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Monday, June 4, 2012

Cream "Sunshine Of Your Love" Song Analysis

Sunshine of Your Love image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Here's a classic song that's interesting because it's been such an influence on generations of guitar players. It's "Sunshine of Your Love" by Cream, a song from the band's second album, Disraeli Gears in 1967, and released as a single the following year. "Sunshine of Your Love" was the single that broke the band in the United States, eventually rising to #5, and was the first single to chart higher than in the UK. In 2004 Rolling Stone magazine named it the 65th greatest song of all time, while in 2009 VH1 called it the 44th best hard rock song of all time. Like with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

And of course, Atlantic CEO Ahmet Ertegan hated both Jack Bruce (he didn't the bass player should be the lead singer of the band) and the song so it was almost left off the album. It was only included because they didn't have enough material in the end. Leave it to a record exec to want to nix what became their biggest hit!

The Song
"Sunshine of Your Love" is basically a 12 bar blues song, but it's quite unusual in that it's in 8/8 time rather than the usual 4/4. The distinctive bass riff is an 8 beat riff (in other words, it needs 8 beats to complete), and the song is built around it. As with most 12 bar blues songs, the first 8 bars (sometimes it's 10) make up the verse and the last 4 (or 2 in some songs) basically make up what amounts to a chorus, although we look at the full 12 bars as just a verse. The song form looks like this:

Intro (4 bars), Verse, Interlude (2 bars), Verse, Solo (over a Verse), Verse, 2 bar Chorus repeat, Outro

The song begins with the guitar and bass for the first two bars, then is joined by the drums for the next two. Unlike a common pop song, it doesn't feature a signature hook since the bass/guitar riff line is a hook in itself. The interlude is just 2 bars of the verse, and also does not feature a true hook or melody on top of the song's foundation elements. The end of the final verse features an additional two bars with the vocals of bassist Jack Bruce and guitarist Eric Clapton answering each other.

According to Bruce, the signature bass riff was inspired by Jimi Hendrix. The lyrics were written by beat poet Pete Brown during an all night writing session. Said Bruce, "I picked up my double bass and played the riff. Pete looked out the window and the sun was coming up. He wrote 'It's getting near dawn, and lights close their tired eyes....'" Clapton later wrote the chorus ("I've been waiting so long, in the sunshine of your love").

Unlike most song lyrics, Brown was a real poet and you can tell, as the words have an elegance that's missing in the majority of hit songs that you'll hear today.

The Arrangement
This is early rock at its finest in that the song is just the band with a single overdub, and that's the guitar solo. Everything else is the simple three piece power trio that Cream was. The only thing slightly unique is that they had two lead singers, with Bruce and Clapton alternating lines in the verse and singing harmony together in the chorus.

The arrangement elements look like this:

  * The Foundation: drums

  * The Rhythm: guitar and bass (they play the same riff)

  * The Pad: none

  * The Lead: vocals, guitar solo

  * The Fills: none

This is one of those rare songs that only has 3 arrangement elements occurring at the same time throughout the song. The vast majority of songs may have 3 elements for a portion of the song, but eventually graduate to 4 or even 5. You'll almost never have more than 5 simultaneous elements since that just confuses the listener, and breaks a basic arrangement rule.

The Sound
"Sunshine of Your Love" was recorded by the legendary Tom Dowd at Atlantic Studios in New York City. As with most songs of the era, it's clean, not very compressed, and not very loud, especially when compared with the songs of today. It also doesn't have much low end on the mix, since that wasn't much of a priority at the time. Engineering emphasis of the bass frequencies came about a decade later.

The stereo panning is typical 1967, with the drums on the right side and the rhythm guitar on the left. Take note of the long delayed reverb that's prominent on the vocals, and a little less so on the guitar. The drums, in turn, are pretty dry.

Jack Bruce's bass is pretty distorted and the amp is obviously miked. There was no such thing as "going direct" back in those days. In fact, direct boxes didn't even come on the scene for another 10 years or so. I must admit, I think that miking the amp is a better way of doing things as it gives the bass player's tone some character. Direct bass tends to all sound the same.

Bruce's vocal is also distorted, especially when he really opens up on the B section. It has just a touch of reverb, and you can hear the compressor grabbing a bit, but it's not a bad sound in general. Also listen to all the breath noise in the vocal. If the song was recorded today, that would probably be eliminated, but it does give the vocal a sense of realism and character.

Bruce's and Clapton's vocals are slightly split in the stereo field during the choruses

Of particular interest is the sound of the guitar solo, which Clapton called his "Women Tone," and came from his 1964 Gibson SG guitar played through a Marshall JTM 100 Model 1957 "Super Lead" amp head and matching 4x12 cabinet. Clapton has explained that the sound came as a result of the tone control of the guitar's neck pickup set to full "off" and the bass, middle and treble controls on the amp set to max.

The Production
Back in 1967 production consisted more of getting everyone to the studio on time, keeping everyone inspired and choosing the correct take, which is something that producer Felix Pappalardi did well in this case.

There is one production piece that was crucial to the song though, by way of engineer Dowd, who went on to a successful career as a producer as well. According to Dowd in his documentary Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music, he explained, "There just wasn't this common ground that they had on so many of the other songs. I said, "Have you ever seen an American Western where the Indian beat - the downbeat - is the beat? Why don't you play that one. Ginger went inside and they started to run the song again. When they started playing that way, all of the parts came together and they were elated."

The drum part he's referring to is exceptionally unusual since it revolves around Ginger Baker's toms emphasizing beats 1 and 3 (on most songs it's 2 and 4). There's very little snare drum and the only time you hear cymbals is in choruses and the solo (although you hear them more as the song progresses). Very different for the time, and still very different today.

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VIOZ said...

I wish some mixers or masterers out there would anonymously redo this type of raw recordings in today's standards and post it on the web, then maybe people would realize what music is about and stop listening to the stupid shit they do today.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, this was really cool! This was one of the first songs I learned to play on the guitar and I've always loved it.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you mentioned the drum pattern played by Baker. This has often called the "backwards drumbeat" by musicians because of the accents on beat 1 and 3 instead of 2 and 4.

Another interesting element is in Clapton's guitar solo. He plays a direct quote from the old pop song Blue Moon.

Alloy said...

Thanks, Bobby, I wore out the original album, playing this song. I never really liked playing it though, until my last band decided they wanted to do a Cream medley. It occurred to me to go to Youtube and find out what Clapton was REALLY doing on rhythm. Simple stuff, but I wasn't 'getting' it on my own. I studied three videos, and came away with something I really liked playing.

Your analysis of what Tom Dowd was doing is interesting. I wish I knew more about recording techniques, then or now. I noticed again that on the drum side of the mix, I can hear someone shout way off in the distance, at least three times. Ginger Baker making some noise over the drums? "White Room" had a similar "shout," which I notice is gone on the new mixes.
Thanks again for the article.

David Cole said...

I haven't listened to this with my "grown-up ears" for decades. Many an hour on headphones as a young spud…

It's interesting to note the reverb used on the vocals and and Clapton's guitar is mono and panned up the center.

Someone commented about remastering this to bring it up to today's standards. You can't "master" something that's NOT there! I suspect the limited frequency response of the bass, the drums, etc. is inherent in the recording and was just rolled off in the original pressing.

At any rate, thanks for dissecting a song that has been part of my DNA for a long time. Tom Dowd! What a monster!


meangreen said...

Ginger is playing an Apache war dance drum beat on Sunshine of your love, he owes my people royalties says Big Chief Shortdog!


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