...and I think about the love that you laid on my table.
Actually, despite the fact that this song was released on a Cream album, it probably isn't entirely fair to call it a Cream song at all. Unlike most of Cream's material, it features Eric Clapton on lead vocals, instead of bassist Jack Bruce. Furthermore, it has none of the blues base that most of Cream's material has. And finally, most importantly, the song was written by Clapton in collaboration with George Harrison, and Harrison's Beatlesque stamp is all over it. "Badge" is one of only two songs that arose out of this late-60s Clapton/Harrison collaboration, the other being "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", a track on which Harrison took lead vocal and was therefore released on The Beatles' 1968 self-titled album, also known as "The White Album".
One can imagine that, if a full album were produced by the Clapton-Harrison collaborative unit, perhaps with Ginger Baker on drums (one can dream, at least), it would have sounded like "Badge" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" throughout. However, that didn't happen. While Cream was in the midst of breaking up in 1968--in fact, "Badge" appeared on their final album, "Goodbye", which was half-studio and half-live due to a lack of new material--The Beatles were to hang on, mostly out of a sense of duty rather than any real desire to continue as a group, for two more years. By the time those two years had passed, Eric Clapton had moved on to other collaborations, first with Baker, Steve Winwood, and bassist Rick Grech in the short-lived Blind Faith, then with Duane Allman and the Delaney and Bonnie rhythm section as Derek And The Dominos. Winwood dominated the sound of Blind Faith, singing on all songs and writing most of them. While their album is not wonderful, it's pretty decent, probably due to the fact that Winwood was still a decent songwriter at this point--this was over a decade before his "Arc Of A Diver"/"Back In The High Life"/"Roll With It" travesty triumvirate. Derek and the Dominos were more scattershot, filling their one release, a double album, with covers and collaborations with keyboardist Bobby Whitlock. It features a few incredible moments, most notably title track "Layla" and standout Clapton contribution "Bellbottom Blues", but the most important thing to note about this album in light of the current discussion is that "Layla" and several other songs on the album were inspired by Clapton's having fallen in love with George Harrison's then-wife, Pattie Boyd. She later left Harrison and married Clapton (whose marriage to her lasted a couple of years less than Harrison's had). So, by the time Harrison was free from his obligations to the Beatles, Clapton had fallen in love with his wife. One would assume that this made the idea of a Clapton-Harrison collaborative project impossible.
And that's a shame, because "Badge" is such an incredible song. As I mentioned earlier, it has none of the blues elements that Cream songs were most commonly based around. Instead, it consists of a pop-rock verse structure (with no real chorus), and a powerful melodic centerpiece--a lengthy bridge over which Clapton solos to great effect. It was, in fact, this bridge that gave the song its name; Harrison saw Clapton's composition notes, and misread the word "bridge" as "Badge". The song is structured more like a Beatles song than a Cream song, but really, it doesn't sound too much like the Beatles either. In fact, if anything, I'd say the song resembles something that Badfinger would have done. Badfinger were the first band other than the Beatles to release records on the Beatles' Apple Records label, and rose to fame with the help of their association with the Beatles. However, they weren't merely a Beatles copy band, as they've sometimes been labeled. Instead, Badfinger were the first band who could properly be called power-pop. Their pioneering of this genre, which dominated the rock of the early to mid 70s (Big Star, the Raspberries, Cheap Trick), was possible due to their synthesis of the many disparate elements that had made up the Beatles' songwriting styles at various points during their career. The Beatles, relentless innovators at all times, nonetheless burned through styles rather quickly, constantly trying new ways of writing a song and then casting them off by their next album. This enabled them to make the quantum leaps in songwriting that allowed them to progress from "Love Me Do" to "A Day In The Life" in five years, and to side two of "Abbey Road" in only two more, but it also made it tough to point to one specific songwriting style that was quintessentially Beatles in nature. Nonetheless, Badfinger built their sound upon a foundation of quintessentially Beatlesque stylings, and they did so by synthesizing all of the disparate elements that made up "Love Me Do" and "Rubber Soul" and "Sgt. Pepper" and "Abbey Road" and coming out with a unified sound that incorporated all of these things without sacrificing its own focus. This sound was what became power-pop, and Badfinger deserve a great deal of credit for coming up with it, even if they were building on work done by their benefactors in the previous decade.
They may also have been building on "Badge", however, as it too seems to synthesize much of these same Beatlesque elements. Since George Harrison had such an important role in writing it, that can hardly be surprising, but the song sounds much less like something either Harrison or Clapton, for that matter, would have written anytime previously. Instead, it looks forward, and might therefore be the real unsung starting point of power-pop. The song is based around a catchy rhythm guitar riff that's doubled by a piano line, and Clapton's vocals on it are smooth and melodic, an obvious contrast to his lead vocal turn on "Crossroads", from Cream's previous album, "Wheels Of Fire". During the first two verses of the song, his guitar is subdued, revealing none of the fireworks that had made him a guitar hero long before "Badge" was recorded. The rhythm section is equally subdued, and all of the players do their best to get out of the way of the main melody, as carried by the vocals.
The lyrics to the song are vague where concrete details are concerned, but nonetheless paint a detailed emotional picture. The song would be excellent no matter what, but the lyrical picture just adds that much more of a punch to it. "Thinking about the times you drove in my car," sings Clapton. "Thinking that I might've drove you too far. And I'm thinking about the love that you laid on my table." This is the moment when most songs would go from verse to chorus, but instead, the guitar, piano, and rhythm section all just build up to a high, chiming chord, after which the entire song stops for a full measure. Finally, the bass brings it back in for another verse. "I told you not to wander round in the dark. I told you about the swans, that they live in the park. And I told you about the kid, now he's married to Mabel." Both of these verses hint at a dissolved relationship, and when mixed with the subdued music and minor-chord vocal melody, they create a feeling of sadness and loss. But what they're actually talking about stays vague and hard to figure out, as it will throughout the song.
After the same chiming chord ends the second verse, the song changes completely as it enters the bridge. It's brought in by a ringing guitar arpeggio, played through the same sort of chorus effect that Badfinger made famous with the leads on their most famous singles, such as "No Matter What" and "Baby Blue". When the piano and rhythm section come in under the lead guitar, Clapton begins singing, sounding much more passionate than he did on the first two verses. "You better pick yourself up off the ground before they bring the curtain down," he declares, finally launching into an unrestrained solo of the sort that he'd made his name on. In the background, a quiet vocal chorus hums along with the rhythm chords played by bass and piano, and a mellotron slowly fades in as well, adding a symphonic layer of additional melody. All of these additional layers take the song far away from its subdued beginnings, and also strengthen the resemblance to a late-period Beatles song.
When, at the end of the bridge, the band plunges back into the verse once more, the layers of backing vocal and mellotron stick around, and spur Clapton into singing the final verse even more passionately than he delivered his lyrics during the bridge. As he does so, he continues to add guitar leads inbetween his vocal lines, which again increase the intensity with which this final verse is delivered--quite a contrast with the two that came before the bridge. "I'm talking about a girl that looks quite like you," he sings. "She didn't like to wait around in the queue." Then the final, most affecting, line: "She cried away her life since she fell out the cradle!" I don't know if it's the lyric itself, Clapton's delivery, or some combination of the two that makes that last line stick with me so strongly, but regardless, it's a powerful, resonant line, and it wraps up the song perfectly. The last high, chiming chord rings out with an air of foreboding melancholy, encapsulating the mood created throughout.
When I hear this song, I find myself mourning for something that never existed at all, a Clapton-Harrison collaboration that could have generated one or more albums like this, full of power-pop gems and bluesy, emotional anthems. I hear hints of what could have been in "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," as well as in Blind Faith's "Presence of the Lord", The Beatles' "Something", Derek And The Dominoes' "Bell Bottom Blues", and George Harrison's solo track "Isn't It A Pity". But nowhere do I hear it more clearly than in "Badge", and as much as I love this song, I am always a bit sad when I hear it, to think that there are no more songs like this one.
Cream - Badge