Wiping the dust off of one of rock’s most underplayed classics from the late 1960s
Rolling on with the irreverent look and tribute to rock music’s greats and giants, the clock is rolled back rapidly as we are hurtled through time to 1969 with Cream’s “Badge”. Considered by many to be the height of Cream’s short lived but hugely important and influential reign as Britain’s premier rock music group in the late sixties. Included on their final album, appropriately titled Goodbye, “Badge” has the backing of Eric Clapton and George Harrison’s writing talents coupled with influences from Ringo Starr, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, the last two the remaining members of the band along with Clapton. This, almost unbelievable, grouping of some of the best talents of the era come together to create an underrated and vastly uncelebrated classic of rock and roll.
The music industry and scene was changing in 1969, a turbulent and whirlwind change to cap off a decade that was dominated by the rise and rise of popular music, alternative and underground scenes and the emergence of so many different genres of new music. It is therefore no surprise that a band like Cream had achieved stellar success, not least, making a superstar out of Eric Clapton and assuring his place as one of the greatest guitarists all the way through until today. Thus when the band decided they were to progress their own separate ways, their final aptly titled album Goodbye was decided that each member would individually write a song, coupled with their normal writing collaborations with each other.
The outcome for Clapton was “Badge” in which the sultan of guitarists consulted his close friend and contemporary George “heartbeat of The Beatles” Harrison. During a late night jamming session, the two were able to complete the basic lyrics and chord layouts of the track. Beatles drummer Ringo Starr then inadvertently stumbled into the session, his intoxicated ramblings apparently responsible for the very 60s line “I told you ‘bout the swans, that live in the park”. The title of the song remains somewhat cryptic, with plenty of theories having been spawned over the years. One common theory is that the title is an anagram of the standard tuning of the guitars used during the production, those being EADGBE.
The truth in reality, however, is much simpler. Apparently, according to the late Harrison during an interview conducted previously, he stated that it was in fact a simple handwriting mistake. Having written bridge between sections of the chords and lyrics, Clapton and Starr, who could perhaps be forgiven for having had one too many cherrys, read the line as badge. Hence the song was titled and a legend was born, albeit through intoxicated means but hey, its rock and roll!
The true beauty of “Badge” is not in the various stories and history that surrounds the song but more in the actual music of the song itself. Acting as an unassuming little track in the middle of the Goodbye album, “Badge” offers the listener an insight and encapsulation of the late 1960s sound as a whole. Clapton’s lead guitar is strummingly brilliant before switching to his electrically charged, hauntingly resonant lead that erupts into the fiery solo. Ginger Baker’s almost muffled and subdued drums give the song a depth that reassures the listener that despite this journey of heartfelt love and possible heartbreak, not all things are that bad and there is a safety net. Couple these effects with a distant, almost forgotten piano that seems to faintly reach out and merely dust the listener like a light stroke on the back of one’s neck and the atmosphere and world that “Badge” creates is complete.
The song and the album as a whole proved to be a fitting swan song for one of the most important bands that Britain ever produced, not just in the 1960s but well beyond. Although looking back on their discography now, it could arguably be seen as being ever so slightly dated, the majority of the songs being relatively raw and, dare it be said, watered down versions of what the indiviual artists would produce in the future. A case in point would be that “Badge” arguably the best that Cream produced, is often regarded in the shadow of Clapton’s other solo bursting, fret board flying classic “Layla” that would appear only a year later as part of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominoes, his next venture. With credits such as one of Rock’s greatest love song and Grammy’s coming out of its ears, it is with no real surprise that songs like “Badge” are often overlooked for the much wider “Layla”. This should not take away from “Badge” or its popularity amongst the music community, solidifying it as one of Rock’s classics and certainly one of its most under played and unappreciated.
For more information on Eric Clapton or Cream’s 2005 reunion, check out their official websites. The track is also available from iTunes: http://www.cream2005.com/ and http://www.ericclapton.com