Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
Derek and the Dominos
Released: November 1970
Chart Peak: #16
Weeks Charted: 65
Certified Gold: 8/26/71
Layla sustains itself pretty well thoughout, but we've heard a lot of it before. As for whose guitar is playing what, Duane Allman provides most of the bottlenecking (but not all, I'll wager), while Eric Clapton continues in his recent vein of sharp, stinging, high-pitched, harmonic-overtones picking. Behind them, Bobby Whitlock, Jim Gordon, and Carl Radle demonstrate again and again that Booker T. and the MG's no longer have a corner on the Memphis-tight rhythm market.
A double album means you can expect some filler. Among the weak cuts: "Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out," "Tell The Truth," "Bell-Bottom Blues," "Have You Ever Loved A Woman," and "Thorn Tree In the Garden." Happily, what remains is what you hoped for from the conjunction of Eric's developing style, the Delaney and Bonnie styled rhythm section, and the strengths of "Skydog" Allman's session abilities. And Clapton's singing is always at least adequate, and sometimes quite good. Among the high points:
"I Looked Away" -- relentless rhythmic cooking and guitars spread up and down the scale; should be a single.
"Keep On Growing" -- Jim's drum-fire, while Eric and Bobby drive each other, trading the vocal back and forth.
"Anyday" -- the full-tilt crashing intro, Duane slippin' and a-slidin', the chorus shouting "Anyday, anyday, I could see you smile," the sparks of energy spit throughout; a cut even greater than the sum of its parts.
Broonzy's "Key to the Highway," the celebrated walking blues for nine straight and solid minutes -- some early echo-chamber effects but, most amazing, the incredibly complex machinations of Eric and Duane: pushing and prodding, picking and cutting, trading insults and inspirations. (It's just unfortunate they tried it again a side late as "Have You Ever Loved a Woman.")
Hendrix's "Little Wing" -- surges of Bolero-like chording, a strangled and mournful vocal.
"It's Too Late" -- slide work set so high as to alter your mind, a forceful rendition of Chuck Willis.
And, at last, "Layla" -- another powerful opening, a strange Bobby Blandish chorus ("Layla, you got me on my knees; Layla, I'm beggin' you, please"), a streaming and churning mid-section, and a lengthy piano solo (by Bobby?) edged by almost-unheard guitars that becomes an extended fade a la Nicky Hopkins.
So forget any indulgences and filler, Layla is still one hell of an album. Clapton's not God but him and Skydog and the Dominos together do make for an hour or so of heaven. Maybe critics, audience, and musicians can agree, just this once.
- Ed Leimbacher, Rolling Stone, 12-24-70.
- Ed Naha, Circus, 9/72.
What looks at first like a slap-dash studio double is in fact Eric Clapton's most carefully conceived recording. Not only did he hire Duane Allman for overdubs after basic tracks were done, but he insisted that Duane come up with just the thick, sliding phrase he (Eric) wanted before calling it a take. The resulting counterpoint is the true expression of Clapton's genius, which has always been synthetic rather than innovative, steeped in blues anti-utopianism. With Carl Radle and Jim Gordon at bottom, this album has plenty of relaxed shuffle and simple rock and roll, and Clapton's singing is generally warm rather than hot. But his meaning is realized at those searing peaks when a pained sense of limits -- why does love have to be so sad, I got the bell-bottom blues, Lay-la -- is posed against good times in an explosive compression of form. A+
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
It is extremely difficult to believe, but the original 1970 Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs album never charted in Great Britain. There were several possible explanations. At the time of release there were no familiar tracks, and an unknown double album is always a risky purchase. The average consumer would not have known that the artist was accomplished, since Eric Clapton hid behind the pseudonym. And "Layla" itself was over seven minutes in length, therefore not gaining much radio exposure. At least in the US the album went gold, though it never made the Top 10.
One of the great comments in rock journalism, as emotional and committed as the music itself, was penned by Dave Marsh for The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll. Writing about Clapton, Marsh observed "there are few moments in the repertoire of recorded rock where a singer or writer has reached so deeply into himself that the effect of hearing them is akin to witnessing a murder, or a suicide... to me, 'Layla' is the greatest of them."
A more strictly accurate analogy would be with an account of a road accident described by the person critically injured. Clapton managed to bawl out his pain over frustrated love with raw emotion. A superb team helped him complete his masterpiece. The duelling guitar introduction with Duane Allman is thrilling, and the lengthy duet with pianist Jim Gordon is gorgeous. Gordon's fellow Dominos Carl Radle and Bobby Whitlock offered admirable support.
In 1987, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was chosen by a panel of rock critics and music broadcasters as the #92 best rock album of all time.
- Paul Gambaccini, The Top 100 Rock 'n' Roll Albums of All Time, Harmony Books, 1987.
Derek and the Dominos was a one-disc group based on the guitar talent of Eric Clapton backed by a trio of first-rate sessionmen. During the recording sessions for Layla, Duane Allman was brought in. His fluid guitar style not only acts as the perfect foil for Clapton but provides a sonic and stylistic "backbone" otherwise lacking.
It is really only "Layla," Clapton's love song to Patti Harrison, that is remembered. Layla, the album, underlines the problems of CD repackaging as playing time is barely three minutes longer than what can be cut on a single disc. Cynically, this effectively makes the double disc package the most expensive CD single yet!
Though there are sonic advantages in the better grip on the flowing phrases, the music still sounds compressed and confused with patches of noticeable distortion on some vocal tracks -- this fuzziness can become a strain. The master tapes come via CD with a drizzle of dull hiss. Sad to say, but this is for the collector.
- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.
Nowadays, Eric Clapton is the most overrated guitarist in the history of rock and roll -- what else can you say about someone who has inspired "CLAPTON IS GOD" graffiti? -- but he is also one of the most impressive of all six-string masters. Few white players have his understanding, his full internalization, of the blues; few players of any instrument anywhere -- including singers -- are capable of wrenching so many different emotions in so many non-manipulative fashions. The problem is that Clapton doesn't want it anymore. He feels he's already "done his bit," as the former Johnny Rotten says of his past nowadays. Clapton makes bland pop records and hangs out with Phil Collins; among non-dead rockers, he is a waste of talent second only to Rod Stewart. Once in a while, like on mid-eighties gigs with Carl Perkins and Chuck Berry, or even (horror of horrors) when admitted alcoholic Clapton recorded a beer jingle, he turns on the juice. Most of the time he can't be bothered.
It wasn't always this way. Around 1970, Clapton was among the most unrequited of rockers. He was already a superstar from his days with the ill-fated supergroup Blind Faith and the ill-conceived power trio Cream, and he wanted to pump down the volume but still find edgy sounds. He performed as a sideman for Delaney and Bonnie, and immersed himself in soul music. He surrounded himself with American musicians from Delaney and Bonnie's troupe who had no use for the excesses of Cream, and pared down. Clapton, keyboard player Bobby Whitlock, bassist Carl Radle, and drummer Jim Gordon called themselves Derek and the Dominos, ensconced themselves in Miami, and wrote and recorded the most direct album of Clapton's career.
Clapton is striving throughout the seventy-seven minues of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, trying to get his guitar to talk right, trying to get his voice right, trying to ease his worried mind, trying to keep trying. Clapton's personal life was a wreck when he cut this album (drugs, barbed romance, more drugs) and perhaps that's why he found solace in the cathartic blues and blues-derived cuts on this record. "I don't wanna fade away" he and Whitlock sing like Sam and Dave in "Bell Bottom Blues," and that was presicely Clapton's worry -- that he didn't matter emotionally or musically. But Clapton and company (all of whom had their own megaproblems at the time as well) stirred through songs they loved (Chuck Willis's resigned "It's Too Late," Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing," and a pair of blues standards) as well as songs of their own making that lived up to those forbears. Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is an album about desperately trying to find order in a world as disordered as any imaginable.
Extraordinarly instinctive vocal and instrumental arrangements dominate the record, especially on the titanic "Layla," the only lengthy rock-radio standard that still stands up twenty years later as something other than nostalgia. Any rock-and-roll fan knows the song, from the slashing dual-guitar (or is that duel-guitar?) introduction of Clapton and guest Duane Allman to the extended coda that seems the aural embodiment of pain. "Layla" is a song that summons up Robert Johnson and then finds a way to get darker, which is an achievement in itself. "Layla," a raw tale of love as unrequited as any in art, is as naked as any song in rock and roll, as exposed as anything Clapton ever recorded. No wonder he had to pull back afterward.
- Jimmy Guterman, The Best Rock 'n' Roll Records of All Time, 1992.
Quite simply, this is Eric Clapton's finest moment, full of gutsy, impassioned playing and tortured vocals. None of the love songs are simple, and the band rocks away their blues in a series of long jams that are never boring. * * * * *
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
On Derek and the Dominos' Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Eric Clapton was spurred to perhaps the greatest playing of his career by the presence of Duane Allman. The results speak for themselves. * * * * *
- Alan Paul, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
Clapton leads a crackerjack group, with standout slide guitarist Duane Allman, creating one of the greatest collaborations ever recorded, the two musicians prodding each other to mystical heights. Pain drips from the groove of this seminal record that has something for everyone -- hard-driving rockers, stormy blues, wailing solos, including "Layla" as it was meant to be sung, with the most stunning opening riff written by Eric for his secret love Patti Boyd, then married to his best pal George Harrison. * * * * *
- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.
If you'd been Eric Clapton during the period that encompassed 1969-70, chances are you would've been tired. During that time, Clapton claimed membership -- however fleeting the duration -- in more than a few reputable rock outfits: Blind Faith, the Plastic Ono Band, Delaney & Bonnie, and finally Derek & the Dominos. The last was actually an offshoot of the period spent on the road with Delaney & Bonnie, a roughshod hippie honky-tonk band from which he snatched drummer Jim Gordon, bassist Carl Radle, and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, and the Dominos they became. The band became Clapton's attempt to continue the kind of Southern roots-finding revelation that playing with Americans Delaney and Bonnie had provided, and to reconcile his spiritual connection with the American South that had given birth to Clapton's beloved blues.
Finding road-seasoned counterparts in the rhythm section of Radle and Gordon helped Clapton unfurl some of his most impassioned solos since the days when he was striving for blues purism in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, before the bombastic -- and admittedly at times brilliant -- proto-metal attack of Cream. But the deciding factor on this album's immortality rested solely on the fact that, during the second week of recording, Duane Allman joined the proceedings on slide guitar. He was at the time the rising star of the Allman Brothers Band, and Duane's presence ascertained that Layla was destined to become one of the all-time classic dual-guitar albums.
On the title cut, "Layla," the two guitarists go at one another with whipping frenzy as Clapton, who sounds as if he's performing a vocal exorcism, states his impassioned plea to the unrequited woman of his desires (whom everyone later learned was actually George Harrison's wife, Patti). Meanwhile, versons of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" and Freddie King's "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" are convincing performances that take on a life of their own, as does the majestic "Bell Bottom Blues," which casts its shadow over the rest of this set with arching grace. Layla is a worthy exemplar of blues power as well as a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs was voted the 89th greatest album of all time in a VH1 poll of over 700 musicians, songwriters, disc jockeys, radio programmers, and critics in 2003.
- Joe S. Harrington, VH1's 100 Greatest Albums, 2003.
The panoramic anguish of Eric Clapton's singing and guitar-playing here -- in songs such as "Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad" and the searing title track -- was the product of very private hurt: his romantic yearning for the then-wife of his best friend, George Harrison. Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is also a two-LP feast of dueling guitars, as Clapton soared in tandem with session guest and slide virtuoso Duane Allman. They had not met prior to the sessions, but their interplay in "Key to The Highway" and "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" is both harmonious and fiercely competitive -- electric, brotherly love.
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was chosen as the 115th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.
- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.
By 1970, Eric Clapton had fallen desperately -- and, at that point, unrequitedly -- in love with the wife of his best friend, George Harrison. As if to shroud his emotions in secrecy, Clapton transformed himself into Derek, and Pattie Boyd Harrison became Layla, a name Clapton borrowed from "The Story of Layla and Majnun," by the Persian poet Nizami. Drugs and alchohol exacerbated the raw emotions churning inside the guitarist. Keyboardist Bobby Whitlock provided a terse summary of the sessions' psychotropic menu: "Cocaine and heroin, that's all -- and Johnnie Walker."
The result? A masterpiece. The epic "Bell Bottom Blues" feels as if it's going to shatter from the heat of its romantic agony. "Do you want to see me crawl across the floor to you?" Clapton sings. "Do you want to hear me beg you to take me back?" The playing on the album, too, teeters on the edge of chaos but never tips. Clapton and the then relatively unknown second lead guitarist, Duane Allman, swirl in the whirlwind of each other's wild gifts on the title track and on a ravaging version of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing." Meanwhile, on "Keep On Growing" and "Anyday," Clapton and Whitlock share vocals in raggedy emulation of the American soul duo Sam and Dave. Best known for his blues-playing and pop songs, Clapton rocks harder on those tracks than he's done before or since.
Back in the all-too-mundane real world, Clapton and Pattie Boyd Harrison eventually married and later divorced. But Derek and Layla live on. * * * * *
- Anthony DeCurtis, Rolling Stone, 1/27/05.
An almost fictitious group ended up making a double vinyl album that, though it bombed at the time, has since been re-evaluated as a rock classic thanks to its title track's single success. The Derek in question was Eric Clapton who, after stints with The Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Cream and (briefly) Blind Faith, recruited a band and created this, his first solo gem.
Behind said Derek, the Dominos features three Americans: keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, bassist Carl Radle, and drummer Jim Gordon, all ex-members of Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, a loose-knit aggregation with which Clapton had guested. Most of the songs here resulted from a series of relaxed, informal jams, and all concerned play with refreshing economy.
Clapton's masterstroke was recruiting Duane Allman as a guest player: Allman's slide guitar on the title track screamed like a train coming off the rails over one of rock's most memorable riffs. Even hard-bitten producer Tom Dowd was impressed. "When I finished," he revealed, "I walked out of the studio and said, 'That's the best goddamn record I've made in ten years.'" Having peaked at No. 7 first time out, "Layla" climbed three places higher when reissued exactly ten years on.
That song of unrequited love was inspired by Patti Boyd, the wife of Clapton's best friend, George Harrison. Clapton channeled his frustrated passion into all the music on the album, offering energetic reworkings of blues classics by artists from Big Bill Broonzy to Hendrix that are now classics in their own right.
- Michael Heatley, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.
In 1970, the recording engineer Tom Dowd brokered one of the most auspicious meetings in rock history -- between guitarist Eric Clapton and the slide-guitar master Duane Allman. Clapton was working with Dowd at Miami's Criteria Studios, attempting to shake off the bitter demise of Blind Faith with a new group that included keyboardist and singer Bobby Whitlock. After a few days of what Dowd describes as "getting sounds and breaking ice," Allman called, curious to see the British guitar legend in person. Clapton's group went to watch the Allman Brothers play instead, and afer the concert, the musicians partied all night, eventually repairing to the studio the next afternoon. Dowd: "We turned the tapes on, and they went on for fifteen, eighteen hours like that. I went through two or three sets of engineers."
Fueled by cocaine, heroin, and Johnny Walker ("It was scary," Whitlock recalls, because "we didn't have little bits of anything....We had these big bags laying out everywhere"), the group went from open jamming to developing actual songs, among them the beseeching "Bell Bottom Blues." The basic concept was rock, pitched at the whiplash frequency of Memphis soul. The band worked up nontraditional approaches to old blues (this "Key to the Highway" has a searing energy that far outstrips Clapton's more scholarly later blues), and then recorded the masterpiece "Layla" as a suite, in stages.
Inspired by the Persian poet Nizami's romantic fable The Story of Layla and Majnun, Clapton wrote lyrics that expressed a worshipful devotion, and surrounded the verses with a guitar phrase, authored by Allman, that endures as a rock and roll anthem. Then, when things can go no higher, comes the postcoital cigarette -- in the form of a reflective elegy, written on piano by Gordon, that allows Allman and Clapton to have a more leisurely discussion. Their combined mojo takes everyone to church, where the impassioned whirling-dervish embrace of two swooning, imploring guitars leads to a state of illuminated bliss. Transcendence-wise, this is as close as rock gets to Coltrane's quartet collectively hitting the rafters at the Village Vanguard, or Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan singing in an unshakable trance, or...
- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.
(The Layla Sessions: 1990 20th Anniversary Edition) As a near fatality of the Woodstock Generation's holy trinity -- love, music and drugs -- Eric Clapton was more than qualified to sing the blues by 1970. Guitar-god superstardom had left the twenty-five-year-old legend disillusioned and burnt; a smack habit and unrequited love for Patti Boyd, the wife of his best friend, George Harrison, lent a hard dose of real-world suffering. Searching for solace, Clapton expressed his pain in fourteen lengthy testaments to romantic anguish that became Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. With churning Southern R&B-style backing by his band -- and invigorated by guest guitarist Duane Allman, the acclaimed king of Anglo-American blues rock capped his reign with this haunted, soulful masterpiece.
Twenty years later, Layla has been refurbished -- remixed and finally coaxed onto a single CD -- for reissue as the commemorative box set The Layla Sessions/20th Anniversary Edition, with two additional CDs of previously unreleased recordings from the sessions. Such crypto-bootleg excavation may be a thrill for rock scholars, but those expecting revelations will be disappointed to discover that there isn't much more to Layla than initially met the ears. None of the more than two hours of related material notably illuminates the original album.
While Clapton's fretwork on the five long blues jams is predictably impressive, the age when free-form workouts were considered high rock art has long passed. "Jam III" is mildly edifying as an aural sketch for "Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad," and "Jam IV," a funky blow by Clapton, Whitlock and the Allman Brothers Band, is intriguing, but these spontaneous combustions can't touch the staggering solos on Layla's "Key to the Highway," "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" and "Little Wing."
The specific song outtakes from Layla are more intriguing but still offer only a teasing glimpse behind the scenes. The numerous acoustic versions of "Mean Old World" clearly did not merit release, but alternate takes of "Have You Ever Loved a Woman," without Allman, have more pathos than the LP track. A looser, funkier rendition of "It's Too Late" that omits Whitlock's vocals is every bit as good as the album's; two extended "Tell the Truth" instrumentals (one cogent, the other an exploratory shambles) sound monochromatic in the absence of Allman's wailing slide.
That leaves Layla itself. Changing fashions and subsequent blandness of Clapton's career have helped preserve the album's subtlety, strength and stylistic achievement; although a novice singer and writer at that point, Clapton was pretty much at the top of his form. There are songs that wouldn't be missed, and Clapton's dinky guitar tone (accentuated by the remix) is less exciting than the sustained enormousness of his Cream-era sound, but those are small quarrels with a large achievement. Unlike so many of its contemporaries, Layla has aged gracefully, an appealing and dignified example of enduring blues power.
- Ira Robbins, Rolling Stone, 10/4/90.
Eric Clapton's 1970 masterpiece receives a first-rate box-set reissue. Fans of the album who cringed at horrible sounding original CD release will rejoice at crisp remastering and remixing job here; additional bonuses are some fascinating alternate takes, jams between the Dominos and the Allman Brothers Band, and detailed booklet. Bill Levenson, producer of best-selling Clapton retrospective "Crossroads," does another ace job on this guitar classic.
- Billboard, 1990.
Featuring two discs of outtakes and jams, the three-CD box The Layla Sessions manages to detract from the original by surrounding it with endless, dull instrumentals. Then again, all the unreleased material proves what a well-constructed album Layla is. * * *
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
(2011 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) Recorded in six weeks in the late summer of 1970, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is one of rock's greatest broken promises. The original double LP was the only studio album by Eric Clapton's exceptional alliance with keyboard player Bobby Whitlock, bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon -- all American exiles from the Delaney and Bonnie and Joe Cocker bands -- as well as guitarist Duane Allman, on session leave from his own group. By the spring of '71, Derek and the Dominos were over, fried by drugs and abandoned by Clapton, who went into seclusion. But the band was a rare thing in supergroups, a marquee with the exulatant lust and anguish of Southern R&B. Layla was partly covers, including blues by Jimmy Cox and Freddie King. But the screaming-treble despair was real -- Clapton's then-unrequited love for the wife of his best friend, George Harrison -- and the guitarist, writing and singing with Whitlock, hit a rich frantic gallop of "Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?" "Layla," with its immortal lick, rewired by Allman from an Albert King record, was the peak of Clapton's agony and arguably the beginning of the Dominos' end. Formed in haste, forged in pain, they were not built to last. This two-CD set does not have the studio jams from the 1990 anniversary box but covers the quartet's life span, including a Layla outtake with Allman, tracks from an abandoned '71 session, the Dominos' incendiary performances at the Fillmore East and a live romp on The Johnny Cash Show -- the last word on a fast-doomed majesty. * * * * *
- David Fricke, Rolling Stone, 3/31/11.
Tired of stardom, Eric Clapton formed a new band so he could be just one of the lads. Yet there's no mistaking the torture of "Layla" as he sings about falling for the wife of his best friend, George Harrison.
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was chosen as the 226th greatest album of all time in a Rolling Stone magazine poll of artists, producers, critics and music industry figures in Oct. 2020.
- Rolling Stone, 10/20.
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