Eric Clapton: 10 of His Best Under-the-Radar Solo Songs
Sure, he was in the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominos. But Eric Clapton also has had one hell of a solo career.
It’s a career that started in 1970, took a strange little four-year break, then picked up where it left off in 1974. And he’s been prolific since then; his latest album, 2016’s I Still Do, is his 22nd or 23rd solo effort—depending on how you count them.
Which is why it’s so annoying at the only solo Clapton song anyone seems to know—or request at events—is “Wonderful Tonight”—or possible “Cocaine,” “Forever Man” or “After Midnight.”
Ergo, I figured it was time to shed some light on 10 sadly overlooked solo Clapton tunes. Actually, it’s not sad at all, because none of these tunes will ever share the same overplayed, cliched fate as the songs mentioned above.
The criteria for this “overlooked songs” list is that the song was never a hit, and if it was a part of Clapton’s live shows at some point, it hasn’t been performed in ages. Also, and most importantly, these songs are from Clapton’s solo studio albums only and have nothing to do with Cream, his other bands or any of his guest appearances on other people’s albums. It also has nothing to do with live albums or collaborative albums, including Riding with the King, his record with B.B. King from 2000, or 2014’s The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale, which is credited to “Eric Clapton & Friends.”
I think you get the idea.
If you have opinions about these choices, and I’m sure you will, please leave a comment at the bottom of this story. Before you comment, however, remember this story is titled “10 of Eric Clapton’s Best Under-the-Radar Solo Songs”—with “of” being the operative word (meaning, there are several other songs that could’ve made this list; these just happen to be my picks).
These songs are not presented in any particular order. Enjoy!
Eric Clapton (1970)
This isn’t only the best song on this list; it’s one of the best songs Clapton has ever written, period. Besides appearing on his debut solo album, “Easy Now” was the B-side of “After Midnight.” Because of its stripped-down arrangement, it isn’t dated or “stuck in 1970” like a lot of other songs on this album. Even music critic Scott Floman calls the song “comparatively overlooked” and notes, “[the] simple yet effective ballad featuring Eric’s ever-improving singing … is one of this underrated album’s most underrated efforts.”
461 Ocean Boulevard (1974)
Clapton knew a good song when he heard it—even if it was written by his recently hired second guitarist, a super-talented American named George Terry. Clapton liked this upbeat rocker so much that closed his “comeback” album (461 Ocean Boulevard) with it. There’s some fine guitar playing throughout, not to mention a catchy riff and a meaty breakdown.
At the core of “The Core” is a crunchy killer of a riff in A. One can’t help but wonder if the song, an almost-nine-minute-long duet with Marcy Levy, would have been a hit had it been edited down and released as a single. It has a lot going for it: a catchy bridge, lyrical depth, a kick-ass sax solo by Mel Collins and one of Clapton’s most exciting guitar solos from his “laid-back” mid-Seventies period. At the 4:13 mark, he unleashes a furious barrage of notes that recalls the “Slowhand” of 10 years earlier.
It’s true, Clapton performed this bluesy Ray Charles cover regularly when he was promoting Journeyman in ancient times, but he has most certainly let it fall by the wayside since then. This is, of course, expected, but still a shame.
There’s One in Every Crowd (1975)
If Eric Clapton and George Harrison had recorded an album in the mid-Seventies, it would’ve sounded a bit like this. Of course, there is a guitar-playing George on this tune—George Terry—who tackles the bulk of the slide work as Clapton opens up his bottomless bag of licks during the song’s fadeout.
THE SHAPE YOU’RE IN
Money and Cigarettes (1983)
Money and Cigarettes, Clapton’s final album from his “laid-back” No Reason to Cry/Slowhand/Backless/Another Ticket period, is actually pretty fun and hosts a bevy of engaging songs, including “Pretty Girl” and this one, a country-rocking guitar duel with the great Albert Lee. Like Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla” and the Beatles’ “Something” (and several other tunes), this song was written about Pattie Boyd.
PEACHES AND DIESEL
“Peaches and Diesel” is a shimmering instrumental tune that closes out Clapton’s triple-platinum 1977 album, Slowhand. It was released as the B-side of a single, and often has been compared to its popular A-side, “Wonderful Tonight.”
JUST LIKE A PRISONER
Behind the Sun (1985)
The last minute and a half of “Just Like a Prisoner” might represent Clapton’s mid-Eighties high-water mark, at least from a shred perspective. The song features what could easily be considered one of his “angriest” solos. He even keeps playing long after the intended fade-out point, until the band stops abruptly. Maybe he was upset about the overpowering Eighties production, ridiculous synthesizers and obtrusive, way-too-loud drums that threaten to hijack the song at any moment.
Considering that Clapton had big-time success with “After Midnight” and “Cocaine,” “Travelin’ Light” is certainly one of his lesser-known JJ Cale covers. OK, it’s obscure, but that doesn’t detract from its spine-tingling slide guitar lines, steady beat and ear-grabbing, bluesy hooks.
LOVE COMES TO EVERYONE
Back Home (2005)
Clapton recorded several George Harrison compositions over the course of his career (“Run So Far,” “That Kind of Woman,” “Badge”), but they were songs George had written for (or with) Eric. “Love Comes to Everyone” is an out-and-out cover of a song that appeared on the former Beatle’s George Harrison album in 1979. Harrison’s version features Clapton on guitar and Steve Winwood on keyboards, and both guys also appear on Clapton’s 2005 version. Winwood even copied his own 1979 keyboard sound.
From the Cradle (1994)
From the Cradle—Clapton’s long-awaited “return to the blues”—made a splash when it came out in 1994. But I don’t remember anyone pointing out the stellar “Reconsider Baby,” Clapton’s cover of a 1954 Lowell Fulson tune. It’s hard for Clapton (in terms of his guitar playing) to sound “vintage” and rough around the edges, but he pulls off both—perfectly—here. And then there’s his biting tone, which—to my ears—has trace amounts of his mid-Sixties Bluesbreakers edge.
STOP BREAKING DOWN BLUES
Me and Mr. Johnson (2004)
Speaking of blues albums that made a splash, let’s not forget EC’s 2004 ode to Robert Johnson. While it features several songs that—let’s face it—sound a lot like so many other I-IV-V blues songs recorded by Clapton since the early 2000s, “Stop Breaking Down Blues” stands out as a fun (despite its composer), foot-stompin’ tune.