A bit of history on this song:
The song was the first collaboration between guitarist Eric Clapton
and artist Martin Sharp
. Clapton composed the music, inspired by the Lovin' Spoonful
's 1966 hit "Summer in the City
"I just started chatting to Eric", said Sharp, who lived in the same building. "I told him I had written a poem. He, in turn, told me he'd written some music. So I gave him my poem. Two weeks later, he turned up with it on the B-side of a 45 record."
Sharp had written the lyrics to the melody of Leonard Cohen
's song "Suzanne
", specifically the Judy Collins
The song was the B-side for "Strange Brew
" in June 1967, several months ahead of the group's second album, Disraeli Gears
, which included both songs. Cash Box
called it a "visionary hard rock excursion." AllMusic
's Matthew Greenwald calls it, "One of a few overtly psychedelic songs to have aged gracefully ... Lyrically, it's a relatively factual and colorful rendering of the great Greek tragedy Ulysses
In his 2007 autobiography, Clapton recalls:
When [first meeting Sharp] he heard that I was a musician, he told me he had written a poem that he thought would make good lyrics for a song. As it happens, I had in my mind at that moment an idea inspired by a favorite [sic
] song of mine by the Lovin' Spoonful called "Summer in the City," so I asked him to show me the words. He wrote them down on a napkin and gave them to me ... These became the lyrics of the song "Tales of Brave Ulysses".
The song uses a descending tetrachord bass line of D/C/B/B-flat, which Greenwald describes as "simple but effective". Jack Bruce
, on bass, also provides the vocal, and Ginger Baker
is on drums.
Cream performed the song in concert and a 10 March 1968 recording from Winterland
in San Francisco is included on Live Cream Volume II
In May 1968, the group were filmed performing it for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
"Tales of Brave Ulysses" was later overshadowed by "White Room
", which utilised the wah-wah and a superficially similar chord progression (although starting on Dm instead of D major) to create one of Cream's biggest hits.