Friday, February 2, 2018

Cream – "Tales of Brave Ulysses" (1967)

You thought the leaden winter
Would bring you down forever

The opening lines of “Tales of Brave Ulysses” are très à propos for the first week of February, n’est-ce pas?

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The story goes that the late Martin Sharp, an Australian artist and cartoonist who was visiting London in 1967, told a musician that he met at a nightclub about a poem that he had just written.  The musician told Sharp that he was looking for lyrics for a new song he had just written, so Sharp wrote his poem down on a paper napkin and gave it to him.

Martin Sharp
The musician turned out to be Eric Clapton, and the song turned out to be “Tales Of Brave Ulysses” – which I think is Cream’s best song.

Sharp later invited Clapton to move into the building where he was living.  (Other residents of that building included Robert Whitaker – the photographer who took the infamous “butcher” photo originally used for the cover of the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today album – and Germaine Greer, who wrote The Female Eunuch while living there.)

At Clapton’s request, Sharp did the cover art for Cream’s Disraeli Gears and Wheels of Fire albums.

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There were a lot of great “power trios” in the sixties and seventies – among the best were the Jimi Hendrix Experience, James Gang, and Grand Funk Railroad.

Cream: Baker, Bruce, and Clapton
But the ne plus ultra of power trios was Cream, which consisted of drummer Ginger Baker, bassist Jack Bruce, and guitarist Eric Clapton – each of whom is usually ranked as one of the ten best of all time on his respective instrument.

The group’s second (and best) album, Disraeli Gears, included “Sunshine of Your Love.” “Strange Brew,” “SWLABR,” and the mesmerizing “We’re Going Wrong” in addition to “Tales of Brave Ulysses.”

The “Disraeli Gears” cover
Here’s famed rock critic Robert Christgau’s take on Disraeli Gears:

Cream's best album distilled their prodigious chops and rhythmic interplay into psychedelic pop that never strayed far from their blues roots.  Except for the electricity, “Outside Woman Blues” is nearly identical to Arthur Reynolds’ 1930s original.  And the riff to “Sunshine of Your Love,” written by bassist Jack Bruce, is Delta blues in jab and drive.  But Disraeli Gears decisively broke with British blues purism in the ecstatic jangle of “Dance the Night Away,” the climbing dismay of “We're Going Wrong” (driven by Ginger Baker’s circular drumming) and the wah-wah grandeur of “Tales of Brave Ulysses.” 

For all my fellow lovers of wah-wah grandeur, here’s “Tales of Brave Ulysses”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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