‘Disraeli Gears’: How Cream Shifted Into Psych-Blues Legends
Cream’s second album, ‘Disraeli Gears,’ remains a psych-blues masterpiece that ensured Clapton and co’s place in the history books.
Cream’s second album was recorded over three and a half days between May 8-16, 1967 in Atlantic Studios at 1841 Broadway, on the corner of 60th Street in New York City. Produced by Felix Pappalardi who would later form the Cream-alike band, Mountain with guitarist Leslie West, Disraeli Gears was engineered by Tom Dowd.
Released on November 2, 1967, the album made the UK charts on November 18 and eventually climbed to No. 5. It went one place higher on the Billboard Best Seller list after its release in early December and became a massive seller, breaking the band in America.
Listen to Disraeli Gears on Apple Music and Spotify.
Those are the facts…but what about the record’s unusual name? In the 1960s the “must-own” racing bike was equipped with “derailleur gears.” Eric Clapton seems to have had a yearning for such a bicycle and while driving around London in an Austin Westminster, discussing the matter with Ginger Baker one day, up piped Mick Turner, the band’s roadie, to say, “Has it got them Disraeli gears?” Everyone fell about laughing and the band decided to name their album as just that.
The sound of the album
The first hint of what Disraeli Gears was to sound like came in early June 1967 when the band rush-released their first single taken from the album. “Strange Brew” backed by “Tales of Brave Ulysses” entered the UK charts on June 10 and peaked at No. 17. The a-side was written by Eric Clapton – who sings the lead vocal – Pappalardi and his wife Gail Collins and it is so typically Cream at this point in their career – a mixture of rock, blues, and pop sensibilities that helped it to sell so well. The B-side is, for many people, one of the album’s standout cuts, featuring as it does a fabulous vocal from Jack Bruce and Clapton’s wah-wah guitar solo; Eric had only discovered the pedal a few days before they recorded the song. For the trivia lovers, Eric admitted writing the music to the song while listening to the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City.”
A year later, in October 1968, Polydor released “Sunshine Of Your Love” as the second single from the album in the UK, where it managed to make No. 25. It had been a huge hit in America following its release in January 1968 and made No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. The riff for the song was written by Jack Bruce after he and Clapton had been to see Jimi Hendrix at the Saville Theatre in London the day before Cream flew to New York to begin recording the album. The lyrics in the main were written by Bruce and Pete Brown, a poet and leader of the Battered Ornaments, but it was Clapton who came up with the lines that included the song’s title. Pivotal to the success of the song was Ginger’s drumming which emphasized beats one and three, as opposed to the more normal rock and roll pattern of beats two and four; Ginger’s inspiration for the tempo was from African drumming.
Of all the band’s albums, this one is the least blues-influenced record and definitely reflected the prevailing mood of the “Summer of Love.” The one true blues tune is a cover of “Outside Woman Blues” that had been written and recorded by Blind Joe Reynolds in 1929.
The album cover art
The album’s distinctive cover was designed by Australian artist Martin Sharp who worked for OZ magazine and lived in the Pheasantry in Chelsea. where Clapton also lived. Sharp also did the cover for Wheels of Fire as well as writing some of the lyrics for, “Tales of Brave Ulysses.”
The reception to the album
In the first review of the album in the New Musical Express in November 1967, the writer Allen Evans was clearly unsure of what to make of the record.
“After you have recovered from the gaudy sleeve designs, you get the original meaty sounds of the blast off, out-of-this-world-group, the Cream. Unlike their stage shows, the sound is mercifully muted on this LP. But none of the exciting tone-patterns of the two guitars and driving drums is lost. The whole thing rides along with the smooth uncertainty of a giant sea wave, with the throbbing togetherness that the Cream’s Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker capture. The vocals are well taken and put over with a lot of imagination by Jack and Eric I liked the weird absorbing ‘We’re Going Wrong” best.”
History has judged it a good deal more kindly.
December 3, 2014 at 4:59 pm
The LP cover actually glows under a black light.
December 11, 2014 at 9:55 am
I bought this album the day it came out. I was 19 and it was the best thing i had ever heard. Been a fan ever since.
December 16, 2014 at 2:35 am
Easily one of the best albums ever made by one of the best bands ever made. Period.
January 28, 2015 at 4:53 pm
History shows that Cream is one of the best bands ever. Saw them in NYC at their first U.S A .concert first row …. Fantastic
September 24, 2015 at 7:11 pm
One of my biggest regrets is I never got to see Cream live. This is one of the all-time great rock albums by one of the truly great bands of the rock era. Between Clapton’s guitar work, Ginger Baker’s controlled madness on the drum kit and the incredible vocals of the late, great Jack Bruce there has never been anything quite like Cream.
November 18, 2016 at 3:15 pm
I was lucky enough to see them twice. Once at Spalding as in the poster above and their last gig at the Royal Albert Hall – the second house show.
John W. Shreve
September 25, 2015 at 5:37 pm
And I thought I was a dim bulb for not recognizing the connection to the PM. I always thought someone would find tapes for an unreleased album, “Gladstone Gears.”
April 7, 2016 at 5:15 pm
Is Disraeli Gears in its original mono recording? Thanks
November 18, 2016 at 7:24 pm
Martin Sharp wrote ALL the lyrics for Tales of Brave Ulysses.
June 8, 2017 at 9:05 pm
Tom Dowd claims credit for the beat on Sunshine, as an American Indian inspiration (See Tom Dowd and the Language of Music DVD)
Tom Vidar Pedersen
June 8, 2017 at 9:11 pm
Yepp, and the CONTROLLED drumplaying from Ginger, is what do him so special regarding other ” wild ” drummers ! I loved his drumming from the first time i mannaged to listen to this record for my first time in 1971, Another example is how he open up NSU on Live Cream Volume 1, SO relentless and crisp playing, never out og tune !
June 10, 2017 at 8:59 am
Met Jack Bruce in the Chelsea Drugstore, Kings Rd London.
Had a beer and good chat with him.
June 11, 2017 at 3:46 am
The review actually sounds quite positive to me. I’m not sure why the author of this piece would think otherwise.
November 18, 2017 at 2:16 pm
Why does the shown cover have ‘Summer of Love’ on it twice? Neither were on the original.
November 2, 2018 at 7:28 pm
Regarding the article published November 2, 2018, “Disraeli Gears: How Cream Shifted into Pysch-Blues Legends”, about the release 50 years ago of Cream’s second album: There is an obvious mistake, whether it be an honest type-o or just a lack of knowing the true facts. It is stated in the article that the second single from the album, “Sunshine Of Your Love”, was released in October of 1968. That is incorrect, it was October of 1967. You stated correctly the release date of the album’s first single, “Strange Brew”, as June of 1967 but then said that the second single (Sunshine) was not released until a year latter in October of 1968. First of all, a year latter from June of 1967 would be June of 1968, right? But that doesn’t make any sense either. “Sunshine Of Your Love” was released in October of 1967, just four months after “Strange Brew” (June, 1967). The album, “Disraeli Gears” (from which both singles were taken from) was released, as you correctly stated, on November 2, 1967. More mistakes and lack of printing true facts from “uDiscover”.
November 11, 2019 at 1:36 am
I hadn’t ‘heard’ it until I put on the CD in the car.
For a look at the lyrics to ‘Tales ..’, see ‘Grandfather Rock. The new poetry and the old’, by David Morse. It’s first in line ..
March 29, 2022 at 11:23 am
I grew up in the ’90s, so I missed Cream in their hey-day, buy this is my personal favourite album of all time!