Things I learned today: The cover photo of Eric Clapton’s most recent album (released in March) is a selfie he took with his iPhone while on vacation in Antigua.
Even rock n’ roll gods are not immune to the self-aggrandizing attractions of 21st-century technology.
O tempora, o mores!
(Everyone else in the world probably knew this three months ago, but I maintain a general policy of ignorance on current popular-music affairs.)
Another thing I learned today: The aforementioned Clapton album features a cameo appearance by Paul McCartney, who plays upright bass and sings on a version of the old standard “All Of Me.”
I can remember a time when a collaboration between Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney would have been big news indeed. And maybe it was, for those who are more tapped into the news than I am.
But now, it kinda has an air of elderly rich guys amusing each other … like if Thomas Edison and Henry Ford had gotten together, stiff and flannelly, to sit together on the endless lawns at Dearborn and talk idly about flying electric cars.
I don’t know what the Clapton-McCartney collaboration sounds like, though I’m kinda intrigued to find out — I might have to surf YouTube and see what I can find. (It is a measure of my ingrained respect for both men that I think there might be something worth hearing there.)
Inevitably, it brings to mind another Clapton superstar collaboration that didn’t work out so well.
Clapton’s 1976 album No Reason to Cry included “Sign Language,” an otherwise unreleased Bob Dylan composition.
The recorded version featured Dylan and Clapton duetting on vocals, with the added bonus of the Band’s Robbie Robertson on lead guitar. (The album was recorded at the Band’s Shangri-La studio in Malibu, and Robertson’s Band-mates participated in various other songs.)
One might think that a combination of Dylan, Clapton and Robertson would be rock n’ roll dynamite. Dylan and Clapton had released two of their strongest albums in the preceding year or two (Blood on the Tracks and 461 Ocean Boulevard, respectively), while Robertson was still a respected songwriter and guitar stylist.
But the end result is pretty unimpressive. The song itself doesn’t say a whole lot; Dylan and Clapton both sound kind of detached; and Robertson plays the same damn solo he played on every single song he touched back then. (Just ’cause you can play those chirpy harmonics all the time doesn’t mean you should, Robbie. Let. The. Notes. Ring.)
Maybe the end results of “Sign Language” (and the entire No Reason to Cry album) are a testament to the effects of alcoholism. Clapton and many of his celeb sidemen had alcohol problems at around this point in time; and when you spend a lot of time getting really, really loose, stuff like this starts to sound good.
Or maybe “Sign Language” shows what happens when you get too comfortable and insular. The record was made in a swank locale, at a studio owned by rock stars, with numerous rock stars in evidence. Maybe they needed a little bit more grit and conflict and pressure in their lives to come out with music that mattered.
(I particularly love the presence of Ron Wood, whose contributions to the album are unspecified, but who appears in the liner notes. It seems like any time a rock star opened a bottle of Jim Beam or a bag of blow in the late ’70s, Ron Wood was somewhere within earshot.)
Anyway, fresh from the summer of ’76 and still reeking vaguely of Jim Beam, here’s “Sign Language.”