Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Eric Clapton 5: 461 Ocean Boulevard

Seemingly finally off junk for good, Eric Clapton headed back to Florida. With the help of Tom Dowd in the control room, and former Domino Carl Radle bringing in some players from Oklahoma, he managed to complete his second real solo album, named after the address of the house where he was living. With the addition of labelmate Yvonne Elliman from the Jesus Christ Superstar albums, he also established a band that would serve him for the rest of the decade.
Right off the bat, “Motherless Children” recalls the Dominos with a galloping beat, constant organ, and melodic slide for a great starter. He immediately turns things down for the spiritual “Give Me Strength”, and underscores it with a truly wimpy rendition of “Willie And The Hand Jive”. “Get Ready”, co-written and sung with Yvonne Elliman, is an improvement on both, but as the third slow song in a row, it’s easy to overlook. But then its reggae beat is immediately elevated with a cover of “I Shot The Sheriff”, which certainly made more people aware of Bob Marley.
“I Can’t Hold Out” begins with a dirty guitar, but mostly sleepwalks through a standard 12-bar written by either Willie Dixon or Elmore James. “Please Be With Me” is something of a Duane Allman tribute, being written by the leader of Cowboy, who were signed to the Allmans’ label and toured with the band; their original version featured Duane on dobro, which Eric plays here. Even though Jim Carrey co-opted it 25 years later, we’re still a sucker for “Let It Grow”, an incredibly melodic little wonder that slightly modifies “Stairway To Heaven” chord changes into something of a power ballad that showcases multiple guitar tones. Robert Johnson continues to be a touchstone, as “Steady Rollin’ Man” is injected with some funk. George Terry—aka the other guitarist on the album—provides the riff-happy “Mainline Florida” for a catchy finale.
For better or for worse, 461 Ocean Boulevard establishes the Clapton brand going forward: competent, easy listening rock that’s neither challenging nor groundbreaking, steeped in the blues, but still focused in the present. He’s best when he simply plays his guitar; unfortunately he can’t always carry an album. If this is your thing, go forward happily. Personally, we prefer more grit.
Due to a publishing dispute over “Give Me Strength”, that song was pulled from later reprints of the album and replaced with “Better Make It Through Today”, a track from his next album. When 461 was first released on CD, this new sequence was the same, but with “Give Me Strength” stuck at the end. The mid-‘90s remaster finally restored the original 10-track lineup. 2004’s deluxe edition filled out the first disc with some in-studio jams, and added a second disc compiled from London shows at the end of the year, opening with a gospel-tinged version of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”. (Further studio outtakes were added to 2013’s Give Me Strength: The ’74/’75 Recordings box set, making both expansions required for completists.)

Eric Clapton 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974)—3
2004 Deluxe Edition: same as 1974, plus 16 extra tracks

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