One Day I was browsing through reviews on this website and I was surprised to see that there was no review for Cream’s vaunted double-album, Wheels of Fire, as it is one of their most popular albums. Recorded in 1968 while tensions in the band were mounting, Cream released their last full length studio album (Goodbye doesn’t count!). It is a double album and the first disc is a studio album while the second disc was recorded live. I’ll do a track by track review, so here goes.
Eric Clapton – Guitar & Vocals
Jack Bruce – Bass, Vocals & Harmonica
Ginger Baker – Drums, Percussion & Vocals
1. White Room 5:03 – One of their most popular songs. This number 1 hit starts off with crushing combo of chords, viola(which is played by Felix Pappalardi), and the tumultuos pounding of Ginger Bakers drums wich creates a giant, overwhelming sound. Then the verse starts. One of the problems I have with this song is that I don't like the way it's put together. The intro section that is repeated a few times throughout the song does not flow into the verses very smoothly. The verses resemble Tales of Brave Ulysses very much. A little too much in fact. Eric Clapton has some fantastic wah-solos that you will love if you are a fan of him. A good way to start off the album despite its flaws and a 3.5/5.
2. Sitting on Top of the World 5:01 – This is a cover of a Chester Burnett song. It starts off with some distorted riffs, and bass lines by Jack Bruce before the vocals come in. There are bluesy lead lines throughout this slow paced song. If you are not in the mood for it, it can definitely drag on a bit though. It has also been covered by the Grateful Dead, and I think I prefer their version since this one gets a little boring sometimes. 3/5
3. Passing the Time 4:37 – An alright Ginger Baker song. This is where the music on this album starts to get psychedelic and a little weird. It starts off with a nice-sounding vocal melody before Ginger Baker takes us off into the world of glockenspiel where it gets a little boring. There is a heavier chorus where Jack Bruce shouts, “Passing the Time!” Okay, not the best song, but is alright. 2.5/5
4. As You Said 4:22 – It starts off with some strummed guitars before Jack Bruce's vocals come in. I should mention now that throughout the album, his voice fits all the songs he sings well. That is not enough to save this song though. It is just the one strummed guitar part with vocals the whole time. Nothing much here. 2/5
5. Pressed Rat and Warthog 3.13 – Okay, here is another Ginger Baker song, except this track definitely tops his first. Before, I guess I called it a song. Well, it is not really a song. It is just poetry sung over some music. There is a majestic trumpet line in between each verse. Here is an example of some of the provoking lyrics. “Pressed Rat and Warthog, closed down their shop. They didn’t want to, twas all they had got. Selling atonal apples, amplified heat, and Pressed Rats collection of dogs legs and feet.” The story of the two creatures continues throughout. The bass playing stands out as well. 5/5
6. The Politician 4:16 – At this point in the album, Cream returns to blues-rock. This is simply a great song. All of the instruments are played well, whether it’s the intertwining guitar playing during the solos, the thick distorted bass riffs thrown out by Jack Bruce, or Ginger Bakers perfect drumming This song follows a twelve-bar blues format. 4.5/5
7. Those were the Days 2:57 – A solid song right here. It’s just the normal good Cream song, except for that the vocals are more well done than on other tracks and they stand out, It always makes for an enjoyable listen. 4.5/5
8. Born Under a Bad Sign 3.13 – A cover of a Booker T. Jones/William Bell song, this is an example of how Cream can take someone else’s song and just make it their own. The main riff will be stuck in your head for hours. Full of warm, bluesy tones, this song is worth a listen. 4.5/5
9. Deserted Cities of the Heart 3.57 – Wow. This has to be Cream’s most underrated song. Starting off with acoustic guitar played by Jack Bruce, the vocals then come in. This song is filled with catchy melodies, and hooks, and of course, some fabulous guitar solos. It is also the second song on the album that Felix Pappalardi plays viola on. I like the chord progression. 5/5
Disc 2: This was recorded live. Although the album says that it was recorded at the Fillmore West, only Toad was recorded there. I think the other songs were recorded at Winterland Ballroom.
1. Crossroads 4:18 – An old song by Robert Johnson that has been covered by various artists numerous times. This is probably the most famous version of it and it’s among the best. I’ve heard Eric Clapton’s guitar solos described as fiery and blazing. Those words describe them perfectly. But, even better than the solos is the Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce rhythm section. They just go wild and that’s what I believe to be the reason why this is one of the most famous renditions of the Delta Blues-man’s classic. 5/5
2. Spoonful 16:46 – As you can tell, it’s a long one clocking in at 16:46. And as you also might guess, it’s full of improvisation. Now, you might be thinking that this is just a boring jam, and I must admit, some of Cream’s really long jams can get boring. But not this one. Somehow it grabs your attention and keeps it throughout the whole song. Also, as you might’ve noticed, this song was on the band’s self-titled debut, Fresh Cream and is a Willie Dixon cover. 4/5
3. Traintime 7:01 – A blues song featuring lots of harmonica lines and solos. Jack Bruce plays the harmonica, and does a spectacular job of it. The drums do an excellent job in this song, setting the pace for it. Without them, the song would have a completely different feel. The vocals are not the most creative ever, but they suffice. Also, this song is less about Eric Clapton’s guitar work than the other live numbers. 3.5/5
4. Toad 16:31 – Ah, 16 more minutes of improvisaton. As with Spoonful, this song appeared on Fresh Cream. This is an instrumental and is mostly a drum solo. The drum solo is outstanding in some parts, but boring in other areas, as it changes tempo and feel in different places. Overall it might just be the best ever and is better than the version off of Fresh Cream. It is a good way to top off the live album. 4/5
1. Contains classics such as Crossroads, Born under a Bad Sign, Deserted Heart Cities, etc.
2. Album length is about 1 hour and 20 minutes which is pretty long.
3. Live Disc is good.
1. Some of the longer live tracks might be boring for some people.
2. Some of the stranger songs like Pressed Rat and Warthog, Passing the Time, and As You Said may not be for everyone, or in the case of the latter two, get old quick.
3. Some tracks are dull.
This album is good. It has a taste of what Cream was all about. Extended jams, knockout singles, interesting covers, and some very boring songs that get old quick. Overall, I think this album deserves a 3.3/5 but I guess it all depends on if you can take all the improvisation on the live disc without getting bored. Also, a few of the earlier tracks bring the album down quite a bit.