Tales of Brave Ulysses

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"Tales of Brave Ulysses"
1967 Norway 45 single picture sleeve, Polydor, 59106
Single by Cream
from the album Disraeli Gears
A-side "Strange Brew"
Released May 1967
Recorded May 1967 at Atlantic Studios, New York City
Genre Psychedelic rock, hard rock, Heavy Metal
Length 2:46
Label Reaction (UK)
Atco (US)
Polydor (EUR)
Writer(s) Eric Clapton
Martin Sharp
Producer(s) Felix Pappalardi
Cream singles chronology
"I Feel Free"
(1966)
"Strange Brew"
(1967)
"Sunshine of Your Love"
(1967)
Music sample

"Tales of Brave Ulysses" is a song performed by the 1960s group Cream. The lyrics were written by artist Martin Sharp, and the music was composed by Eric Clapton. Arranged by Robert Stigwood, the song is featured on Cream's album Disraeli Gears. The song is credited on the single to P. Brown, J. Bruce, and E. Clapton.[1]

Clapton was at The Speakeasy Club with his girlfriend, French model Charlotte Martin, mother of photographer Scarlet Page. Charlotte introduced him to Sharp, and "we hit it off, I liked him a lot". Sharp said he'd just written a song, Clapton replied he'd just written some music, so Sharp wrote the lyrics down on a serviette along with his address and handed them over. Sharp had written them to the tune of Judy Collins' version of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne". Clapton was a fan of guitarist Zal Yanovsky of The Lovin' Spoonful, and had heard their Summer in the City a year earlier, and has said that the Tale of Brave Ulysses riff "was straight out of it". It was Bassist Jack Bruce that found a way to sing the lyrics over Clapton's riff. The day before writing the song, Clapton discovered the wah-wah pedal, which added "atmospherics" to the song.[2]

Song meaning[edit]

The lyrics are inspired by Homer's Odyssey, an account of the adventures undertaken by Ulysses. This can be seen in the song's reference to "how his naked ears were tortured by the sirens sweetly singing," an event from Homer's epic poem. When interviewed on the episode of the VH1 show, Classic Albums, which featured Disraeli Gears, lyricist Sharp explained that he had recently returned from Ibiza, which was the source of many of the images in the song (e.g. "tiny purple fishes run laughing through your fingers") and the general feeling of having left an idyll to return to "the hard lands of the winter"; Clapton stated in the same show that he had been independently writing a tune based on The Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City", and when Sharp gave him the words (on the back of a bar napkin) they fit the tune.[3]

UK 45 single, Reaction Records, 591015B, 1967.

Composition[edit]

The main guitar riff follows a descending chord progression in D minor: D D/C D/B D/Bb, very similar to that of "White Room". Both songs also feature Clapton's guitar decorated with a wah-wah pedal.

Despite its being one of their more popular songs, Cream did not play it in their 2005 reunion show at the Royal Albert Hall, though they did play it at their Madison Square Garden shows.

Later use[edit]

  • The song is featured twice on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The first of these episodes is the sixth episode of season 3: Band Candy, the second of these is episode 17 of season 5: Forever. In both instances it is played by the character Giles.
  • The song is featured on the HBO series Entourage. On the season 5 episode "Tree Trippers" on the end credits.
  • The song was covered by pioneer doom metal band Trouble (and released as the b-side of the '84 12" Assassin), by the grunge band Screaming Trees on the 1990 compilation album Taste Test#1, and by psychedelic soul band Rotary Connection with Minnie Riperton on vocals, as found on their 1969 album Songs and on the 2005 compilation Psychedelic Jazz and Funky Grooves. It was also covered by the new wave band Algebra Suicide.
  • An extended arrangement of the song was recorded in 2007 by American artist Cary Grace, and was released as the B-side of the single "Pandora".
  • The song is featured on the soundtrack of the documentary "Tom Dowd and the Language of Music" about the legendary Atlantic Records recording engineer.
  • The arrangement of this song is used for Hap Palmer's song: "When Things Don't Go Your Way" for his "Turn on the Music" album and video.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Cream - Making of Tales of Brave Ulysses". Retrieved 21 June 2012. 
  2. ^ "The Making of Disraeli Gears". Retrieved 10 January 2015. 
  3. ^ "Cream: Disraeli Gears", Classic Albums on VH1, November 3, 2006

External links[edit]