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*5.27-DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY (Cream)

Cream

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[Intro]

Gonna build myself a castle
High up in the clouds.
There'll be skies outside my window.
Lose these streets and crowds.

     Dance the night away

Will find myself an ocean-
Sail into the blue.
Live with golden swordfish.
Forget the time of you.

     [Refrain]

Dance myself to nothing.
Vanish from this place.
Gonna turn myself to shadow
So I can't see your face.

     [Refrain]

[Coda]


Disraeli GearsWhereas Fresh Cream had been produced by Robert Stigwood, who also produced the Bee Gees 1st album of pop psychedelia, Felix Pappalardi as producer brought a loudness to Disraeli Gears that took it beyond pop. As I recall the two singles released from Disraeli Gears failed to catch the ear of the general American audience until Sunshine of Your Love was re-released on Top 40 in the Spring of 1968. Until then it had been pigeon-holed in "underground radio" where Jimi Hendrix Experience was. Sunshine of Your Love turned out to be among the earliest and most successful “heavy metal” songs on Top 40 radio, reaching #5 in the U.S. (but only #25 in the UK). Pappalardi continued to produce the Cream's albums (few as they were) thereafter. In a couple of years, after the Cream were no longer a group, and Led Zeppelin had taken their place in a harder rock world, Pappalardi would be the founding member of the hard rock group Mountain.

George Starostin wrote on his blog Only Solitaire: "Now let me just tell you this - it's Disraeli Gears and no other record that should be considered the real symbol of flower power and all of these things. Dance The Night Away with Eric's masterful soaring guitars introducing every next chorus. Man, how DOES he do that? He sounds as if he's flying right up there in the air - over our shoulders! And what a sad thing it is that he never milked that rainbow-tinged, heavenly guitar sound again; this is the closest he ever came to shoving the burden of the Earth off his shoulders." Richie Untermeyer of allmusic noted that "The song begins and ends with a most Byrds-like 12-string guitar figure, indeed marking the only time Eric Clapton played an electric 12-string guitar on a Cream record."

Between each verse and the refrain there is the effect of soaring jangling "heavenly" bells that have a kinship to Jim McGuinn's 12 string work. Indeed, the crescendo bears resemblance to Eight Miles High. Eric Clapton's twelve string also shares something of the "rush" expressed through an orchestra crescendo in the Beatles' Day in the Life. But Clapton's guitar doesn't sound as erratic or cacophonous as either of these previous examples, great as they both are. With Clapton, (as often with Hendrix) this "rush" is precise and clean; I feel as if I'm in capable hands as my mind explores new territory. The innocence, the playing around, the trying out period of psychedelia, was beginning to dry up, and expertise in the exercise of skill with a musical instrument was starting to become more appreciated.

Not that Cream didn't have a good sense of humor. Disraeli Gears indeed has a couple of comic songs; ironically, they are the two songs most rooted in the blues: Take It Back and Outside Woman Blues, and a music hall number, Mother’s Lament. Cream, with a few exceptions, weren't inclined to be moody and "dark" like Jimi Hendrix or the Doors. But Cream still showed strongly the blues influence as the backbone for much of their music. Jimi Hendrix at this point usually buried the blues deep in psychedelic technique. Eric Clapton instead held to the blues as the tried and true foundation of rock, and he proved to be correct over time, as the flower of psychedelia began to fade and the blues stepped forward as something solid to build on, less ephemeral than psychedelic experiments.

Not much of psychedelic music at the time alluded to clubbing: at the moment I can only bring to mind Eight Miles High by the Byrds and Summer in the City by the Lovin' Spoonful; and oh yes, Alabama Song by the “Doors” and All Tomorrow's Parties by the Velvet Underground. Of course, Dance the Night Away uses such poetic language that it's difficult to assert that the song concerns going to a nightclub to dance and forget a girlfriend. The impulse is certainly not to meet people, or to find another woman. Perhaps the poet wants to immerse himself in a faceless crowd like an ocean and dance alone with the visions inside his head. Maybe the singer is actually going to the seashore, to "dance beneath the diamond sky", as in Dylan's Tambourine Man. The lyrics are blue; the singer is seeking escape, seeking to be nonexistent. I note that the poem avoids the word "I", dropping the pronoun as if understood, until the last line of the verse. The poet seeks relief from himself both high (a cloud castle) and low (deep in the ocean with golden swordfish). He seeks in music that can lift him beyond his limitations and make him dance. But he only gets the rush, the annihilation.

This is not dance as we usually think of it. I recently saw a videoclip of teenagers in 1967 and 1968 attempt to dance to I Can See For Miles by the Who, with very little success, if judged by the standards of American Bandstand or the later Soul Train. I doubt that dancers would have had any more success with Dance the Night Away. As the lyrics admit, this wasn't social dancing, it was moving to the music in a more fluid way, less anchored in rhythm, though ironically, Keith Moon of The Who and Ginger Baker of Cream were among the best drummers of the time. Their beats were more complex than dance step patterns, and seemed more intent on bursting through measures than defining them, so that the mind was set loose to dream. The psychedelic dance, when it existed at all, was more akin to floating or "drifting downstream" (as Lennon advised in Tomorrow Never Knows) than getting on the good foot.

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