Layla

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"Layla"
Single by Derek and the Dominos
from the album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
Released 1971
Format Vinyl record
Recorded Criteria Studios, Miami, August–September 1970
Genre Blues rock, hard rock
Length 7:02 to 7:11 (with piano coda; depending on version)
2:43 (1971 single edit; without piano coda)
Label Atco (US), RSO, Polydor
Writer(s) Eric Clapton/Jim Gordon
Producer(s) Tom Dowd, Derek and the Dominos
Music sample

"Layla" is a song written by Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon, originally released by their blues rock band Derek and the Dominos, as the thirteenth track from their album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (November 1970). It is considered one of rock music's definitive love songs,[1] featuring an unmistakable guitar figure played by Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, and a piano coda that comprises the second half of the song. Its famously contrasting movements were composed separately by Clapton and Gordon.

The song was inspired by the classical poet of Persian literature, Nizami Ganjavi's The Story of Layla and Majnun, a copy of which Ian Dallas had given to Clapton. The book moved Clapton profoundly, as it was the tale of a young man who fell hopelessly in love with a beautiful, unavailable woman and who went crazy because he could not marry her.[2][3] In his autobiography, Clapton states, "Ian Dallas told me the tale of Layla and Manjun [sic], a romantic Persian love story in which a young man, Manjun [sic], falls passionately in love with the beautiful Layla, but is forbidden by her father to marry her and goes crazy with desire." (Clapton, Eric. Clapton: The Autobiography. New York: Broadway Books, 2007 at p. 107.) The song was further inspired by Clapton's then unrequited love for Pattie Boyd, the wife of his friend and fellow musician George Harrison. "Layla" was unsuccessful on its initial release.[4] The song has since experienced great critical and popular acclaim, and is often hailed as being among the greatest rock songs of all time. Two versions have achieved chart success, the first in 1972 and the second (without the piano coda) twenty years later as an acoustic "Unplugged" performance. In 2004 it was ranked #27 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time", and the acoustic version won the 1993 Grammy Award for Best Rock Song.

Background[edit]

In 1966 George Harrison married Pattie Boyd, a model he met during the filming of A Hard Day's Night. During the late 1960s, Clapton and Harrison became close friends. Clapton contributed uncredited guitar work on Harrison's song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" on The Beatles' White Album, and Harrison co-wrote and played guitar pseudonymously (as L'Angelo Misterioso) on Cream's "Badge" from Goodbye. However, trouble was brewing for Clapton. Between his tenures in Cream and Blind Faith, he fell in love with Boyd.[5][page needed]

The title, "Layla", was inspired by the story of Layla and Majnun, by the 12th-century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi.[6] When he wrote "Layla", Clapton had been told the story by his friend Ian Dallas,[5] who was in the process of converting to Islam. Nizami's tale, about a moon princess who was married off by her father to someone other than the one who was desperately in love with her, resulting in Majnun's madness, struck a deep chord with Clapton.[7]

Boyd divorced Harrison in 1977 and married Clapton in 1979 during a concert stop in Tucson, Arizona.[8][9] Harrison was not bitter about the divorce and attended Clapton's wedding party with Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney.[10] During their relationship, Clapton wrote another love ballad for Pattie called "Wonderful Tonight" (1977).[11] Clapton and Boyd divorced in 1988 after several years of separation.[12]

Writing and recording[edit]

After the breakup of Cream, Clapton tried his hand with several groups, including Blind Faith and the husband-and-wife duo Delaney and Bonnie. In the spring of 1970, he was told that Delaney and Bonnie's backup band, consisting of bassist Carl Radle, drummer Jim Gordon, and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, was leaving the group. Seizing the opportunity, Clapton formed a new group, which became Derek and the Dominos.[13]

In mid-to-late 1970, Duane Allman joined Clapton's fledgling band as a guest. Clapton and Allman, already mutual fans, were introduced at an Allman Brothers concert by Tom Dowd.[14][time needed] The two hit it off well and soon became good friends. Dowd said of their guitar-playing chemistry: "There had to be some sort of telepathy going on because I've never seen spontaneous inspiration happen at that rate and level. One of them would play something, and the other reacted instantaneously. Never once did either of them have to say, 'Could you play that again, please?' It was like two hands in a glove. And they got tremendously off on playing with each other."[15] Dowd was already famous for a variety of work and had worked with Clapton in his Cream days (Clapton once called him "the ideal recording man"); his work on the album would be another achievement. For the making of his biographical film Tom Dowd and the Language of Music, he remixed the original master tapes of "Layla,"[16] saying, "There are my principles, in one form or another."[14][time needed]

Clapton originally wrote "Layla" as a ballad, with lyrics describing his unrequited love for Pattie Boyd, but the song became a "rocker" when Allman reportedly composed the song's signature riff.[15] With the band assembled and Dowd producing, "Layla" was recorded in its original form. The recording consisted of six guitar tracks: a rhythm track by Clapton, three tracks of harmonies played by Clapton against the main riff, a track of slide guitar by Allman, and one track with both Allman and Clapton playing duplicate solos.[15][17]

Shortly afterward, Clapton returned to the studio, where he heard Gordon playing a piano piece he had composed separately. Clapton, impressed by the piece, convinced Gordon to allow it to be used as part of the song.[13] Though only Gordon has been officially credited with this part, Whitlock claimed, "Jim took that piano melody from his ex-girlfriend Rita Coolidge. I know because in the D&B days I lived in John Garfield's old house in the Hollywood Hills and there was a guest house with an upright piano in it. Rita and Jim were up there in the guest house and invited me to join in on writing this song with them called 'Time.'... Her sister Priscilla wound up recording it with Booker T. Jones.... Jim took the melody from Rita's song and didn't give her credit for writing it. Her boyfriend ripped her off."[18]

"Layla's" second movement was recorded roughly a week after the first, with Gordon playing his piano part, Clapton playing acoustic guitar and slide guitar, and Allman playing electric and bottleneck slide guitar.[15][17] After Dowd spliced the two movements together,[15] "Layla" was complete.


The opening five bars to the guitar part of "Layla"


Due to the circumstances of its composition, "Layla" is defined by two movements, each marked by a riff. The first movement, which was recorded in the key of D minor for choruses and E major for verses,[19] is centred around the "signature riff", a guitar piece utilising hammer-ons, pull-offs, and power chords. The second part of the riff is commonly believed to have originated from Allman, an adaptation of the vocal melody from Albert King's "As the Years Go Passing By" from 1967's album Born Under a Bad Sign.[20] The first section contains the overdub-heavy guitar solo, a duet of sorts between Allman's slide guitar and Clapton's bent notes. By placing his slide at points beyond the end of the fretboard, Allman was able to play notes at a higher pitch than could be played with standard technique. Dowd referred to this as "notes that aren't on the instrument!"[14][time needed]

The second movement, Jim Gordon's contribution, is commonly referred to as the "piano coda."[21] Originally played in C major, the tape speed of the coda was increased during mixing. The resulting pitch is somewhere between C and C sharp. The piano interlude at the end of the song is augmented by an acoustic guitar, and is also the accompaniment to the outro-solo. The same melody is played on Allman's slide guitar, albeit one octave higher. Gordon does not improvise or deviate from the piano part; Clapton and Allman are the ones who improvise the melody. The song ends with Allman playing his signature high-pitched "bird call" on his slide guitar.[15]

As Clapton commented on his signature song:[22]

'Layla' is a difficult one, because it's a difficult song to perform live. You have to have a good complement of musicians to get all of the ingredients going, but when you've got that... It's difficult to do as a quartet, for instance, because there are some parts you have to play and sing completely opposing lines, which is almost impossible to do. If you've got a big band, which I will have on the tour, then it will be easy to do something like 'Layla'—and I'm very proud of it. I love to hear it. It's almost like it's not me. It's like I'm listening to someone that I really like. Derek and The Dominos was a band I really liked—and it's almost like I wasn't in that band. It's just a band that I'm a fan of. Sometimes, my own music can be like that. When it's served its purpose to being good music, I don't associate myself with it any more. It's like someone else. It's easy to do those songs then.

Or, as his inspiration, Pattie Boyd, once said, "I think that he was amazingly raw at the time... He's such an incredible musician that he's able to put his emotions into music in such a way that the audience can feel it instinctively. It goes right through you."[23]

Personnel[edit]

Beyond the original album[edit]

The album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs opened to lacklustre sales (the album never reached the charts in Britain), possibly in part because Clapton's name was found only on the back cover.[4] In addition, the song's length proved prohibitive for radio airplay;[4] as a result an edited version of the song, trimmed to 2:43, was released as a single in March 1971 by Atco Records (US). It peaked at #51 on the Billboard Hot 100.

"Layla"
Single by Eric Clapton
from the album Unplugged
Released 1992
Format CD single
Recorded Bray Studios, Bray, Berkshire 16 January 1992
Genre Acoustic blues, blues-rock
Length 4:46
Label Reprise
Writer(s) Eric Clapton/Jim Gordon
Producer(s) Russ Titelman

When "Layla" was re-released on the 1972 compilation The History of Eric Clapton and then released as a single, it charted at #7 in the UK and #10 in the US. In 1982 "Layla" was re-released as a single in the UK, and peaked at #4. This time the whole 7 minute single charted, containing the trailing two-thirds which is instrumental only.

Critical opinion since has been overwhelmingly positive. Dave Marsh, in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, wrote that "there are few moments in the repertoire of recorded rock where a singer or writer has reached so deeply into himself that the effect of hearing them is akin to witnessing a murder or a suicide... to me 'Layla' is the greatest of them."[4] Marsh listed "Layla" at #156 in his The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made.[24]

In May 1980, it was covered by the London Symphony Orchestra, but without the lyrics, being recorded at EMI Studio One, Abbey Road, London.[25] A similar version has been performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.[26]

On September 20, 1983 a benefit show called the ARMS Charity Concert for Multiple Sclerosis at the Royal Albert Hall in London featured a jam with Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page performing "Layla".[27] Clapton, Beck, and Page were the Yardbirds' successive lead guitarists from 1963 to 1968.[28]

In 1992, Clapton was invited to play for the MTV Unplugged series. His subsequent album, Unplugged, featured a number of blues standards and his new song "Tears in Heaven". It also featured an "unplugged" version of "Layla". The new arrangement slowed down and reworked the original riff and dispensed with the piano coda. Clapton introduced this version to the unsuspecting live audience by stating "See if you can spot this one."[1] This version climbed to #12 on the US pop chart, but failed to chart in Britain. It won the 1992 Grammy Award for Best Rock Song, beating out "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana, one of the ten biggest upsets in Grammy history, according to Entertainment Weekly.[29]

In 2003, the Allman Brothers Band began playing the song in concert. Warren Haynes sang the vocal, Gregg Allman played the piano part, and Derek Trucks played Duane Allman's guitar parts during the coda. The performances were seen as a tribute not only to Allman, but also to producer Tom Dowd, who had died the previous year.[30]

Personnel (Unplugged version)[edit]

Legacy[edit]

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the song had become iconic, and it is featured on a number of "greatest ever" lists. The song was chosen by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of their "500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll", and Rolling Stone ranked the song at #27 on their list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".[31] "Layla" was ranked #16 on VH1's "100 Greatest Songs of Rock and Roll", while Clapton's and Allman's guitar solos earned "Layla" a spot on Guitar World magazine's list of the "100 Greatest Guitar Solos" at #14. The song's familiar guitar riff was featured on a series of TV adverts for Vauxhall/Opel cars from the late 1980s to early 1990s, while the extended piano coda was featured prominently in Martin Scorsese's 1990 film Goodfellas. Covers have been fairly rare, including John Fahey's cover on his 1984 album Let Go, a cover by session musician and smooth jazz guitarist Larry Carlton, a cover by Les Fradkin on his "Hyper MIDI Guitar" album in 2010, and a cover by Impulsia from their debut album Expressions in 2009. Part of the song was included in a remix by American shred guitarist Michael Angelo Batio called "Clapton Is God" in his 2009 album Hands Without Shadows 2 – Voices.

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1972, 1982, 1992) Peak
position
Australian ARIA Charts[32] 7
Canadian RPM Top Singles 9
Irish Singles Chart 4
New Zealand Singles Chart[33] 2
Polish Singles Chart 10
U.K. Singles Chart 4
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 10

References[edit]

Footnotes
  1. ^ a b Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Layla". AllMusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 2 January 2011. 
  2. ^ McKeen, William (2000). Rock and roll is here to stay: an anthology. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 127. "Clapton poured all he had into Layla's title track, which was inspired by the Persian love story he had read, the story of Layla and Majnun." 
  3. ^ Santoro, Gene (1995). Dancing in Your Head: Jazz, Blues, Rock, and Beyond. Oxford University Press US. p. 62. "At the time, he started to read The story of Layla and Majnun by the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi" 
  4. ^ a b c d Paul Gambaccini et al. Derek and the Dominoes (sic) – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Retrieved 6 July 2005.
  5. ^ a b Clapton, Eric (2007). Clapton: The Autobiography. New York: Broadway Books. ISBN 978-0-385-51851-2. 
  6. ^ "Neẓāmī". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  7. ^ Patterson, Jean (Autumn 1998). "Crazy About "Layla": Eric Clapton Song Inspired by Nizami, 12th century Azerbaijani Poet". Azerbaijan International. Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  8. ^ Boyd, Pattie. Wonderful Tonight. Google Books. Retrieved 5 July 2012. 
  9. ^ Pattie Boyd (11 August 2007). "'I'd pray Eric would pass out and not touch me': Part 2 of Pattie Boyd's sensational autobiography". Daily Mail. Retrieved 2 February 2013. 
  10. ^ Edna Gundersen (10 April 2007). "Clapton doesn't sing the blues in autobiography". USA Today. Retrieved 2 February 2013. 
  11. ^ Tony Grassi (31 July 2011). "Pattie Boyd: The Woman Behind Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight"". Guitar World. Retrieved 2 February 2013. 
  12. ^ Claire Suddath (28 September 2010). "George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Pattie Boyd". Time. Retrieved 2 February 2013. 
  13. ^ a b Williamson, Nigel. "Derek and The Dominos – Layla & Other Assorted...". Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  14. ^ a b c Moormann, Mark (2003). Tom Dowd and the Language of Music. New York: Force Entertainment. OCLC 225191912. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f "100 Greatest Guitar Solos: 14.) Layla (Eric Clapton, Duane Allman)". Guitar World. 28 October 2008. Retrieved 15 September 2009. 
  16. ^ Derek, Halsey. "Tom Dowd: The Legendary Producer Dies on 27 October 2002". Gritz. Archived from the original on 10 February 2005. Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  17. ^ a b Original Criteria studio Track Identification Chart
  18. ^ "Layla’s 40th: The Where’s Eric! Interview With Bobby Whitlock". 
  19. ^ Perrin, Jeff; Clapton, Eric (1996). The Best of Eric Clapton: A Step-by-Step Breakdown of His Playing Technique. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard. ISBN 978-0-7935-5801-8. 
  20. ^ Klaassen, Gerd. "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs". 12 Bar Blues. Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  21. ^ "Sold on Song Top 100: Layla". BBC Radio 2. Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  22. ^ Hrano, Mike. "Eric Clapton – The Mike Hrano Interview". Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  23. ^ Leopold, Todd (3 February 2005). "Harrison, Clapton, and their muse". CNN. Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  24. ^ Marsh, Dave (1999). The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. New York: DaCapo Press. pp. 109–10. ISBN 978-0-306-80901-9. 
  25. ^ "London symphony orchestra - Layla (1981)". YouTube. 9 April 2008. Retrieved 18 March 2012. 
  26. ^ "The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra - Layla". YouTube. Retrieved 18 March 2012. 
  27. ^ Video at NME.com
  28. ^ "The Yardbirds: Happenings 35 Years Time Later". Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  29. ^ Endelman, Michael (2007). "Grammy's 10 Biggest Upsets" (http). EW.com. Retrieved 13 February 2007. 
  30. ^ Collette, Doug. "The Allman Brothers Band in Concert: Beacon Theatre 2003". All About Jazz. Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  31. ^ "The Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: #27: Derek and the Dominos, "Layla"". Rolling Stone magazine. Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  32. ^ "Eric Clapton - Layla (acoustic) (song)". Australian-charts.com. Retrieved 6 January 2013. 
  33. ^ "Layla, by Eric Clapton". Flavour of New Zealand. Retrieved 6 January 2013. 
Bibliography
  • Ray Coleman, Clapton! (Warner Books, 1985) pp. 179–192
  • Jan Reid, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominos (Rock of Ages, 2007)

External links[edit]