Eric Clapton – 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974)
Welcome back to YDCS! Thanks for holding on through some more obscure acts for the last few weeks! Last week, I promised a return to a more recognizable act for this week, and now I’m here to deliver with Eric Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard. This was Clapton’s second solo studio album after breaking away from Derek and the Dominos in the early 70s. This album was a landmark for Clapton’s career; he had spent so much of his early musical career on drugs and rehab that he knew he needed to change. While working through his addiction, he began listening to old blues records. Those acted as a strong influence on the songs he wrote for this album and would profoundly impact the tone of his next few albums, most notably Slowhand.
461 Ocean Boulevard is full of some fantastic musical moments and has a softer sound than I think a lot of people expected from a Clapton record. In that respect, that was the perfect sound for him at the time. Having just beaten a heroin addiction, maybe it was time to change the sound and influence from the hard rocking times of the Yardbirds and Derek and the Dominos to put that part of his life behind him. Either way, 461 Ocean Boulevard was here to make a statement; Clapton’s back and he’s still got it. Ever the songwriter, Clapton’s personal, stripped back approach to musical composition is on full display and he put a lot of his vulnerabilities out for the world to see. The takes a lot of strength, and when music is written with that level of personal emotion, the result is nothing short of spectacular. This is a great album and I hope that you enjoy the music and appreciate where it came from.
Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown
Motherless Child: We start off 461 Ocean Boulevard with a taste for what we’ll be getting for the rest of the album; a strong, bluesy, roots sound. “Motherless Child” is atypical in structure for a blues track in that it it’s almost five minutes long (most blues tracks top out at three minutes), but this is a Clapton blues song, so we have to have enough runtime for a solo or two. The instrumentation is really sharp and I looked forward to hearing that slide guitar make a return pass later on the album, but what stood out to me the most was actually the production quality. The mixing was really crisp and stands up 46 years later. I like a dirtier production sound too (a la Jim Croce), but I find that it helps focus your attention on the vocals where a crisper production focuses your attention on the instrumentation, and that’s where Clapton’s strength lies. Dad’s Rating 7/10
Give Me Strength: “Give Me Strength” is one of the most personal songs on the album and appears to be directly influenced by Clapton’s rehab and working through the emotions of his addiction. It takes a lot of strength to actually record a song talking about how you need/needed help. You can’t help but proud of someone for admitting that. This is also a great example of how the production can affect the way that you listen to a song. Compare this with “Motherless Child” and you’ll notice that the vocals, while sounding a little muffled, are much more pronounced while the instruments take a back seat. That’s the work of a great sound engineer. Dad’s Rating 7/10
Willie And The Hand Jive: “Willie And The Hand Jive” isn’t the first cover that we’ve heard on this album, that honor actually goes to “Motherless Children,” and it’s not the last that we’ll hear either. This is a typical hand jive arrangement, but it’s notable that he chose to slow down the hand jive to put a blues twist on it. Slowing it down, I don’t think you could actually hand jive to this version, but he was able to make it a good blues rock song! I’ve never heard anything like this before, but I think you’ll like it too! Dad’s Rating 7/10
Get Ready: I liked “Get Ready” a lot! The riff for this song is super funky and gives the track a great groove. I’m not sure who the woman is who features with Clapton on this song, but her deep voice is a welcome addition and compliments his rougher sound nicely. This is a track for sitting out and listening to, not rocking out, but it’s still a good song that’s worth checking out. Dad’s Rating 6/10
I Shot The Sheriff: We close out the A-side with a cover of a Bob Marley song, the legendary “I Shot The Sherriff”. This track instantly recognizable and pays appropriate homage to Marley’s legacy, mirroring the vocal performance closely but diverging on the instrumental performance by adding a funkier rhythm to the low-end to give it more of a bounce. One of my favorite things about this song is that Marley once met Clapton and complimented his performance of the song. This isn’t just one of Clapton’s best songs, it’s one of the best songs in classic rock, and it will always be told in the context of both rockers, Marley and Clapton. Dad’s Rating 10/10
I Can’t Hold Out: Now we’re moving on to the B-side with a largely instrumental track that pulls from a typical blues sound. This is a back-to-basics 12-bar blues song that is really easy to listen to. It won’t win awards for creativity, but it is well performed. The flourishes that Clapton puts on the solo are enough to keep your attention and make you want to see what the rest of the side has in store. Dad’s Rating 6/10
Please Be With Me: Oh boy, it’s a ballad. I don’t do well with ballads, but I made it through “Give Me Strength.” Maybe I’ll make it through this one too…nope. “Please Be With Me” is a beautiful song with a pleasant guitar acoustic performance, but I won’t remember it after this review. A ballad needs to be something truly special for me to remember it, and this one just couldn’t do that. Dad’s Rating 5/10
Let It Grow: It’s hard to believe that a song this good was buried on the B-side! “Let It Grow” does exactly what it says it will do; the song grows as it goes on, rising from a humble acoustic track into a huge sound. The instrumental performance is what really held my attention on this song, in combination with the beautiful vocals. This is a well-balanced song that crescendos inspiringly in the last minute and a half, and that stuck with me. My one criticism is the actual lyrics of the song, and that’s why it’s not rated higher. “Love is lovely…” I mean it sure is, but maybe we could have found a better way to say it. Dad’s Rating 8/10
Steady Rollin’ Man: “Steady Rollin’ Man” was a great hidden gem on this album, although it’s hard to call anything on a Clapton record hidden! This is a fantastic blues track with a great groove and some real rock moments. The backing instrumentation with that weird synth in the background is different enough that I’ll remember that one for a while. Clapton also opens up the guitar for one of the best solos on the album on this track too, wringing a great “wah wah” solo out, and doing something different than I expected, which would have been a typical slide guitar solo. Check this one out! Dad’s Rating 8/10
Mainline Florida: We close 461 Ocean Boulevard with a sleepy rocker in “Mainline Florida.” I almost wish that this was a bluesy song to close out an album that was heavily influenced by the genre. Putting a sleepy rock track at the end doesn’t have a good sense of finality. The solo is really unusual on this song too. I think he was trying to channel a bluegrass sound, maybe by using a squawk box, and it wasn’t pleasant. Ende the album at “Steady Rollin’ Man” and you’ll feel a better sense of finality than pushing on to “Mainline Florida.” Dad’s Rating 3/10
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