Ticket to Ride,” is about 30 seconds longer . . . although that song has less there there. 

The Beatles stretched “Ticket to Ride” by repeating everything – both verses are repeated, and the bridge is repeated as well.  (If you eliminated all the repeated lines from “Ticket to Ride”  it would be about half as long as “Badge.”)

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Cream was a fabulous band.  Like the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream had only three members – such groups were known as “power trios” back in the day – but all three were extremely talented.  It’s amazing that such near-perfect music could be produced by only three musicians.

While Eric Clapton is the household name among Cream’s members, it’s possible that he wasn’t as good a guitarist as Jack Bruce was a bassist or Ginger Baker was a drummer.  (I think Baker and Keith Moon are the best drummers of their era.  The two sounded nothing alike, but they were both brilliantly original.)

Here’s “Badge”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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