Today’s desert island disc: Eric Clapton, 461 Ocean Boulevard

Eric Clapton 461 Ocean Boulevard Deluxe Edition

A review of Eric Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974)

I don’t really remember where I first got this, just that I first heard it when I was a teenager. Prior to this, I had only read about Clapton – the legendary British guitar slinger whose fans had spray-painted “Clapton is God” on an Underground station during his tenure with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and who was commonly viewed as ‘right up there’ with Jimi Hendrix and other A list guitarists.

461 Ocean Boulevard didn’t really sound like that guy – or at least not like what I imagine that guy would sound like. It’s groovy, funky, low-key but energetic, and it has the energy of a great ensemble record, not a self-absorbed solo effort by a guitar god. Recorded in Miami in 1974, the title refers to the address of Clapton’s residence there during that period.

I think this music has held up very well over the years – it’s a kind of bluesy rock masterpiece that shows Clapton’s wide-ranging musical interests. Long before punk made it de rigueur to have reggae influences, this record features the famous version of “I Shot the Sheriff.” Other standouts are Elmore James’ “I Can’t Hold Out,” Robert Johnson’s “Steady Rolling Man” and Johnny Otis’ “Willie and the Hand Jive.”

I love the subtleties in this: how Clapton’s guitar is always the most tasteful thing you’ve ever heard – not too flashy, not too subdued, not too distorted; how Clapton’s voice – often a point of discussion, but actually quite strong here – blends with Yvonne Elliman’s (and the band’s) background vocals. 461 Ocean Boulevard is a perfect demonstration of what was great about classic rock when it was firmly rooted in its rock ‘n roll and r&b roots.

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