Clapton Chronicles: The Best Of Eric Clapton 1981-1999

Eric Clapton

Duck / Reprise Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I would love to hear the argument of someone who doesn't believe that Eric Clapton is overdue for a "greatest hits" collection -- or, more correctly, a collection of his hits since he's been with Reprise. After all, it's only been in this time that Clapton revitalized his career (though, if he had it back, I'm sure he would rather have had the son he lost than a song written about his grief) and raised him to the level of elder statesman in his field.

Clapton Chronicles, a 14-song collection of those hits since 1981, does an admirable job of tracking Clapton's career, but it has three small flaws: one a sin of omission, one a sin of inclusion, and one mortal sin in music. More on these as we go along.

There are two songs that absolutely shape this disc, simply because they're the songs that have shaped Clapton's career in recent years. The first is "Tears In Heaven," a song written to mourn the loss of his son Conor, who died in an accidental fall. Anyone who is not moved by this song, even after severe overplay on the radio, has to have ice water in their veins. (Wisely, whoever compiled this disc chose to use the original version, which I think has more punch than the my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Unplugged rendition.)

The second is the version of "Layla" from Unplugged; this song re-introduced a classic to a whole new audience, and helped to bring new life to a track that is arguably one of the best songs in rock & roll. This song deserves to be held in high regard, as does the version featured on Clapton Chronicles.

What makes this disc so spectacular is that it's as comfortable as an old pair of slippers; you put this disc in the CD player, and it's like you're listening to classic rock radio. From the way Clapton danced on the strings on songs like "Bad Love," "Forever Man" and "Pretending" (though I'll admit in recent years I haven't liked the way the chords resolved in "Pretending"'s chorus) to the modern attack Clapton has shown towards songwriting on "My Father's Eyes" and the new track "Blue Eyes Blue", Clapton shows often why some people declared him to be God early in his career.

All of this said, you still can't overlook the three sins. First, the sin of omission: Where is "I've Got A Rock & Roll Heart"? This might not have been a track to light the speakers on fire, but it showcased "Slowhand" in a song that helped keep him in the public eye for a while. I happen to have always liked this song, and can't help but wonder why it wasn't included. Hell, while we're at it, why not put "Motherless Child" from Clapton's blues exercise From The Cradle on this one? It's just as deserving of a track.

Next, the sin of inclusion: I would probably have pulled either "Running On Faith" or the studio version of "Before You Accuse Me," and replaced them with one of the previously mentioned omitted tracks. These are not bad songs by any means, but they're not the first ones I think of when I put the words "Eric Clapton" and "greatest hits" together.

Finally, there is the mortal sin: Thou shall not try to be hipper than one really is. Exhibit "A": "(I) Get Lost," a track that proves once and for all that Clapton does not work well with a hip-hop rhythm section. Let's hope he got this out of his system once and for all.

Still, Clapton Chronicles is a wonderful collection that reminds people just how important Clapton has been to the music scene over the last 15 or so years, and is a fitting, though slightly flawed, disc that captures one of the best in the industry at his finest.

Rating: A-

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Duck / Reprise Records, and is used for informational purposes only.