There’s no question; if we had to pick just one track by Cream that epitomizes Jack Bruce’s vocal delivery, it would be “White Room.” There is something so special about the way he comes in following the track’s distinctive opening, an opening that Ginger Baker says he came up with. Add to this Ginger’s perfect drum patterns, Eric Clapton’s great wah-wah guitar, ringing chords, and brilliant solo on the outro, and what you have is pure Cream.
The song was co-written by Jack and Pete Brown, who fronted the Battered Ornaments at the time and also had a solid reputation as one of Britain’s better beat poets. Recorded (mostly) at Atlantic Studios in New York City, it was destined to be part of the studio tracks for Wheels of Fire that was released in high summer 1968.
At the end of September, “White Room” was released as a single and on October 5, 1968, it entered the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 58, the highest new entry of the week. By the week of November 9, it had climbed to No. 6 on the Hot 100 and only just failed to better “Sunshine of Your Love,” which reached No. 5.
It topped the charts in Australia and got to No. 2 in New Zealand and Canada, yet in the UK it could get no higher than No. 28, which is probably a reflection of a shift towards album buying in Britain by rock and blues aficionados. The single was increasingly seen as a promo tool for the album. In the US, an edited version of the song was delivered to AM radio stations, whereas FM stations played the full five minute version as heard on Wheels of Fire.
During Cream’s October tour of the U.S., “White Room” was played nightly and anyone who was there, or who has heard the various live recordings that are in circulation, will attest to the power of the song in concert.