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Cream

'Toad' Fucking Rules....if You're Retarded!

Introduction

Fresh Cream

Disraeli Gears

Wheels of Fire

Goodbye

Live Cream Vol. I

Live Cream Vol. II

Strange Brew: The Very Best of Cream

The Very Best of Cream


Cream, good ol' Cream. The first supergroup, the first power trio, and the first group to show that egotism isn't just for breakfast anymore. The original cast of the 'lots of talent, get big, get rich, get drugged out, fight a lot, and break up' rock cliché. Three British lads with long, permed hair, paisleys painted on their guitars, and a penchant for playing constantly for days and days until their amplifiers actually rolled out under their own power and drowned themselves in the Thames. These guys didn't invent the solo, but they sure popularized the motherfucker. And talking about motherfuckers, they sorta were the first group that rilly played the blues the way that they did. See where Hendrix and Zeppelin and Savoy Brown and whatnot got that heavy blooze idea from? Yeah, right from the fingertips of Mssrs. Bruce and Clapton, that's where. Of course, there were other white electric blues guys before Cream (Paul Butterfield, fer example), but none of them made it so freaky and long and, well, White as Cream did. The other guys just wanted to sound authentic and stuff, while Cream sounded about as authentic as a coca-cola enema. You need also to know that, at least for a time, Cream were the loudest band going. Louder than the Who, even. They pioneered such things as playing distorted Marshall amplifiers on purpose. But they played loud, and sho looked cool in 2967, lemme tell ya. Talkin' from this here year of 3001. Damn rented fingers.

Good thing for us they left some fairly decent pop songs behind them as well. Lookit Disraeli Gears over there for such poppy snappy tunes that are as catchy as the Bangkok clap. These guys could sure (sometimes) write rings around Jimi Hendrix, to name just one of their contemporaries Cream is frequently compared to (and is damn near identical to). Cream is rarely where people kick off a love for rock music anymore. They've been somewhat overshadowed by their other 60's forebears (and fellow-travelers) because their history was so short. I'd recommend Cream to anyone who's been through the usual first classic rock artists (Led Zep, Beatles) and is wondering what band almost single-handedly replaced screaming pre-teen chicks with people who actually sat and listened, stoned to the nines, to live performances. Cream made rock serious, and it's pretty spectacular to do as much as they did in less than three years.

Some history up in heah...guitar king Eric Clapton, bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce, and drummer Ginger Baker formed The Cream in 1966 following involvements in other groups. Clapton himself came from a successful stint in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, where he learned once and for all how to play the blues for real instead of just speeding up and playing a bunch of stupid notes like he used to do with the Yardbirds. Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were both from the Graham Bond Organization, a band of which I've yet to see a record, but oh well. Bruce also had a little stint in the Bluesbreakers, thus completing the link with E. You're probably familiar with Clapton's bluesy B.B. King-derived playing style, but something needs to be said about Bruce and Ginger. Bruce was a speedy and melodic bass player, using his instrument to play higher than the usual low down bump bump...more John Entwistle than Bill Wyman, if you cheese my horn sniffer. Ginger Baker was the first of the drummer's drummers, a line that stretched on to Bonham, Bruford, Peart, and whoever else is on the cover of Drummer magazine this month. He had'em dueling bass drums, and would bash the hell outta his kit like a slightly more rhythmic Keith Moon. Still one of the only drummers I can identify by sound alone, bummer he was so inclined to solo. I need drum solos like a hole in the head, man. Ever see the report about the people who drill holes in their skulls because it relieves pressure on the brain? I remember seeing it on TV. It was totally freaky, you wouldn't believe it. They had this chick in somebody's kitchen getting the procedure done by this guy with a Black 'n' Decker and a 3/4" bit. Apparently there were 'complications' and the girl had to go to the hospital. No shit! The guy with the drill was all like 'I've never had this problem before'. Ha Haaaa! People are so stupid!

That there's my 'hole in the head story' about how much I hate drum solos, dig?


Fresh Cream - Polydor 1966.

So I just listened to this again for review purposes and this was the outcome. I started it off pretty loud, with 'I Feel Free' bopping and popping away with its cool quick-strum guitar riff and vocal harmonies. I even like the lyrics 'I walk down the street there's no one there, though the pavements-ah one huge crowd'....yeah, man! Its 1966! Eric's guitar solo even sounds good, but like it was grafted on long after the original song was complete. Anyway, neato.

'N.S.U.' kicks off with Ginger doing his tom tom thing, then another strummy guitar riff ala the Kinks, and then the simple lyric melody 'da da, da da, da da, da da, da da da da', then 'AAAAAHHHH!' geez. Those Bruce aahs come early and often and sure aren't too pretty. Unfortunately there's a lot of that on the album, I mean Jack Bruce doing something ugly with either his voice or his harmonica. Eric and Ginger bash along nicely, but this was the first time I went 'gosh, let's turn that down'. Luckily the next song is a decent blues original 'Sleepy Time Time', which luckily avoids any truly ugly moments. Clapton's guitar holds down the fort over the first (but not the last) annoying repetitive vocals of the record. The phrase 'Sleepy Time Time' looks dumb on paper and sounds worse, especially when it comprises about 90% of the words of the song. Now I think 'Dreaming' isn't bad at all. If you're going to write a short pop number you might as well make it sound halfway like a soul song.

'Sweet Wine' comes and I turn it down again. That thing Bruce chants sounds like it should come from Pink Floyd and it totally ruins the otherwise decent song. I mean, it totally sullies some decent drumming, anyway. I sure am happy when Eric's solo comes and really takes off into the land of the psychedelic and feedback-drenched.  Then back to the ugly 'Ba Ba BA-Ba Ba BAAAAH' and ugh. 'Spoonful' is cool, but not because it tends to cover up Bruce's annoying vocals, but because its easy to ignore the annoying vocals that are there in spades. Also the longest song on the record at over 6 minutes, but that's alright on this one. Clapton shines again and the band as a whole sounds really happy to be playing for us. I do wish the ending didn't seem like each player was trying to get the last word in, but oh well. Good song and I turned it up.

The rest of the album can really jump off a cliff, though. After 'Spoonful', the blues run-through 'Cat's Squirrel' sounds waay to young and messy. Filler material for sure. Eric's 'Four Until Late' doesn't annoy, but its country thang sure is outta place here. You do get to hear Eric's and Bruce's voice not match worth a matchstick, either. And a bad harmonica solo. Bruce was terrible on the harp, and he plays it all the time on this record. 'Rollin' and Tumblin' is back to 'Cat's Squirrel' style riff repetition, and this time it pushes over the edge. It goes into an old-school Yardbirds-style 'rave up' where everyone makes a lot of noise and little sense and the riff keeps repeating and repeating. Ugly! Turning it down some more so only I can hear.  The poppy 'I'm So Glad' is retarded, where they keep singing the title over and over and over until you're embarrassed in front of your friends. Now this is a total waste of a neat little intro riff. I turn it down so I can't hear very well while I busy myself sweeping the floor. And then it ends with a drum solo song ('Toad')  that, albeit it doesn't suck very much, and is quite listenable for its ilk (Ginger was jazz-influenced, so he tuned his drums and didn't just bash, you know) is still 4 minutes of drum solo. I turned it off here.

I wanna mention something here just to make it clear. There are melodies here, and riffs after a fashion, but many of them sound like children's tunes. Da da da dum da. Certainly not rocking, unless you think Sesame Street rocks.

I'm gonna say this: Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker do a decent job on this record, but I can sure tell Jack Bruce didn't know how not to be one annoying bastard. They simply (other than 'I Feel Free') just can't write at all yet. And repeating something a million times just makes me dislike Jack Bruce even though he was probably just young and over-excited to be leading his own band. Luckily he has Clapton doing some great work and Baker just being himself, which isn't a bad thing yet.

 

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Disraeli Gears - Polydor 1967.

I could never tell whether the second 'i' in Disraeli is long or short? I mean, is it pronounced like 'Israeli', but with a 'D', or like diz-rel-eye, like 'I've got lint in my eye'? My life and its never ending series of mysteries. All I know is that Disraeli was an on-and-off Prime Minister of Great Britain sometime in the 19th century, so what the fuck do I know?

I know how much of an improvement this record is, man! That's one thing. So much tighter and less annoying than Fresh Cream. A lot of people tend to compare this to all the other 'way out there's' from 1967, like Sgt. Pepper and Satanic Majesties and, hell, Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, for all I know, but I say pbblt to that. Cream were acid rock, but weren't weird at all except for their lyrics. Is there anything weird about a blues jam? Maybe electric blues jams ala Cream were a brand new thing in 1967, but I find a whole lot less 'acid weirdness' on this than most of the other records from '67. I mean, Sgt. Pepper and After Bathing at Baxter's were barely even rock records at all. Sure the cover of Disraeli Gears is trippy, and their hair is fozzier than a bear, but don't go into this thinking they're going to take you to 'Interstellar Overdrive'....they're just going to play Fresh Cream again, but with a lot better songwriting.

 'Strange Brew', with its falsetto vocals and everything, starts off things damn catchy. I wouldn't really call it a blues, but definitely blues rock, and has a nicely swinging groove as well. I wouldn't call these lyrics very psychedelic...actually the only psychedelic things about the song other than the high, sighing vocals, is the fact that the drums are way over in the right speaker (actually they're there the whole time, ok...that's weird) and Eric keeps whacking that one chord in the riff, which is kind of acid. 'Sunshine of Your Love' hey! That's one of their best songs ever! Still though, the fact that its 3 guys playing sorta leaves a lot of air between the instruments, you know? Kinda hollow sounding. That don't mean I don't like it! The 'to be..where..I'm...go-in' line alone is good enough for the price of admission, I says. This was supposed to be a tribute to Jimi Hendrix, who in turn used to cover it at his own concerts as a tribute to Cream. Wotta riff! Definitely the first of those hard-rock vocabulary riffs (later to include 'Iron Man' and 'Smoke on the Water', as well as 'The Crunge'!) (Just foolin'!) Bummer it sounds so empty. This is where Led Zeppelin totally whoops Cream's butt in the riff category: earth moving heavy sound. Make a riff sound like its going to eat my mama. Cream ain't got enough of that stuff. I'm gonna praise Ginger's drumming again, regardless. Damn fine job, Mr. Baker! Way to not play in a boring way and also to use all of your drums. And you too, Eric! Nice solo! Not going to make me see visions or anything, but still nice and memorable.

'World of Pain' has a neat loud-soft dichotomy and a nice wah on the guitar, but there doesn't seem to be much song there. 'Outside my window is a tree!' and a bunch more falsettos almost tick on to my annoying meter, but not quite, 'cos its saved by a melody and bass line I can hum for you if you want. There is a double tracked guitar solo for 10 seconds...man my hand is beautiful. Shit, trip over. This is so not psychedelic. 'Dance the Night Away' has a chimey guitar tone that approaches weirditude...but always keeps its melodic head about it. Cool lyrics, bummer they're sung so drugged-out. Ginger's 'Blue Condition' is straight out of the Sesame Street school of melody we heard so much from on Fresh Cream. Not to say its horrible, there's no howling or harmonica, but not too much of a hook, no matter how much Ginger bashes his drums.

Now 'Brave Ulysses' might actually take you somewhere. The first 100% psychedelic track on the album sounds like the work-in-progress of 'White Room' off the next one. Wah? Descending Riff? Meaningless lyrics that still manage to sound cool? Too short, tho. Yup! Just make it longer and more dramatic, and you've got 'White Room'. Our subject takes a turn for the worse here.. 'SWLABR'  (I'm not going to translate that because I don't want to perpetuate such awful lyric writing...just imagine the dumbest thing you've ever heard and make it take a tab of acid) has stupid airheaded lyrics of the worst sort, but it works pretty hard at sounding hard, so we can let it go. Really Hendrix-oid, much more so than even 'Sunshine of Your Love'. The slow 'We're Going Wrong' doesn't do much outside of a lot of Ginger rolls, and manages to bore the paint off my window frame. The return of annoying Jack Bruce vocalisms for the first time on this record, too. 'Outside Woman Blues' has an okay riff, but by now its one too many riff-rockers, and I'm just not rocking no matter how hard I try. And how sterile is that guitar solo? Foul! Bummer Jack wastes a snappy vocal hook on this one. 'Take it Back' and we're happily back to the swingin' blues, and sho 'nuff if Jack hasn't been practicing that harmonica since last time. Yelling in the right speaker and what the hell is that supposed to be? Still just not psychedelic...'Mother's Lament' is just some stupid cockney tossing off and is one of the most irritating moments in their entire catalog. The hell is that?

So you get 'Sunshine', one of the coolest rockers ever....'Spoonful', 'Ulysses', and 'Dance' are standouts, and the rest of the stuff is, well, okay. Catchy, maybe, but way too samey sounding over the course of the record. Still, this is about as good as this band ever got, so I say buy it. Just don't expect to see visions.

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Mike     Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: I've always pronounced "Disraeli" like "Israeli." This 'un's got some real classics on it, but it isn't flawless, so I give it an A- for shits 'n giggles.

 


Wheels of Fire - Polydor 1968.

Disraeli Gears having made these guys a household name (in a weird fucking household), the expectation level for this one must've been unbelievable. I mean, they'd grown by such leaps and bounds between their first two records, who could guess how cool they'd be in 1968? Well I dunno how many of those '68 freaks expected a double half live/half studio beast like Wheels of Fire turned out to be. Monstrous! Only nine songs on the studio record and a whopping four live songs. 16 minutes of 'Toad'! God's Wounds! Ruining life for the rest of us, Ginger Baker pounds for 16 minutes....I tell ya, there's a few other things I could do for 16 minutes, sleep...watch a sunset....play Tetris....but listen to a drum solo ain't on the list. I'll come back to that debacle later when I rip the live disc. Let's start out with the good part, the best piece of recording they ever did, the studio record.

First thing I must describe to you is the overall sound. It's a darn sight fuller than Disraeli, which frequently sounded thin and hollow. You've got overdubs, strings, and generally a lot more atmosphere here...helping proceedings out a lot, if I may say so. You've still got the basic Cream problem, though, which is that most every song is based around one riff, the bass line bounces around said riff, Ginger pounds, Eric has a solo and throws little lines on top of everything that ultimately just turn out to be window dressing. Just too much simple, samey-sounding guitar, bass, and drums. These guys could play but they just didn't have enough ideas to sustain themselves for more than a couple of albums. Changes of pace consisted of doing a blues instead of a heavy pounder. No, man, these guys were not Led Zeppelin.

Things start off on a high with 'White Room', that rewrite of 'Tales of Brave Ulysses' I was talking about. I love this song for two reasons, one being the drumming, which I think is brilliant. And in both stereo channels, so wow...full, too. The other is Clapton's wah pedal. Whoo, wah pedal! Way to go, Cry-Baby (or Vox, maybe) you really rock this song out. These lines without the wah effect would be, er...just like every other Cream song. Other than that it's sort of 'Ulysses' with a viola. That final sequence before and during the fade out single-handedly justifies Cream's existence. That and their cool jelly-on-an-overhead projector light shows.

'Sitting on Top Of the World' follows, a blues riff rocker like the days of yore. If you liked such things on previous records, you won't mind this one. I think it's slow, and crosses the line of boredom pretty early on. Clapton's just not as exhuberant as he was on Fresh Cream, and just can't seem to turn the excitement crank over on this draggy slab. 'Born Under a Bad Sign', (coming later in the record but still a blues cover, so I'm putting it here, dammit), is a bit of an improvement. Its nice to have some...er...concrete lyrics on which to hang your hat  on a record as 'out there' as this one. I'm now going to skip the dull  'Passing the Time' and go right on to the pinnacle of coolness called 'As You Said'....a moody, acoustic (a first!) gem powered by a damn fine complement of strings and, for once, a truly drugged out psychedelic feel. That fuller, deeper, stereo sound sure kicks Disraeli's butt.  I even love Jack Bruce's voice here. A real classic in the vein of 'Babe I'm Gonna Leave You', maybe. 'Pressed Rat and Warthog' has Ginger talking over some pretty standard Disraeli-sounding backing track augmented by trumpet. The track isn't unlistenable, but it ain't exactly memory central, either. Dude, what are these words supposed to be, anyway? Social criticism because Warthog had to sell his dog legs and feet? Whatever....thou shall not judge Cream by the profundity of lyricisms thee shalt meet asunder. 'Politician' is so not about politics, its about trying to screw a chick, but I like that raunchy groove they get into...even the multi-tracked solos winding around one another are memorable. I can't place it, but the filler material 'Those Were the Days' sounds like they're copying themselves again, maybe its just because it's business as usual Cream writing. The fast 'Deserted Cities' is okay, and has some more acoustic guitar, but I can't remember how it goes no matter how many times I hear it.

The live record....sigh. I have to describe here once and for all what Cream sounds like live. They follow the usual jazz sort of thing, play the 'head' (i.e. the melodic part which is actually written) a few times through, solo nonstop for minutes at a time, then back to the head to finish things off. During the solo passages its usually Eric who takes off first, but before long all three of them are bashing and thumping as fast as possible. There's really very little interaction between the three parts other than the key they're playing in. I don't hear them play off of one another too much, or inject much feeling into what they're doing. They do the same thing on each song, pretty much, and only the quality of the performance distinguishes tracks. The version included here of Robert Johnson's 'Crossroads' for example, has since some sort of blues holy writ, but I just don't see that its all that much better than 10 000 other live blues covers I've ever heard. Not saying its not good, and at under 5 minutes its most definitely Cream's best live track on record. But how can it be that this is taken in such high regard? Ehhh...blues wanking is blues wanking. You could probably get the same sort of performance (or better!) at that time out of a lot of black blues guitarists, but let's not mention that. You also get a slow 16 minute 'Spoonful' with an endless solo several white blues guitarists could top, a fast 'Traintime' containing only harmonica (way to improve from Fresh Cream, Jack) and singing that is good only when it's run through the harmonica mike. And, well, backed by a drum solo. Then, well, 16 minutes of BASH BASH BASH BASH courtesy of Mr. Baker. Thanks for pouring sugar in my gas tank and kicking my dog, Ginger Baker. Watch while I cross your name off my Christmas card list. I guess he paid his debt to society by never ever being very popular again after this record went platinum.

In short, generally well written and nice sounding studio record, nearly useless live record.

 

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Goodbye - Polydor 1969.

Oooweee, doggies. Cream broke it off due to ego overload in late 1968 and the record company sure didn't know how to shut up for years afterwards. Must've had them a contract to fulfill, because this single wax platter has only 3 new studio songs on it! (4 if you get the CD) Yeah, baby, an EP fleshed out to full LP status by...what could it be? More live tracks! Yippee, mommy, if I'm good will Eric Clapton play a bunch of long boring guitar solos for me? Useless useless useless. And I thought they burned their wank privileges on the last one. I wish I had more words for what they do live but geez, man. These aren't even recorded very well and 'I'm So Glad' was an awful song to start out with anyway. Am I gonna strain my ears underneath Jack Bruce's way-loud bass and the horribly sung vocals to try and figure out if Clapton's playing something cool or not? No way. This is enough to make one doubt if Clapton's really all that good at all. This was supposed to be his guitar god period. I mean, during a solo he wanks for awhile, then runs out of ideas and just starts riffing, then wanks some more, and all along it just never goes anywhere, just flails around in a circle for ever and ever. He never builds to anything resembling a peak or revelation...and some of those loudass bass noises just make my kidneys rattle and my sinuses revolt. These guys could take a lesson or two from Jerry Garcia, lemme tell ya.

There's one white knight on this record and it's called 'Badge', a cool little song co-written with (read: stolen from) pal and future wife patsy George Harrison (whose referred to as 'L'Angelus Extremius' or something else stupid and Sixties on the album cover). That piano thing is neato and the song is just about the catchiest non riff-rocker they ever did. But 2:45 seconds later and your opportunity to enjoy this album has left and gone forever. Oh, unless you have the CD, which has 'Anything for Tennis?' on it, for those of you who would like an air-headed little pop song which is nice and catchy. No way Eric would ever write songs like this again. But still, that's all the real entertainment to be found here. The other two studio songs are dull and Jethro Tull-ish (Ginger's) or dull and irritating (Jack's). No wonder they hated each other's guts. I would've hated their guts as well.

Stay away.

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Matt   crunchy_dream@hotmail.com  Your Rating: B
Any Short Comments?: Now, now. This album is not THAT damn bad! Sure, it has it's crappy blips (What a bringdown) but the live performances are far from bad. "I'm so Glad" is one of the best live versions I've heard of this, though perhaps they should have stopped before Jack starts doing that horrible "DOOV DOOV DADOOV" noise... as for the rest of it, spot on. "Politician" is excellent, and "Badge"...wow. What a song. Perhaps the best thing Cream ever wrote! And yes, I will even stand up for "Doin' that Scrapyard thing", a wonderfully crafted pop song. So there we have it. a B it is.


Live Cream, Vol. 1 - Polydor 1970

If your tolerance for live albums is as high as mine you might get a kick outta this. I personally think it's sorta rank. I did hear that Eddie Van memorized a bunch of the solos off of this and the next live album long ago in a galaxy far far away when he still knew how to choose his lead singers and not sleep with 'One Day at a Time' stars that look creepily similar to him.

But this isn't a Van Halen review (I wish), it's Live Cream Vol. 1, babies! A whole lotta Fresh Cream, that's what. You get 10 minutes of 'N.S.U.', nearly 7 minutes each of 'Sleepy Time Time' and 'Rollin' and Tumblin', and 15 minutes of 'Sweet Wine', plus some crappy studio outtake 'Lawdy Mama'. I will say the Fresh Cream stuff isn't as annoying as the album tracks, but it doesn't mean its better. So you see that more than half of this band's output is live, live, live, and it was always the live stuff that almost sunk otherwise decent albums. At least there's no damn drum solos or anything. I'm not gonna play here and say that this album filled some gap that really satisfied a lot of fans. This stuff was released to pad the pockets of Polydor and that's no alliteration, pal. Necessary? No way. Decent? Ehhh. It is Cream but a lot of this stuff just glosses my ears and wishes they'd get back to the tune again.

Just realize there ain't no 'Crossroads' here. Proceed with due care and buy it cheap.

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Live Cream Vol. II - Polydor 1972.

Keeping most of the tracks down below the magical 7 minute mark sure helps matters, but still I gotta wonder who really wants this.

Theory time: 'Round 1972 and Polydor's shareholders are finding themselves a bit short of holiday cash, so they lean their pointy heads together and say to each other in excited, sweaty voices 'Hey! We Haven't Released a Live Posthumous Cream Record in Nearly Two Years! No one moves them units like those heavy heavy Creamers! But this one's gotta have some hits on it, no more of that 'Sweet Wine' bull hockey like from Vol. I., no way. We've gotta pull in some new listeners might just mistake this for a hits compilation!'

Theory Time Vol. 2 (ha!): I bet Polydor would really like to release a Cream version of one of those $32 deluxe packaging, 140 minute, double-CD, digitally remastered Live at Fillmore East concert boxes like they did with Derek and the Dominoes...with the book and cool photos and stuff. I'm sure they really want to release one but they can't. Why? Because they totally saturated the Cream live market by releasing these shitty albums 30 years ago when they didn't know what a live album was supposed to be. Ha Ha! Corporate greed comes back to bite the guilty parties in the butt! (Or maybe I'm wrong, hell, I'm no psychic or anything.)

What a way to pad a stupid review. So yeah, its got a messy, horribly sung 'White Room' that drags down about 100 b.p.m. right in front of your very ears, and a seven minute 'Sunshine', and a 'Ulysses' that still sounds like a slower 'White Room', and 'Politician', if you consider those to be hits. In general it's a lot better than Vol. 1, except the singing is awful. But don't be fooled, only buy this for a dollar!

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Strange Brew: The Very Best of Cream - Polydor 1983.

The Very Best of Cream - Polydor 1995.


 

Two compilations of our favorite late 60's British hair casualties and Surprise! They're the only perfect albums the band ever released! Strange Brew has only 10 songs, but all of them are killer. You got your 'White Room', 'Badge', 'Sunshine of Your Love', 'Crossroads', 'I Feel Free'....and seven other really cool songs. So that's 12 songs with no clinkers in the bunch. The 90's release The Very Best of Cream has 20 songs on it so it's up to you if you want to spend the extra 5 bucks for 8 more songs when you know you've already got the essentials. I think 20 songs sorta dilutes the whole deal a bit, if you're gonna have that much Cream, you should really just buy all four albums anyway.

Shit, y'all, I dunno. I think less is more. If you don't like some of the extra songs on Very Best you could just program the CD player or something. Both of these are really excellent.

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