Mendelsohn: Derek and the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs marks the first time that we get to talk about Eric Clapton. That seems a little weird to me, Klinger. So two things right off the bat: how did we get this far without talking about Slowhand, and why aren’t we talking about his work with Cream first? Layla turned out to be a one-off record that Clapton managed to get out just before his drug addiction swallowed up his career for three or four years. It’s a fine record, to be sure, but putting aside my personal problems with this album, I’m still a little at odds over its ranking. Placate my misgivings, Klinger, before I start to question other universals facts like how global warming is simply a plot to sell more sunscreen and cavemen caused the dinosaurs to go extinct because they were so damn tasty.
Klinger: Well, Mendelsohn, I think it all comes down to one word (or rather one word that my spell check really thinks should be two words)—backstory. It is true that while Cream albums serve to bridge the gap from psychedelia to the rootsier sounds that followed, Layla has the benefit of an incredible backstory. By now it’s a standard part of rock lore: Clapton had fallen madly in love with one Patti Boyd Harrison, who was not only married, but her husband was his good friend George Harrison, lead guitarist for the Beatles, a Liverpudlian pop combo of some renown. To make a long story that you could look up somewhere else short, he wrote a clutch of songs chronicling the torment that his love for Patti was causing him. He then rounded up Duane Allman and members of Delaney and Bonnie’s band, and the newly dubbed Derek & the Dominos set about recording them in a substance-fueled frenzy.
So in this one album, you’ve got a guitar legend in the midst of an epic battle with his inner demons, a love triangle involving a Beatle, hard drugs, and doomed band members (all of the Dominos died tragically young, except Jim Gordon, who was sentenced to prison after killing his mother). Given all that, it’s fair to say that rock critics didn’t have a chance.
Backstory, Mendelsohn. Makes all the difference.