Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs at 50

This article was published in The Sting on November 13, 2020.

Album art for Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs

1970 was a big year for music. November of that year saw the release of two of the most highly regarded albums of all time. This week, I’m taking a look back at the one and only Derek and the Dominos LP, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.

By 1970, Eric Clapton was growing fatigued with the musicians whom he had played with for the latter half of the 1960’s. Cream released their final LP, Goodbye, in early 1969, and the one-off Blind Faith released their only effort later that year. He toured for a time with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, but still found himself looking for more.

For his next project, Clapton went by an alias (Derek) and recruited a host of studio musicians, as well as acclaimed slide guitarist Duane Allman to play. He didn’t want his fame to get in the way of the band image he was striving to create.

In August 1970, the band went into the studio. The resulting recordings have been described by many as Clapton’s magnum opus.

Inspired by extreme dissolution as well as infatuation with another man’s wife, the songs on this record have really stood the test of time. Oftentimes, I find some records sound dated (even more modern ones), either because of the recording techniques or equipment of the era, or because the songs were only relevant in a certain place in time. That is certainly not the case here.

The album features nine original songs and five covers. Among the covers is a slowed down and powerful version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” honoring the famed guitarist who had died while the band was recording. Other covers include Jimmy Cox’s 1923 hit, “Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out” and Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key to the Highway” to name a couple. But the original material is what really shines.

“I Looked Away” opens the record, and we immediately hear the pain Clapton is feeling. After all, being in love with George Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd, can’t be easy especially when she doesn’t love you back. “Bell Bottom Blues” follows a similar theme, with the haunting chorus “I don’t want to fade away” ingrained in my mind for all eternity.

“Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” is probably my favorite deep cut from Layla. The song has an immense sense of urgency, as Clapton sings of trying to save his prospects of love. It shows a man who knows he’s about to lose something, even as he tries desperately to prevent it.

Then there’s the seven-minute pinnacle of Eric Clapton’s entire career. The song opens with one of the most recognizable guitar riffs there is, as Clapton sings of his final plea to save his love. “You got me on my knees/I’m begging darling please” echo as we hear of why he fell in love with “Layla” in the first place. After a climactic guitar solo, the song enters an otherworldly “piano exit.” As Jim Gordon plays piano, Clapton and Allman improvise for four minutes on guitar, resulting in a truly beautiful piece of art.

As I wrote these words, I had the LP on again, reminding me just how magnificent this work really is. It’s in my top five of all-time, and it is for many music fans alike. One of the most universal feelings humans have is love, and it’s love that drives us to do things we never thought possible. Clapton felt it, and made us all feel the immense sense of love and loss in listening to this record.

It’s worth noting that Clapton did end up marrying Pattie Boyd later that decade, although they were divorced 10 years after that. However at least, for a time, Eric Clapton did end up succeeding in love.

Tony Sheaffer is managing editor for The Sting and writes Friday Groove, a weekly music column.

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