Derek And The Dominoes: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs - Album Of The Week Club Review

When push comes to shove, Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs might just showcase Eric Clapton at his very best

 Derek and the Dominos - Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
Derek and the Dominos - Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs

I Looked Away
Bell Bottom Blues
Keep On Growing
Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out
I Am Yours
Anyday
Key to the Highway
Tell the Truth
Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?
Have You Ever Loved a Woman
Little Wing
It’s Too Late
Layla
Thorn Tree in the Garden

If great music comes out of tragedy, then it’s little wonder this album is considered a masterpiece. It was recorded amid drink and drug abuse and undiagnosed schizophrenia. But for all the travails surrounding it, the five musicians involved – Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Jim Gordon, Carl Radle and Bobby Whitlock – created something passionate and timeless that would stand as arguably the finest album of their respective careers. 

Layla is obviously the most high-profile song, but the likes of Bell Bottom Blues and Tell The Truth are just as beautifully realised, combining pin-sharp musicianship with earthy spirituality and a true sense of joy. The overall impact is diverse, devastating. 

“What I really loved about that album was, nobody knew who we were,” says Clapton. “We did a tour of England playing little clubs and there would be nobody there, because nobody knew who we were – so they didn’t come! 

"And yet there was this quartet that was one of the most powerful bands I’ve ever been anywhere near – and I was in it! It was the most pure experience I’ve ever had in terms of making an album and then promoting it anonymously. It’s almost unheard-of.”

Derek And The Dominos attempted to record a second studio album, but the project was sunk by drugs and paranoia, and Layla remains their stellar legacy. “It touched people where they needed to be touched,” Whitlock says. “In their soul.”

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Background

Driven by painful yearning for his friend George Harrison’s wife, Patti, Clapton is laid bare on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, revealing inner workings on a fine balance of candid songwriting and standards he makes his very own.

The group arose from the ashes of Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, when Clapton teamed with co-writer/keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, bassist Carl Radle, drummer Jim Gordon and guitarist Duane Allman, who contributes one of the most remarkable intros ever on the title track. With the addition of Gordon’s threnodial piano coda, it’s the most stirring piece of music in the Clapton canon to date.

It’s also one of the most successful, placing in the UK and US Top 10 when released in 1972 as a single on the back of The History Of Eric Clapton compilation. But the album’s more than just the record’s most famous track. Tell The Truth, the first song Clapton and Whitlock penned for the project, modelled on Sam and Dave’s churchy call and response, with the pair trading verses, points the direction for every down home blues-rock band since.

Bell Bottom Blues captures Clapton at his most urgent, with heart on sleeve. And then there are the tear-it-up covers Key To The Highway, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out and Have You Ever Loved A Woman? 

Other albums released in November 1970

  • American Beauty - Grateful Dead
  • Bryter Layter - Nick Drake
  • The Man Who Sold The World - David Bowie
  • No Dice - Badfinger
  • Barrett - Syd Barrett
  • Loaded - The Velvet Underground
  • The J. Geils Band - The J. Geils Band
  • Naturally - Three Dog Night
  • Despite It All - Brinsley Schwarz
  • Emerson Lake & Palmer - Emerson, Lake & Palmer
  • Stephen Stills - Stephen Stills
  • Tea for the Tillerman - Cat Stevens
  • All Things Must Pass - George Harrison
  • Gentle Giant - Gentle Giant
  • Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One - The Kinks
  • Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus - Spirit
  • Play It Loud - Slade
  • Air Conditioning - Curved Air
  • Blows Against the Empire - Paul Kantner & Jefferson Starship
  • Cruel Sister - Pentangle
  • Loaded - The Velvet Underground
  • Medusa - Trapeze
  • Number 5 - Steve Miller Band
  • Starsailor - Tim Buckley
  • Steppenwolf 7 - Steppenwolf
  • Warhorse - Warhorse

What they said...

"A double album means you can expect some filler. Among the weak cuts: Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out, Tell The Truth, Bell-Bottom Blues, Have You Ever Loved A Woman, and Thorn Tree In the Garden. Happily, what remains is what you hoped for from the conjunction of Eric’s developing style, the Delaney and Bonnie styled rhythm section, and the strengths of "Skydog" Allman’s session abilities. And Clapton’s singing is always at least adequate, and sometimes quite good." (Rolling Stone)

"Songs like I Looked Away and Keep On Growing, share a very distinct southern rock aesthetic that is very reminiscent to the music of The Allman Brothers, as they reflect that signature twangy guitar sound- an element directly influenced by Duane Allman who plays guitar alongside Eric Clapton. The album exhibits a vast variety of moods and diverse musical structures that makes Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs a truly captivating album." (Sputnik Music)

"What looks at first like a slap-dash studio double is in fact Eric Clapton's most carefully conceived recording. Not only did he hire Duane Allman for overdubs after basic tracks were done, but he insisted that Duane come up with just the thick, sliding phrase he (Eric) wanted before calling it a take. The resulting counterpoint is the true expression of Clapton's genius, which has always been synthetic rather than innovative, steeped in blues anti-utopianism." (Robert Christgau)

What you said...

Richard Cardenas: Great record that holds up in time. As much as everyone raves about the skilled players, I love the passion and rawness of the songs. I suspect there’s a bit of edginess from the drug use but it plays well. 

Gavin Norman: Now that’s a classic. Much more to it than the title track: awesome duel guitars with Duane Allman, rockers, ballads... it’s got the lot. And old slowhand is on fire vocally too. Great lyrics, playing, production, not a duff track. 10/10 all the way.

Aled Owen: One of the best albums of all time. So many of the songs sound like live recordings, and are not over produced like today's music. 10/10

Slam Dunk: Let me be frank: I don't like Clapton. That said, this album is magnificent. It reverberates the congealed despair of Clapton's desire for Patti oozing through every note. His partners in crime are crack players, and any band beyond his own where Duane Allman is second fiddle must be a force reckoned with on a galactic scale. You can walk away from this album for years and come back to it and still be overwhelmed.

Maxwell Marco Martello: One of my favourite records ever. The story behind it is intriguing (Eric’s affair with Patti Boyd), the band is on fire, and the late great Duane Allman is the icing on the cake.

It really is one of those too-good-to-be-true moments in rock history... so unfortunate that it didn’t last. The only minor complaint is that the Little Wing tribute is in no way as spectacular as the original by Jimi. Only Stevie Ray Vaughan ever managed to channel the same feeling.

The absolute heights, for me, are I Looked Away (especially the bridge sung by Bobby), Bell Bottom Blues, Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad and, naturally, the title track itself.

I literally never get tired of this album. Just thinking of it now, almost brings a tear to my eye!

Kev Sullivan: Probably been said already, but Clapton commenting on him finding “his brother” in Duane, always sticks with me. That clearly made this album what it is. 

Carl Black: I was apprehensive when i saw this album. To many he is a legend, but to me I put him in the same company as Rod Stewart and Elton John, i.e. not rock, but they knock on the door of rock every once in a while. This was hard going, a double album of blues tinged rock. I know I'm going to get rinsed for this, but I just don't like his guitar playing. I think there are a lot more innovative and interesting players than he, which means this album struggled to get out of second gear. By the time I got to Layla I just wanted the terrible business over with. That song will forever be linked to the film Goodfellas for me. And there it will stay, along with my interest in Derek and the Dominos.

Benjamin Kelk: Where do I start with this one? The outstanding songwriting, the stellar musicians that play on this album, there's not a single misstep on this masterpiece. Eric Clapton and Duane Allman are one of the best pairings in blues rock that have ever happened. There's never a dull moment on this 77 minute journey through love. This album is an essential for anyone with functioning ears. This has probably been said 1,000 times before, but this is Clapton at his finest.

James Praesto: Derek and the Dominos was Clapton’s escape from fame and fortune. His success with Cream and Blind Faith had left him overwhelmed with the life in the spotlight, and he wanted to creep back into the shadows. His focus needed to shift from his instrumental prowess, back to the song itself; something he had choked on for years. By becoming “Derek”, he could free himself of the stigma that followed him, and get a creative outlet for all the things he desperately needed to say, both as a musician and as a songwriter. The fact that he was madly in love with Harrison’s wife, Patti, is of course rock’n’roll history at this point, but that unrequited love birthed one of the perhaps best blues rock albums of its time. 

As the only album recorded by the band, Layla And Other Love Songs stands in history as Clapton’s most definitive milestone, but also as the herald of his fall from grace. This album was the divide between the before and the after in his career, as the downward spiral of his addiction hit rock bottom shortly after the release. Still, during the recordings, the whole band rode a chemical roller-coaster of cocaine and heroin and anything else they could get their hands on, channeling their inner creativity with no holds barred. See, I can’t even call for a cab when I’m drunk, but some artists have that ability to “go with the flow” and see where it takes them, even after doing so many drugs it would knock out a reasonably sized elephant. For the ones that are masters of their instruments, that “flow” becomes what separates them from people like you and I. We could practice every day for decades and just never hit the same stride a coked up wild-eyed Clapton does on Keep on Growing, or in the hypnotic heroin calypso lull of I am Yours. This album has soul, heart, grit and raw emotional power, dressed up with exquisite musicianship from Clapton and his comrades in arms. You want rock? Tell the Truth delivers the groove and that unmistakable Brit-twang. You’re into slow blues? Have You Ever Loved a Woman will hit the spot with bends for days.

Bell Bottom Blues is the absolute standout track on this album. Sure, there is a more well known song we will address in a bit, but Bell Bottom Blues personifies this album with its desperate pull towards something that can never be. Clapton’s lyrics are spilling out like the mad broken-hearted scribblings in a trusted diary. He doesn’t hold back in words, or in notes. The sublime and restrained blues playing on this track, is the one thing you could put in a time capsule for future music archaeologists to dig out of the early 70's mudslide, to really exemplify why Clapton was once one of the best blues guitar players on the planet. Clapton always says as much with the space between the notes, as with the notes themselves. There is a whole world of raw emotion resting in the breathless void between one bend and the next slide. 

Some people take issue with the inclusion of Little Wing on here, stating that the cover doesn’t do the original Hendrix song a shred of justice. Well, I beg to differ. If you are going to cover a song, make it your own. There is no question that Clapton and the boys took the essence of this song and jammed it into a blues format they felt worked for them. Sure, the iconic riff is not there, but the “flow” we talked about before, is all Clapton in his prime throughout the song. A fitting tribute to Hendrix who had just passed at the time of the recordings. Both of them were steeped in blues, but they still had two totally different approaches to the way they let their guitar speak for them, and that is why the last minute inclusion of Little Wing makes perfect sense.

Towards the end of the album, our fictitious guitar hero “Derek” gets to address his Layla. On his knees, begging for her love, Clapton bares his soul for the world to see and hear, but with no fucks given. Layla is between him and her, and we are just the crowd of drama vultures gathered to see the spectacle playing out before us in the street. This whole album was always and ever only about his feelings for another man’s woman, amplified by drugs and increasing frustration with his own situation. To me, Clapton was always at his best in settings like these, where he rips his broken heart out of his chest and holds it out in his hand, still pumping, for us to stare in wonder at – or when he lets his naked soul slowly seep and drip through his fingers and voice, like in the much much later Tears In Heaven. These are love letters and pages in private journals, as much as they are songs. I never got the feeling that Clapton cared if we read a damn one of them. He would have written them anyway. Maybe that was his charm; his absolute disregard for anything but the song and the subject. I remember when he announced that he had finally made peace with his son’s death, and never played Tears In Heaven again, no matter how much his fans requested it. The song was never for us. It was for him. Respect.

Derek and his Dominos crashed and burned hard after the release of the album, turning into pieces of human wreckage floating on the tide of self-destruction. Clapton’s collapse and subsequent surrender to his own demons are well documented, and even though he was pulled back from the brink a few years later, his later releases never surpassed the raw honest broken-hearted yearnings of Layla And Other Love Songs

Some artists write their best songs, paint their best pictures or tell the greatest stories in times of absolute inner turmoil and personal tragedy. When they clean up, they fade into the background, having already addressed their issues and gotten over the hump. Me, I usually prefer them drunk, crushed and crazy – with eyes shining like windows. I feel we tap into the very spirit of these exceptional talents when there is nothing in the way of their potential greatness. Of course, sometimes we just get fucking In A Gadda Da Vida instead, but that is whole different story.

Keith Johns: I was really into Cream and Blind Faith so never got this album. Finally listened to it fully years later. Good musicianship, loved Layla and Bell Bottom Blues but the rest was not to my liking.

Graham Tarry: Never been a Clapton fan, so listened to this for the first time today. Other than Layla there are three other songs that I like, but it's too bluesy for my taste

Brian Carr: I’m a pretty major guitar fan, but could never quite understand all of the “Clapton is God” stuff. I suppose that’s because I understand the importance of the blues way more than I actually like it personally. But in 1992, EC released a soundtrack to a rather dark movie called Rush, and that blew me away. A movie score with absolutely stunning guitar work.

At some point after that, I listened to Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs. Like the Rush soundtrack, this was blues I adored. I can’t quite say what is so different between this and other blues albums, but the raw emotion of a revered musician but flawed man pouring it out in these songs just fascinated me. The album shouldn’t do it for me: it’s raw sounding, really long, the vocals tend to get chaotic at times, but it just works. The title track is a masterpiece and it’s the next to last song on the album. That shouldn’t work! But there isn’t a song that makes me want to skip, so work it does.

Eric Ortiz: One of my favourite albums featuring two of my favourite guitar players. Duane really lit a fire in Eric at a time when he was at a all time low, and it shows.

Mike Knoop: I find the stories surrounding the album more compelling than the music itself. For the most part, it’s affable country rock or rewarmed blues but nothing that sticks with me after it's over. The only songs that generate any real emotional heat for me are the two that I’ve heard scores of times on the radio, Layla and Bell Bottom Blues

Mark Cutler: I've been listening to this album every day this week, not because I loved it but because I wanted to. I love love love Bell Bottom Blues and really like Why Does Love Have To Feel So Bad and Layla. But the rest of the album is just nice background music for me. The only song I didn't really like at all was Thorn Tree In The Garden.

Roland Bearne: I discovered Clapton via Behind The Sun in the mid 80s and loved it, so delved into the back catalogue with my Mum actually emerging as a huge fan! Layla always seemed the most daunting to those teenage ears. Big, free flowing and just too darn complicated (when the new Y& T was begging for a spin). Listening now, wow, what a treat. There's so much music here! Chemically induced or not, the songs flow deliciously. I love when you can hear the solos almost running out of steam, then he digs deep and teases out a new theme, and you can hear the musician's brains changing gear. Wondrous. I love the bum notes, the half formed ideas and the absolute revelry in playing. A true gem, and will remain in rotation forever.

Shane Reho: In a career full of great accomplishments, this might be Clapton's greatest (equal credit to Bobby Whitlock, who co-wrote most of the original songs with Clapton). This is one of the rare examples of an all-killer-no-filler double album. Would do track picks on this, but it's hard to separate songs on this, it's one you gotta listen to cover to cover. 10/10.

John Davidson: Not sure why but this album just doesn't do it for me. It might be too laid back or too close to traditional blues, but other than Layla I didn't really find a song that I wanted to listen to.

Don't get me wrong, I can admire the guitar work but the vocals are largely weak, the arrangements lack oomph, and the overall sound is a little too measured.

Alberto Baroncelli: The last album with some gunslinger attitude by Clapton. The later releases have many fine moments and some of them are masterpieces in their own right, but the last time Clapton played like the mean mofo forbidden love child of Albert/Freddie/BB King was on Layla.

Henry Hanssen: Great departure from heavier stuff for Clapton, goes back to a lot of raw blues and soft lyrics. Instrumentally this album has to be one of the best of all time. Duane Allman, Eric Clapton, Jim Gordon all in the same band is exceptional. You can hear the passion that Clapton is putting into this as at the time he thought it would win over Patty Boid who he was madly in love with. 10/10

Dave Ferris: I "discovered" this album while I was in college in the 80's. This was the definition of a classic rock album. 

Love lost, unattainable love, forbidden love, heartbreak, obsession, infatuation, envy, pleas for understanding... and expressing all this in a musical statement. 

Never have I been so moved by an album and a musical cry for love in a musical statement. The story of a man longing for the wife of one his friends. He writes an unforgettable song to her. He eventually gets this woman of his dreams and eventually marries her. What a romantic story. Too bad the story didn't turn out to be a happy ending.

Final Score: 8.30 ⁄10 (252 votes cast, with a total score of 2092)

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