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“Attempting to Explicate the Frustration That Builds in Me as I Observe That ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ is Now Considered the Best Cream Song”

They just kept coming, one by one, like votes for that presidential candidate you hate or candy corn at Halloween. Every Facebook page that chose to focus on Cream would share “Sunshine of Your Love.” It was as if every other song by the group had been banned by Big Brother, or Joe Rogan, or Chuck Lidell, whoever the He** that is, and whoever the He** is in charge of these things. 

Anyway, we might as well get down to brass tacks and at least acknowledge that the competition for “best Cream song” is a two-horse race. “Sunshine of Your Love” has the most streams on Spotify, at 270m+, with “White Room” holding sway with 201m+, the third place runner then being the live version of “Crossroads” on Wheels of Fire, posting only 49 and change. 

Actually, when I was growing up in the ’90s and we still had a classic rock station here in South Bend, 95.3 WAOR [1], “White Room” was pretty much the only song you’d hear by Cream, unless you had the tenacity to actually own and listen to any of the CD’s, an accomplishment that seemed to elude my dad, and myself, too, until about 2001, when my senior year in high school started. And it just seemed invariable in my mind that it was Cream’s best song, an absolute classic, crooned out in that signature descending minor scale by Jack Bruce’s [2] clear, inviting but predatory delivery. When the chorus comes, too, the angels in the classic rock sky truly commence their magic, as Bruce’s voice shifts poignantly to falsetto, the higher singing technique, from chest voice, and the song even vaguely seems to undergo a key change, although, I think, it just begins emphasizing the supertonic, or second note in the scale, as the melodic focal point (which in a way is an even more creative tactic than a key change). 

A couple other things scientifically earmark “White Room” as a superior song to “Sunshine of Your Love,” the scientific aspect I’m discussing here of course corresponding with an assembled discussion of “music theory,” to be contrasted, of course, with such a thing as just a gut reaction that a song is good, as might be applied to “Louie, Louie”; et. al. And yes, “White Room” is also a better song to me on a gut, innate level, for reasons I’ll get to shortly. Anyway, one of these theory beacons I allude to is the meter shift that takes place from the introduction, which is set in five/four time, to the rest of the song, which pretty much adheres to basic four/four, with the exception of that one bridge which is basically a restatement of the intro’s theme. This structural multifariousness should of course be contrasted starkly with the monontonous four/four doldrums of “Sunshine of Your Love.” The other nugget I’d like to mention as setting apart “White Room” on a basic, fundamental level is the improved, or further galvinized, if you will, guitar sound from Eric Clapton, almost undeniably the most important member of Cream. Actually, on “Sunshine of Your Love,” it doesn’t even sound like he’s using a wah-wah, the guitar sound, if not necessarily stale, remaining pretty much one-dimensional within that lawn-mower-turned-sex-toy framework type of thing. Standing in stark distinction from this is Clapton’s work on “White Room,” which, with the help of a more robust and spatially saturated mix courtesy of constant band producer Felix Pappalardi, unleashes an axe sound unlike anything the world had ever heard up to this point, funkier and more verbose than anything of which George Harrison were capable [3] and probably clearer and more fine-tuned from a sonic standpoint even than anything Hendrix was doing around this time. 

I don’t want to oversimplify things, here, because “Sunshine of Your Love” does get my head nodding somewhat, and that riff is really above-average, as far as guitar riffs repeated for an entire song go. I sense a troubling element of sex objective in this worshipping of “Sunshine of Your Love,” like some myopic psychological phenomenon of thinking this song is going to help you get laid. It’s hopelessly reductive, anyway, lacking, as I imply, all of the technical flairs listed above that, generally, went on to make this band so special. Along these lines, yeah, I’d have to say I’d hesitate to even rank “Sunshine of Your Love” in my top 10 of Cream songs. That is, by the last verse, that incessant riff has become so tired and stale it almost imbues a sense of vertigo. “White Room,” along these lines, further, is a longer song, clocking in at 4:58, to the 4:10 of “Sunshine of Your Love.” Imagine trying to stretch out “Sunshine” 48 more seconds! People would already be on their second episode of “Bumfights” on YouTube by the end. And ask yourself, has “White Room” ever SEEMED longer than “Sunshine of Your Love”? In my opinion, “Sunshine” even seems the more lengthy tune, even though it’s exceeded by almost a minute in length by its aforementioned superior. 

Allmusic, typically a pretty trusty name in brief but succinct band biographies, seemed to disappointingly corroborate the epidemic “Sunshine of Your Love”-worshipping, referring to “White Room” as “majestically doomy,” almost in a condescending tone of cajoling its existence back into justification, from some phantom dismissal. And it’s true — it’s hard to find anyone anymore who considers “White Room” the best Cream song. If anything, you’d be more than likely to come across some snob who would claim to favor, like, “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” or “Strange Brew,” or something lower-profile, as their purported shining moment. “White Room” is the deacon, the all-knowing dad that everyone wants to rebel against, as a way of following a sex bait or grafting an opinion no one else has and bolstering their self-esteem. But take a listen to the subject matter. Jack Bruce is actually verbalizing, in a sense, the exact reason why the group broke up. The stuff had become monotonous — the constant touring, traveling, random, faceless “stations” in which the band were to be sequestered for any dehumanizing amount of time, and “shadows run(ning) from themselves,” like constant, arbitrarily rendered life forms shimmying this way and that with no obvious purpose or overall mission. On another track, the excellent “Sweet Wine”; Jack Bruce can be heard inquiring vocally “Who wants the worry / The hurry of city life? / Money / Nothing funny / Wasting the best of our lives”. And sure, with Cream being based in London and acting as his foot-in-the-door meal ticket [4], as it were, leaving Cream would mean getting to evade that giant, lurching urban mass in which everything seemed hectic and nothing seemed meaningful or sacred, for him, apparently. Sometimes you get the urge to ask why a band like Cream would break up, when really, the writing is right there on the wall: just listen to their most vital, important song and you’ll glean the meaning readily. “Sunshine of Your Love,” by comparison, seems like a well-wishing attempt at fusing rock and sex-idol motifs, a disappointing bastardization of the classic rock muse by a band typically operating on a superior level of creativity, song structure and semantics. 

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[1] Actually, come to think of it, there were two and maybe even three classic rock FM options around then… one I think was 97.7 WZOW out of Goshen. In many instances, grunge came along and supplanted a lot of the older, more organic bands, and so the formatting got a little loosey-goosey, I think. But I’ll never consider grunge “classic rock” — it’s a subset of ’90s alternative.

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[2] Of course, back around this time it was also my practice to think Eric Clapton was the lead singer of Cream. 

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[3] Actually, per legend, the Beatles invited Eric Clapton to play the solo on the studio version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” 

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[4] I say this in tongue-in-cheek but obviously I hope the music of Cream still means something to him, if only as some addled, drugged-out roller coaster ride, as it indeed does to so many of us listeners out here.