Title: Disraeli Gears
For this LP release, the band’s second album, a new producer was brought in, Felix Pappalardi. Its odd, the influences that a producer can have on an album and the band itself because you could say that Pappalardi opened the door for Cream to the world of psychedelia (“Felix happened to be in the studio when we went to Atlantic’s studio in the USA,” said former Cream member and lead singer, Jack Bruce. “Felix got thing’s out of us in a subtle way. He wasn’t the sort of producer who said ‘You do this and you do that.’”)
You might feel that, if the band were heading towards the psychedelic genre, that any resultant album would not only be wayward but possibly over experimental. Not so. In fact, you could lay this accusation at the first album (Fresh Cream), in some ways at least. Disraeli Gears would benefit from a measure of logicality.
Of course, all of these manoeuvres meant that Cream (a trio who almost incorporated Steve Winwood in the fold but thought that the trio would, for a rock outfit, be more exciting) were steadily moving away from the pure blues improv outfit that was seen as a mission statement upon their formation. Entering into the wider musical fold, though, did free up their thoughts and allowed them to up the sheer power of their performance while retaining some impressive innovation.
“We actually came to America to make the album, Disraeli Gears,” said Jack Bruce. “We’d done demos. I came with 20 songs, Eric had two and Ginger had 0.5 of a song. We were told by Atlantic that the songs were not commercial, they thought that they were too ahead of their time. ‘Psychedelic hogwash!’, somebody said. Then someone else said that Eric should be the front man because, they said to me, ’you can’t sing’. So they said to Eric, ‘What have you got?’ and he said ‘Nothin’’ So they took a backing track away called Hey Lawdy Mama and Felix Pappalardi wrote Strange Brew on top of that. So they had…one song. So, in the end, they had to use my songs.”
That’s not to say that blues was shunned, far from it. If you take the single track, Strange Brew, any blues fan will recognise the masterful hand of Albert King. Yet Cream didn’t give us a Kloned King, the psychedelia helped to push their stamp upon the music. Sunshine of Your Love (“I remember Booker T. stopping by when we played that early on and said that it was a great thing. Which helped Atlantic to think twice about the song which Atlantic initially hated.”) is another good example of this, as is Tales of Brave Ulysses.
Actually, Pappalardi wasn’t the only person pushing the band towards new venues. Lead singer Jack Bruce was doing the same which was helped along with his collaboration with Pete Brown, “Pete was working with Ginger (Baker). Ginger tried to write songs with him but couldn’t do it so I took Pete.”
The tired and rather repetitive blues-rock hamster wheel that the band had entered in their early days began to give away to something more interesting and also something more Brit-centric. Take the exploding SWLABR, as an example of that (a song that was originally called She Was Like a Bearded Rainbow). More so, Dance the Night Away provided an illumination into their own cultural past with a firm connection to musical hall influences as did the track Mother’s Lament.
A major heavy rock album of the 60s, this LP will always be seen as a psychedelic release ‘of its time’ but there is more to this LP than that.
There’s real innovation within the arrangements, the song-writing is powerful and the musicianship is full on making this a classic release.
Oh, and before we go…where did the album’s name actually come from? “For the first time ever, a Scotsman (Tommy Simpson) had won the Tour De France,” said Bruce. “It had always been dominated by France and Italy. The next year, he died on his bike while taking Speed. His heart burst on a hill. We were saddened by this. He was using a common transmission system on his bike, gears made by Derailleur and a roadie said, ‘Oh yea, maybe he was using them Disreali Gears.”
You can put this album into various guises but I’ve chosen to tie this column to a vinyl release that is ever so slightly left-field, it’s the 7” box set entitled Cream: The Singles, 1967-1970 (Polydor) including 10 vinyl singles that includes four songs from Disraeli Gears: Strange Brew, Tales of Brave Ulysses, Sunshine of Your Love and SWLABR.