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Although Cream were only together for a little more than two years, their influence was immense, both during their late-'60s peak and in the years following their breakup. Cream were the first top group to truly exploit the power trio format, in the process laying the foundation for much blues-rock and hard rock of the 1960s and 1970s. It was with Cream, too, that guitarist Eric Clapton truly became an international superstar. Critical revisionists have tagged the band as overrated, citing the musicians' emphasis upon flash, virtuosity, and showmanship at the expense of taste and focus. This was sometimes true of their live shows in particular, but in reality the best of their studio recordings were excellent fusions of blues, pop, and psychedelia, with concise original material outnumbering the bloated blues jams and overlong solos. Cream could be viewed as the first rock supergroup to become superstars, although none of the three members were that well-known when the band formed in mid-1966. Eric Clapton had the biggest reputation, having established himself as a guitar hero first with the Yardbirds, and then in a more blues-intensive environment with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. (In the States, however, he was all but unknown, having left the Yardbirds before "For Your Love" made the American Top Ten.) Bassist/singer Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker had both been in the Graham Bond Organisation, an underrated British R&B combo that drew extensively upon the jazz backgrounds of the musicians. Bruce had also been, very briefly, a member of the Bluesbreakers along with Clapton, and also briefly a member of Manfred Mann when he became especially eager to pay the rent. All three of the musicians yearned to break free of the confines of the standard rock/R&B/blues group, in a unit that would allow them greater instrumental and improvisational freedom, somewhat in the mold of a jazz outfit. Eric Clapton's stunning guitar solos would get much of the adulation, yet Bruce was at least as responsible for shaping the group's sound, singing most of the material in his rich voice. He also wrote their best original compositions, sometimes in collaboration with outside lyricist Pete Brown. At first Cream's focus was electrified and amped-up traditional blues, which dominated their first album, Fresh Cream, which made the British Top Ten in early 1967. Originals like "N.S.U." and "I Feel Free" gave notice that Cream were capable of moving beyond the blues, and they truly found their voice on Disraeli Gears in late 1967, which consisted mostly of group-penned songs. Here they fashioned invigorating, sometimes beguiling hard-driving psychedelic pop, which included plenty of memorable melodies and effective harmonies along with the expected crunching riffs. "Strange Brew," "Dance the Night Away," "Tales of Brave Ulysses," and "S.W.L.A.B.R." are all among their best tracks, and the album broke the band big-time in the States, reaching the Top Five. It also generated their first big U.S. hit single, "Sunshine of Your Love," which was based around one of the most popular hard rock riffs of the '60s. With the double album Wheels of Fire, Cream topped the American charts in 1968, establishing themselves alongside the Beatles and Hendrix as one of the biggest rock acts in the world. The record itself was a more erratic affair than Disraeli Gears, perhaps dogged by the decision to present separate discs of studio and live material; the concert tracks in particular did much to establish their reputation, for good or ill, for stretching songs way past the ten-minute mark on-stage. The majestically doomy "White Room" gave Cream another huge American single, and the group was firmly established as one of the biggest live draws of any kind. Their decision to disband in late 1968 -- at a time when they were seemingly on top of the world -- came as a shock to most of the rock audience. Cream's short lifespan, however, was in hindsight unsurprising given the considerable talents, ambitions, and egos of each of the bandmembers. Clapton in particular was tired of blowing away listeners with sheer power, and wanted to explore more subtle directions. After a farewell tour of the States, the band broke up in November 1968. In 1969, however, they were in a sense bigger than ever; a posthumous album featuring both studio and live material, Goodbye, made number two, highlighted by the haunting Eric Clapton-George Harrison composition "Badge," which remains one of Cream's most beloved tracks. Clapton and Baker would quickly resurface in 1969 as half of another short-lived supergroup, Blind Faith, and Clapton of course went on to one of the longest and most successful careers of anyone in the rock business. Bruce and Baker never attained profiles nearly as high after leaving Cream, but both kept busy in the ensuing decades with various interesting projects in the fields of rock, jazz, and experimental music. Cream reunited for a handful of live shows in 2005 at London's Royal Albert Hall and New York City's Madison Square Gardens, but no further reunions were forthcoming, and Bruce died of liver disease in Suffolk, England in October 2014. ~ Richie Unterberger
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Albums by

Top Songs by

  1.   Song
  2.   Sunshine of Your Love
  3.   White Room
  4.   Strange Brew
  5.   Crossroads
  6.   I Feel Free
  7.   Tales of Brave Ulysses
  8.   Born Under a Bad Sign
  9.   Swlabr
  10.   Outside Woman Blues
  11.   World of Pain
  12.   Politician
  13.   We're Going Wrong
  14.   I'm So Glad
  15.   Spoonful
  16.   N.S.U.
  17.   Toad
  18.   Anyone for Tennis
  19.   Dance the Night Away
  20.   Rollin' and Tumblin'
  21.   Those Were the Days
  22.   Sleepy Time Time
  23.   Take It Back
  24.   Mother's Lament
  25.   Lawdy Mama
  26.   Sitting on Top of the World
  27.   Sweet Wine
  28.   Stormy Monday
  29.   I Feel Free
  30.   Cat's Squirrel
  31.   Four Until Late
  32.   Steppin' Out
  33.   The Clearout
  34.   Hey Now Princess
  35.   You Make Me Feel
  36.   Deserted Cities of the Heart
  37.   Pressed Rat and Warthog
  38.   Dreaming
  39.   Eric Clapton Interview, No. 1
  40.   Passing the Time
  41.   As You Said
  42.   Traintime
  43.   Wrapping Paper
  44.   The Coffee Song
  45.   Blue Condition
  46.   Doing That Scrapyard Thing
  47.   What a Bringdown
  48.   Weird of Hermiston
  49.   Eric Clapton Interview, No. 4
  50.   Falstaff Beer Commercial

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