#102: Cream, "Fresh Cream" (1966)

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I’m going to level with you all. I first found out about Cream through Guitar Hero. I knew I could make it up to level expert if I could impress my fellow 15-year-old friends by nailing Eric Clapton’s solos in “Sunshine of your Love” with those plastic, colorful buttons. Remember how big of a deal it was to reach the fifth, orange button? I do. As fake as it was, it also kind of feels like I was on Eric Clapton’s level? Looking back on it now, it looked completely ridiculous. In fact, here’s photo evidence of me and my best friend playing this song in our homecoming dresses. If you look closely, you can see I pull off this look with a peace sign necklace, braces, and a hemp bracelet. Hard to tell if it’s us or Cream in this picture, right? I thought so.

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I didn’t pay as much attention to the band itself during this time—I was too busy leveling up. I wasn’t even really a fan of “Sunshine of your Love.” It’s too boring. Jack Bruce, the lead singer, sounds tired and bored. I, however, really appreciate their first album Fresh Cream. Fun is the best word to describe it. It sounds like three men who really love playing music and decided to play together for the love of music.

Their lyrics represent this feeling as well. The album starts off with a song called “I Feel Free” in which they chant “I feel free,” over and over, and they have another song “I’m So Glad” in which they literally just chant “I’m so glad, I’m glad I’m glad I’m glad,” over and over. They pull it off, though. When you have three rock legends jamming together (Eric Clapton on guitar, Jack Bruce on bass and vocals, and Ginger Baker killing it on the drums), you don’t need much depth for it to be good. And I think the simplicity of their songs prove that they weren’t looking to outshine each other or become a huge sensation, they just wanted to play together because they’re all talented and they can pull it off. In their song “N.S.U.,” Jack Bruce sings, “The only time I’m happy’s when I play my guitar.”  The song “Cat’s Squirrel” is a super catchy, bluesy, uplifting jam song that doesn’t have lyrics but also doesn’t need any. It leads the beacon for all of the jam songs to come in the 1970s, and It should be playing in every movie sequence that involves a heist or car chase, in my opinion. They close off the album with a song called “Toad,” which is basically a five minute drum solo and no further explanation for the title of the song. I think it should just be called, “Ginger’s Time to Shine.”

Fresh Cream came out in 1966, which was a huge year for music. The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, The Beatles’ Revolver, and the Mamas and the Papas’ If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears were iconic albums that came out the same year. This was a time of incredible, influential music, and it was also a time when musicians were collaborating left and right, mainly because of their undeniable talent. This also meant, however, that musicians who were already talented and famous never lasted long when they worked togetherit was like a death sentence. Cream only lasted two short years before they broke up over creative differences. Fresh Cream is actually the perfect name for that album. Their work together was fresh, new, and exciting. I think everything after it is them feeling over-confident and trying to outshine each other. Their solos no longer seem fun, but rather like they’re lashing out at each other or letting their egos get in the way.

Perhaps if I could go back in time, I’d become a record manager that only allowed famous musicians who wanted to collaborate to make one, fun album together to prevent drama and intense band break-ups. But then again, if Cream hadn’t made “Sunshine of Your Love,” then it never would have made it onto Guitar Hero, and I wouldn’t have this embarrassing picture to post for you all to see. Maybe Cream didn’t have fun making that song, but I sure had fun playing it with my very real, plastic guitar.

—Jenn Montooth