Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986]
Artist: ERIC CLAPTON
During my pre-teens and teenage years, Eric Clapton was among my four or five favorite artists. Between his solo career and his work with Cream, Derek & The Dominos, Blind Faith and The Yardbirds (I wouldn’t discover his groundbreaking recordings with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers until my 20’s), his biting, lyrical & melodic guitar playing and that gritty, authoritative voice were an integral part of my daily musical diet. Thanks to Clapton I learned about blues, psychedelic rock, folk, reggae & many other genres, and even after hearing the artists who influenced him it was clear that he was as good as his inspirations: a jack-of-all-trades and master of all. Although his peak era was undoubtedly the ‘60s & ‘70s when he earned his reputation as a guitar god, along with the nickname “Slowhand” (apparently due to his early reputation for breaking strings and the audience going into a slow handclap as he replaced them, i.e. “Slowhand Clapton”), he kept a high profile throughout the ‘80s, with each of his albums featuring at least one rock radio hit. I saw him for the first time in early 1983, on the Money And Cigarettes tour, and later that year at Madison Square Garden at the ARMS Benefit Concert along with Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Joe Cocker and many other legendary artists. Two years later he experienced a commercial resurgence with the help of Phil Collins on the Behind The Sun album and its defining track, “Forever Man.” I saw that tour as well…the last time I would attend a Clapton concert…and it was just as exciting as the others. The sound of that record, blending Clapton’s distinctive guitar & vocals with Collins’ unmistakable drumming and of-their-era synths, carried over to 1986’s August.
By then my interest in his music was starting to wane but, even though it’s far from my favorite, I still found a lot to enjoy on August. The most successful song, lead-off single and album opener “It’s In The Way That You Use It,” was the odd man out here, as it was previously included on the soundtrack to the Martin Scorsese film The Color Of Money and was produced by the great Tom Dowd, while the rest of the album was produced by Collins. Other radio hits were the stomping Tina Turner duet “Tearing Us Apart,” the midtempo guitar workout “Miss You” and the funky horn-driven “Run.” Another noteworthy single was “Behind The Mask.” Although it didn’t impact the charts it has an interesting history. Originally a synth-pop song by Yellow Magic Orchestra, it was later attempted by Michael Jackson (who wrote additional lyrics) during the Thriller recording sessions at the suggestion of keyboardist Greg Phillinganes (whose own version was released in 1985), who then suggested that Clapton record it after joining his band. The horn-drenched blues shuffle “Bad Influence” is a nice piece of mid-‘80s pop/rock but it’s not in the same league as Robert Cray’s original version. Both “Hung Up On Your Love” and “Take A Chance” would have fit nicely on his old friend Steve Winwood’s Back In The High Life. “Hold On” is notable for its Phil Collins rolling drum pattern, and “Holy Mother,” co-written by Clapton and Stephen Bishop, is one of the prettiest ballads in Clapton’s discography. With a few exceptions there’s not a lot on August to showcase Clapton’s guitar chops but it’s still a very strong mainstream rock album that will always be sonically tied to the decade in which it was recorded.