52 Albums That Changed My Life (and Other Exaggerations), Chapter 27: 24 Nights
Eric Clapton has had a ton of albums released. According to my research, he’s released approximately 20 solo albums. That’s a lot of material to go through and a lot of material to break down into favorites. If I had to, I can narrow down three albums to my favorites. Interestingly enough, these three albums kind of mark high points in his career in different ways. You have Unplugged which brought Clapton back to the forefront of the public’s attention and really proved for other artists that you can do some really interesting things with old songs. There’s From the Cradle which signaled a deep dive back into the blues for Clapton (I’ll dig deeper into that album a little later). But, gun to my head, trapped on a desert island, whatever the reason may be that I was forced to choose one Clapton album, it’s 24 Nights.
24 Nights is everything that is great about Clapton. It’s a great live album, it’s got his best material (up until 1991 anyway). It delves into the best of Cream, some favorite blues tracks. It even has an orchestra on it.
Around grade 7, I had done a biography project on Clapton (and if you happen to be reading this Mr. Clapton, you will be happy to know that Miss Abrams gave me 98% on it) and while I had borrowed the Crossroads box set from Uncle Bill and listened to my Dad’s Best of Cream CD over and over again, I felt like I needed my own Clapton album for my collection. I scoured the Columbia House record club catalog looking for something good. There was a best of Clapton which seemed okay but then there was 24 Nights which had three things going for it.
1) It was truly a best of. There was material from Cream, a couple of blues tracks, a Derek and the Dominos song that wasn’t “Layla.” In fact, “Layla” was the only song that I really wanted that seemed to be missing.
2) It had a really sharp looking album cover. It was this sketchy image of Clapton and a guitar with a pale yellow background. For whatever reason, my teenage brain thought this just screamed cool.
3) It was in Columbia House’s clearance section for $8.00. A two-disc set of all that great music for $8.00? SOLD!
As a reference point, this album was created from the audio from a combination of a combined 42 concerts that were recorded between two different legendary stretches at the Royal Albert Hall. The first was an 18-night stand in 1990 and the second 24 night stint (hence the name of the album) in 1991. Supposedly, Clapton wasn’t happy with the recordings from 1990 (although “White Room,” “Sunshine of Your Love,” and “Running on Faith” came from those shows) so he decided to do another stint to make up the difference with probably the best backing band his solo career has ever had.
Now, these shows were recorded with different set ups. Some of the songs are a five piece band. Other tracks were recorded with a nine-piece band and a few with an orchestra. There are also some guests as Buddy Guy makes an appearance as does Phil Collins on tambourine. But at the core of it is the backing band that I will swear on a stack of bibles, is Clapton’s best solo band if not the best band Clapton had period (I go back and forth between this band and Cream), the biggest highlight being Nathan East on bass. For my money, other than Jack Bruce, there has been no bass player that has not only matched up as well with Clapton but has added to Clapton’s band on both bass and vocals as East has.
In terms of material, you can’t go wrong with any of the choices on this album in terms of the songs, but in terms of playing and sound…. Well, it’s a tough choice but there are some standouts.
9 minutes and 11 seconds of “Sunshine of Your Love” that is just glorious. The down and dirty blues of “Hoodoo Man.” Clapton’s 80’s era track “Pretending” sounds better here than it ever did on its initial recording. The highlight though is the orchestra backed “Bell Bottom Blues”, an underappreciated Derek and the Dominos song that gets some fantastic treatment and a great way to lead to the end of the album.
I always feel a little bad for Eric Clapton when they talk about his career. These days, it’s like Derek in the Dominoes ends, Clapton goes through rehab and suddenly releases Unplugged or “Tears in Heaven.” There is a ton of material in between, some of it much better than others but 24 Nights really captures not only the best of his solo material but how good Clapton was as a live act. I’ve gotten lucky and been able to see Clapton in two formats. I saw him do an entire blues concert during the From the Cradle tour and then later when he toured backing the Pilgrim album (which was more of a greatest hits set) and I can honestly say that he is a bit of a force to behold and more people should know that as much as Unplugged Clapton is good, Electric Clapton can blow your doors off and 24 Nights is a great way to experience that if you can’t see him in person.
Next week, I tackle a great album by an artist that should be in the Rock n Roll Hall of fame but keeps getting left off the ballot. Stay tuned.