Three Wheels Good: Cream Find Their Essence On ‘Wheels Of Fire’

‘Wheels Of Fire’ introduced the classic ‘White Room’ and other great performances by the rock trio.

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Cream 'Wheels Of Fire' artwork - Courtesy: UMG
Cream 'Wheels Of Fire' artwork - Courtesy: UMG

Four months before The Beatles made their bid for the best double album of 1968, Cream made theirs. Wheels Of Fire, the record that introduced the classic “White Room” and other great performances by the rock trio, was new in UK record shops on August 9 that year, and became a real chart oddity. But in sales terms, Cream were on fire.

Born Under A Bad Sign

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In an early example of what we would now call multi-formatting, Polydor released both a single disc, In The Studio, which included “White Room” as well as “Sitting On Top Of The World,” “Politician,” and “Born Under A Bad Sign”; and a double edition with that set and the Live At The Fillmore disc, recorded at three different shows at the venue in 1968. Besides their cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Sitting On Top Of The World,” Cream paid homage to the blues with versions of “Spoonful,” another Wolf cover, although written by Willie Dixon and of course, Robert Johnson’s epic “Crossroads.”

Listen to the best of Cream on Apple Music and Spotify, with highlights from Wheels Of Fire and their entire catalog.

On July 13, Wheels Of Fire made the Billboard best seller list at No.54. Four weeks later, on August 10, it topped the US chart, incongruously removing Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass’ The Beat of the Brass from the top to start a run of four weeks at No.1. In the UK, on the chart of August 17, Cream had not one album chart entry, but two. The single disc would climb to No.7 in its second week, while the double eventually reached No.3.

Jack Bruce went on to say in Top Pops in 1969 that the album recording had been rather unsatisfactory. “I was never happy with Cream recording sessions,” he said. “In all the time we were together, we only spent 20 days in the recording studios. Everything was always rushed. You know, we had to do Wheels Of Fire in seven days.”

Chris Welch in Melody Maker struck an approving tone with his review of the LP. “If the Cream have been disappointing on record in the past, if fans have felt their spirit and essence have not been properly captured,” he wrote, “Wheels Of Fire, their long-awaited double album, is sufficient to restore the faith of the most errant disciple.”

Buy or stream Wheels Of Fire.




  1. paul

    August 9, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    awesome I was a child of the 60s all over again

  2. Tom Joad

    November 4, 2014 at 8:57 am

    Cream were booked to tour extensively well in advance of their huge album successes in small clubs for a fraction of what they would have made in larger venues. Baker and Bruce were never able to get along, and Baker, who rarely got along with anyone, was jealous of all the songwriting credits Bruce got. So the band, one of rock’s greatest, soon broke up.

    • Dave

      August 9, 2017 at 1:19 pm

      So true .Other than that Jack kept loading up with bigger amps witch lissedBaker off to no end!

  3. Bennie V Crowell

    November 14, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    Wheels of Fire defined my teen years. I am a guitarist and was blown away by what Eric Clapton did on that album. The songwriting and use of strange instruments amazed me to no end. Cream really defined what could be done in the studio and what could be captured “live” with their blues/rock compositions. No one at that time could do what they did on record or “live”.

    I was in the hospital when I read of their breakup in a music magazine. I cried. I couldn’t believe the best band that ever was had broken up. It tore me up inside. Cream, gone forever. It is such a shame that Ginger Baker’s Airforce never got off the ground or that Jack Bruce’s career never rose to that level again.

    Clapton however went on with Derrick and the Dominoes to create one of the top 100 songs of all time, Layla. Clapton it is sad to say, never formed a permanent band, but became a relevant solo artist that today is still on the charts making music that is amazing and still relevant. His career speaks for itself. His talent surpassed that of Cream and went on to define what could be done with a Fender guitar even though his contemporaries used the Gibson Les Paul.

    I still think Cream had a lot more to offer. I don’t like solo artists but like bands that stay together despite their differences and tough it out and produce good music for their fans and get over their egos and infighting. Cream could have been like the Stones. Staying together, producing phenomenal music and holding their place in history. Just think what could have been…

    • Bobk

      August 18, 2016 at 4:29 am

      Points well taken and I felt the same when they broke up.They were looking to reform in 1993 when the band were inducted to the hall of fame.I don’t think Eric hand the confidence in himself as a guitar player anymore thus Moore Bruce and Baker. Anyway the breakup was is,one of the great tragedies in music.

  4. Kelly Basden

    August 9, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    “Toad” was the only live tune from any activity at the Filmore. The other three tunes were recorded from performances at Winterland. This was documented on the four disc set, “Those Were The Days” released in the 1990s.

  5. roberto Domato

    August 9, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    Como dejar de olvidar este maravilloso LP, fué el primero que compre. En la casa de discos lo escuche, me impactó y me dije: esta es la musica que quiero escuchar.

  6. Sammy

    August 9, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    Cream were one of the..if not The greatest rock trio of all time. It’s a damn shame that so little of them were captured on vinyl. And now that Jack Bruce is gone its impossible for another reunion. Thankfully we still have the awesome music, not this bullshit you here on the airwaves today

  7. Joe Fiet

    August 9, 2015 at 7:24 pm

    This was my first album. I still have my original copy on vinyl as well as a CD copy autographed by Ginger Baker. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to Spoonful & Crossroads(lots of other stuff on the album as well but those two were my favs)

  8. Michael D Gorman

    August 10, 2015 at 3:45 am

    I was exactly 10 years old when this came out, I remember loving White Room with that nasal wah-wah guitar and compelling drumming – but ‘Passing The Time’ was my real favorite, such a quirky song 47 years sure passed mighty quick it is just surreal man!

  9. Framus Jack

    August 18, 2015 at 12:06 am

    everyone mentions Layla and Derek and The Dominoes when talking about Clapton’s post-Cream career, He also toured with Delaney and Bonnie and in the track “Coming Home” produced a great southern rock track, then of course there was the short lived Blind Faith project which produced an album with one of the most controversial covers of the period, but also with some great tracks including “Had To Cry Today” which was a staple of early Joe Bonamassa gigs. The fender comment is interesting as many Cream tracks were performed on a Gibson 355, the Strat became his most used guitar post Cream.

  10. Adrian Ellison

    August 18, 2015 at 2:37 am

    quite simply the greatest band of all time then and now, only the allman brothers “live at the Fillmore” comes close,

    • ken gray

      July 13, 2016 at 9:49 pm

      Live at Leeds..

  11. tony bo

    August 10, 2016 at 2:35 am

    funny story,,i was about,,17 when this came out,,i had heard alot of it on the radio,,but didnt buy it untill,,the winter of that year,,i remember,,going down the village,,to a place called,,,cant recall the name ,it was a little store on Sheridan and chis torfer…i will come to me tonight when im in bed i bet!!!anyway,,they were out of it,,and i remember the guy said to me,,why dont you go up to atlantc,stuioes,,on 54 ,,or 57 street,,cant rember that either!!!any way did and they told me,,they dont sell records,,but,,maybe,,somewhere on 42ed street there mite be a store that has it,,any long story short,,i was going down the stairs ,when a guy ..called out to me,,i went back up,and he had a promotional copy,,he was going to give me,,because it was snowing,and so cold,,and he heard me tell my story about ,how ive been looking all day,,coming from stan island,,and so on,,anyway nice man,,he just gave it to me!!we talk for about ten mintues,,it wasnt untill i got home,,that i reliszed,,it was jack bruce,,who ive been talking to,,,!!! i was knocked out for days,,and now after all theses years i still tell the story,,oh and another thing i remember,,going home on the subway,,listting to the train,,roaring down the tracks,,the sound,,sounded like toad!!!,,no i wasn’t high!!! ill never forget those days!!! ps..i just remembered the stores name,,i think its still thiere,,,music inn!!!

    • Paul

      August 10, 2017 at 12:03 pm

      I remember the Music Inn down in the village. I went there alot when I first started living in Manhattan back in 1972. It was a kool little music shop….:~)

  12. Rudy Baeger

    August 17, 2016 at 9:40 pm

    Passing the time
    Time and wine rhyme

  13. Albert

    August 9, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    Some may think me arrogant or stupid but I was not into music when I first heard the Cream when I was in my 20’s back in the 60’s and I was as straight as straight coughd be. I was blown away by how great they were and at 74 y/o I still feel the same way. I read that someone 10 y/o loved them too; how ould that be?

  14. Ricky B

    August 10, 2017 at 2:36 am

    Sitting up front, their music filled our souls! Jack Bruce taught us how to roll a a joint from Britain, a cone joint with crumbled hash mixed with some good pot at Cranbrook art institute. It kicked our butts, and we went tripping! Jack and Ginger were fun to get stoned with, while Eric climbed the trees… Good memories!

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