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This article is about the song. For the name, see Leila (name). For the tale, see Layla and Majnun. For other Ayla (disambiguation), see Layla (disambiguation).
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 Hard rock, blues 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). 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.[1][2] 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."[3] The song was further inspired by Clapton's then unrequited love for Pattie Boyd, the wife of his friend and fellow musician George Harrison of The Beatles.

"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) 20 years later as an acoustic Unplugged performance by Clapton. In 2004, "Layla" was ranked number 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.


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, between his tenures in Cream and Blind Faith, Clapton 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 a man she didn't love, 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 some members of Delaney and Bonnie's backup band, notably bassist Carl Radle, drummer Jim Gordon, and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, were leaving the group. Seizing the opportunity, Clapton formed a new group, which became Derek and the Dominos.[13]

During the recording of the album, 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 of the first section consisted of sixteen tracks of which six guitar tracks: a rhythm track by Clapton, three tracks of harmonies played by Clapton (the main power chord riff on both channels and two harmonies against that main riff, one on the left channel and one on the right channel), a track of solos by Allman (fretted solos with bent notes during the verses and a slide solo during the outro[17]), and one track with both Allman and Clapton playing duplicate solos (the 7-note "signature" riff doubled in two octaves and the 12-note "signature" riff doubled in unison).[15][18] While recording this duplicate solos master track each player used one input of the same two-input Fender Champ amplifier.[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."[19] "Time" ended up on the album Chronicles by Booker T. and Priscilla Jones which was released in 1973.

"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][18] 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 C-sharp minor for verses,[20] 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.[21] The first section contains the overdub-heavy slide guitar solo, played by Allman. 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."[22] Originally played in C major, the tape speed of the coda was increased slightly 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:[23]

'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."[24]


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.

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. Billboard ranked it as the No. 60 song for 1972.[25] 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.[26]

In May 1980 it was covered by the London Symphony Orchestra, but without the lyrics, being recorded at EMI Studio One, Abbey Road, London.[27] A similar version has been performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.[28]

On 20 September 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".[29] Clapton, Beck, and Page were the Yardbirds' successive lead guitarists from 1963 to 1968.[30]

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."[31] 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.[32]

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.[33]

Eric Clapton recorded yet a third version. "Layla" appears as track seven on "Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton play the blues" [sic] (LIVE FROM JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER)[34] Personnel on this version include Wynton Marsalis ( vocals, trumpet), Eric Clapton ( vocals, guitar), Victor Goines ( clarinet), Marcus Printup (trumpet), Chris Crenshaw (trombone, vocals), Don Vappie (banjo), Chris Stainton (keyboards), Dan Nimmer ( piano), Carlos Henriquez ( bass), and Ali Jackson ( drums).

Personnel (Unplugged version)[edit]

Charts and certifications[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".[79]


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  • 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]