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, acid rock, hard rock
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. Sharp immediately wrote the lyrics down on a table napkin, handing it over to Clapton. 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.He had heard the group's song Summer in the City a year earlier. Recalling the insistent underlying rhythm of the Spoonful's song, Clapton has said that the 'Tale of Brave Ulysses' riff "was straight out of it". Bassist Jack Bruce got involved, finding a way to 'declaim' the lyrics over Clapton's riff, again adding to the song's insistent feel. The day before writing the song, Clapton discovered the wah-wah pedal. The guitar sound device enabled him to create what amounts to an evocation of the deadly calls of the sirens to Ulysses and his men.[2]

Song meaning[edit]

The lyrics are inspired by Homer's Odyssey, a 700 B.C.E. account of the adventures undertaken by Ulysses. The song's reference to "how his naked ears were tortured by the sirens sweetly singing," for example, directly lifts an event from Homer's epic poem. When interviewed on an episode of the VH1 show, Classic Albums, which featured Disraeli Gears, lyricist Sharp explained that he had recently returned from Ibiza; the Mediterranean island was the source of many of the song's images (e.g. "tiny purple fishes run laughing through your fingers"). The feeling of having left an idyll to return to "the hard lands of the winter" parallels the journey of Ulysses. Clapton stated in the same show that he had been independently writing a tune based on The Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City". 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 bringing his use of the wah-wah pedal front and center to the composition.

Although 'Tales' has been one of their more popular songs, Cream did not play it in their 2005 reunion show at the Royal Albert Hall. They did play it, however, 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]