Category Archives: Timeless RIffs

Timeless Riffs: Cream “Badge” (Eric Clapton)

I love when a riff detonates inside your being. I remember when I first came across this classic Cream song—I was a piano student back in high school and during my classic rock phase, I went out and bought Strange Brew: The Very Best of Cream so my Led Zeppelin collection wouldn’t get lonely. It was having a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time all by itself.

 

“Badge” is a track off the appropriately titled Cream Swan Song album Goodbye, which is also called Goodbye Cream.” It was the trio’s 4th and final album which came out in 1969—Cream had actually already officially disbanded the previous year after their successful Wheels Of Fire double album. Cream’s Wheels Of Fire holds the distinction of being the world’s first double LP to reach Platinum status (1,000,000 units sold).

 

Despite their early breakup, Cream and the bandmembers fared well in their later careers and projects. Cream were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 (rumor has it they were waiting so long), and in 2006 they received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for their their contribution and influence upon contemporary music—giving even vegans some Heavy Cream they too can enjoy.

 

Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore, Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page, John McLaughlin to name a few, were no less than the musicians who spearheaded the era of the rock lead guitarist. Moreover, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce & Ginger Baker as the band Cream were the archetypal power trio. One of their contemporaries, also a power trio, was The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

 

The word “Supergroup” was tossed around in their direction followed by the “Clapton is GOD” graffiti in England. The musical descendants of the original Cream Power Trio family tree are bands like Rush and The Police. An interesting (and unfortunate) parallel in common is that both the bass player/singer and drummer in Cream and The Police (Jack Bruce & Ginger Baker and Sting & Stewart Copeland respectively) didn’t have the best of relationships which contributed to the breakup of both bands. Thankfully Geddy Lee and Neil Peart get along quite dandy as Rush has been around over 3 decades longer than either band. In fact, Rush may very well go into the Guinness Book Of World Records as the longest running Power Trio of all time. They even have a song called “Marathon” so how appropriate.

 

Getting back to inter band tensions, the way I look at it having been in bands myself, is that if you’re fortunate enough to do something less than 1% of the planet can do for a living and fantasizes quite frequently about (write, tour and perform music), can’t you try to put whatever ego and differences behind for the benefit of yourselves and the fans? Really is the squabbling, infighting and subsequent breakup preferable to having to work a slave wage job until your Ga–Ga–Ga–Golden Years?

 

And with generally MORE than 3 or 4 other co–workers and a plethora of dysfunctional, unpleasant, and volatile customers? Really? But hey, suit yourself. Take your pick. Often success too early insulates artists from the real world the other 99.9% of their fans have to face every day of their lives. And that concert by you is often the very thing they need periodically as a break from the drudgery of their reality and helps them deal with it.

 

When I first heard “Badge”, I totally didn’t expect that it was where the song was going from the opening verse. It was like the prize inside the cereal box you didn’t expect to find. This tune, written by Eric and longtime friend George Harrison, has such a majestic mixolydian arpeggio (D mixolydian) which functions as the chorus/solo or bridge depending how you look at it. It’s a shimmering moment in time and the lyrics accompanying that section far transcend 1969—indeed an elevatingly anthemic chorus:


Yes, I told you that the light goes up and down.
Don’t you notice how the wheel goes ’round?
And you better pick yourself up from the ground
Before they bring the curtain down,
Yes, before they bring the curtain down…

 

George Harrison did play rhythm guitar on the track but could not be credited in the liner notes for contractural reasons because of some other band he was in at the time. So the name “L’Angelo Misterioso” appears instead (Mysterious Angel?). The riff does have the heaviness of the arpeggio in The Beatles “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” which also came out in 1969 and was written by John Lennon.

 

The George Harrison tune “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is also in good company here as well. This track was on The Beatles self titled 1968 album (AKA The White Album) and Clapton did the lead guitar parts but was not credited either. Eric actually played on the guitar he gave to George as a gift (A Gibson named “Lucy”—It Was A Les Paul Charlie Brown!). So with “Badge”, Eric and George were even–Steven in their secret recording session rendezvous.

 

Supposedly the song got it’s title because Eric misread George Harrison’s handwriting on the lyric sheet as “Badge” instead of the word “Bridge.” It works for this song, but if Harrison was writing with James Brown, it would have been a different story: “Take me to the Badge!!” Eric sings lead vocals on this tune containing one of his most memorable, defining guitar riffs. The chorus (or bridge) which only occurs once in the middle of the song comes in at the 1:07 mark:

It’s a simple D C G arpeggiated chord progression but somehow more transcendent and expansiveness welcoming. Part of the reason is Clapton playing his guitar through a Leslie speaker for a kind of drippy enchanting psychedelic kind of sound. This progression has also mesmerized the listening populace on other occasions. Boston used a similar arpeggiated chord progression in the acoustic guitar opening of “More Than A Feeling” off their massively popular self titled debut album.

 

Boston’s Boston was once the top debut album but is now currently the second best selling debut album of all time. I wasn’t going to leave you hanging on the cross—that distinction goes to the 5 skulls pictured on Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction as the first.

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Maybe I’m the only one who notices such things, but I’d like to state for the record Eric and George get major Scrabble points for using the word “queue” in a song:

Talkin’ ’bout a girl that looks quite like you.
She didn’t have the time to wait in the queue.

 

Now that that’s out of the way, rarely does a guitar practice or jam session go by without me launching into this Clapton riff—often within the first few minutes of picking up the guitar. These timeless riffs are a good anchoring example of why playing an instrument is so awesome to begin with and why many of us will only put it down with our cold dead hands as members of our very own NRA—the National Rock Association.

 

I’m not one to trumpet the kiddie pool of social norms and customs in art. Coming from the Romantic Period/Impressionist/Russian composers Holy Trinity, a lot of contemporary music isn’t deep enough for me on a musical or lyrical level. It’s moments like the Clapton riff here that my ear is endlessly on a scavenger hunt for to hitch a ride on an aural safari somewhere deeper into the subconscious.

 

If you’re deep enough to go there, you can ingest flashes of something beyond in certain music. This is such a riff for me. Debussy, Chopin, Liszt do it for me often and that’s always been my standard: Level me in 4 measures or less. Debussy leveled me an entire weekend once with 4 measures but that’s another story.

 

The “Badge” riff is a piece of rock guitar granite that has weathered time superbly and still shines irrespective of it’s age. It’s part tye dye timewarp but also simultaneously containing a universal nature that exists outside the particular time period it was written. It could have been written in the mid 80’s or last year and still would cross generations due to it’s inherent meaning photographed with sound.

 

Carl Jung would likely see it as the expression of a Universal Guitar Consciousness and that it sonically names and touches a Collective Musical Unconsciousness. It’s simply a captivating and hypnotic example of the sorcery of sound: An Archetypal Riff.

 

If you ever go hiking in Griffith Park up Mt. Hollywood (where you get a Fab view of the Hollywood sign), on the trails there’s a pine tree dedicated to George there called The George Harrison Tree planted in his memory. It’s not far from the Griffith Observatory and marked with a bronze plaque stating “In memory of a great humanitarian who touched the world as an artist, a musician and gardener” as well as a quote from George, “For the forest to be green, each tree must be green.”

 

The Sanskrit Om symbol on a plaque is never a bad idea either and this one delivers in that department too. I did see and touch the original tree and meditate there as George is the one of the Fab Four I most closely resonate with. Ironically the tree was killed by Beatles in 2014 and hence replaced. You can’t buy me love or make this stuff up. “Badge” though, still survives as a ubiquitous moment in time, a monument first etched in vinyl celebrating the friendship between George Harrison and Eric Clapton.

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