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Revisiting the Time Cream Said ‘Goodbye’

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On Feb. 15, 1969, Cream — the group comprised of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker — bid the world goodbye with the album by that same title, thus neatly closing the book on the altogether brief but consistently headline-hogging career of rock’s very first supergroup.

Luckily, the band’s breakup elicited very little shock within the rock community — just understandable disappointment — since Clapton had already announced the split the previous July, right around the release of the trio’s ambitious, four-sided third album, Wheels of Fire. And they had played their farewell concert a few months later.

Since forming in summer 1966, the trio had wowed audiences with its incomparable instrumental virtuosity; but there was always something calculated about their union that threatened their longevity because it flew in the face of the “band-as-a-gang-of-friends” mentality still prevalent at the time. Bruce and Baker had been feuding since their time together in the Graham Bond Organization.

Within two years, all three men had had enough and were openly vocal about their desire to move on. All that was left to do was undertake a brief final tour and halfhearted recording session that yielded just enough material to fill out the eventual Goodbye LP. This, like Wheels of Fire, blended live recordings with studio recordings, but in only half the recommended dosage, thus serving as an open invitation for critics to get the last — usually negative — words in about Cream’s career.

Side One consisted of a long but fiery and often thrilling heavy blues jam on Skip James’ “I’m So Glad,” capturing the power trio in full flight; but was then followed by the less memorable, downright plodding band original, “Politician.” Side Two also opened with a bluesy live recording (this time of the Howlin’ Wolf standard, “Sitting on Top of the World”) and closed with twin candidates for potential album filler in the jaunty, piano-drenched “Doing That Scrapyard Thing” and percussive, Latin-flavored “What a Bringdown” — both of them clearly self-referencing.

But Goodbye’s most celebrated contribution to the Cream legacy came sandwiched in between these, and was simply named “Badge.” A co-write between Clapton and George Harrison, the song was a clear departure for all involved and its descending chord progression in D, beginning at the 1:08 mark, would be exploited by the likes of Boston, REO Speedwagon, and all their AOR brethren for years to come.

In other words, Goodbye’s fractured creative process — both in terms of the uneven quality of its songs and their restless eclecticism — essentially reflected the splintering group’s collective psyche and, in retrospect, makes it easier to accept that this was indeed the right time for the members of Cream to wind down their partnership, rather than carry on and risk diminishing their legend.

See Cream and Other Rockers in the Top 100 Albums of the ’60s

Next: Top 10 Cream Songs

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