Let me tell you a story. In 1968 when I was 13, my then-43-year-old Dad, a Professor of Agriculture, had a business trip to London, which was a white-hot center of the whole Sixties thing. He walked into a record store and asked them to sell him a couple of records for his son, whatever was hot. He came home with two Cream singles: White Room backed with Those Were the Days, and Badge b/w What a Bringdown. Was your Dad ever that cool? Anyhow, that means I’ve loved White Room for fifty years.
I ran off to my room to stick in the little plastic doohickey so I could fit it on my record player turned up to 45RPM; I only had one speaker, but it was big. I was hooked, instantly; the surging chords and melody by Jack Bruce, the lyrics by Pete Brown (Yellow tigers crouched in jungles in her dark eyes), the huge Clapton solo, Ginger Baker thrashing and surging behind it all, the band lurching into and out of 5/4, the buildup after the third verse that says: Guitar solo here! It’s aged well. Eventually when I got a little hipper I bought Wheels of Fire, which remains a fine collection.
There are many recordings of this, with lots of different arrangements of voices and verses, and on every single one Clapton plays a different guitar solo; some are not as brilliant as others, but that’s his gift to the world, if you’ve ever gone to see him play you’ve heard music custom-created for your pleasure on that evening.
Links · Spotify playlist. This tune on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify. As for live video… wow, are there ever a lot; I watched a few and the quality is up and down but the song is just too good to ever fail completely. I’m going to stick with Cream; here’s their 1968 “Farewell Concert” despite the horrid camera work; Jack Bruce’s young voice full of power and flex, Clapton playing through way more effects than in later life for that “psychedelic” sound, Baker making sure the beat never gets too settled. Then again at one of the 2005 “Reunion” shows. Jack is post-addiction, post-cancer, post-liver-transplant, and his voice is not what it once was, but he gives it everything he’s got and I think brings more emotional weight. Clapton’s big break is cleaner, deeper, denser, wiser, but maybe a little less fun.