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.
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.”
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.