March 2, 2023 • 2:46 pm

Here’s some music; I am so racked with sleeplessness that I’m incapable of producing anything more than cutting and pasting. But I do love this song, “Badge“: my favorite piece by the evanescent three-man all-star group “Cream”: Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and the best rock drummer of all time, the irascible Ginger Baker.

This was performed in the Albert Hall in London in 2005, 36 years after it was issued as a single in 1969. It also appeared on their final album, “Goodbye.”

It’s not widely known that George Harrison not only played on the original song, here, but also gets cowriting credit with Clapton. As for the title, Wikipedia gives this version:

“Badge” was originally an untitled track. During the production transfer for the album Goodbye, the original music sheet was used to produce the liner notes and track listing. The only discernible word on the page was “bridge” (indicating the song’s bridge section). Due to Harrison’s handwriting, however, Clapton misread it as “badge”—and the song was titled soon thereafter.

Harrison remembered the story thus:

I helped Eric write “Badge” you know. Each of them had to come up with a song for that Goodbye Cream album and Eric didn’t have his written. We were working across from each other and I was writing the lyrics down and we came to the middle part so I wrote ‘Bridge.’ Eric read it upside down and cracked up laughing – ‘What’s BADGE?’ he said. After that, Ringo [Starr] walked in drunk and gave us that line about the swans living in the park.

Common legends or misconceptions are that the name came about because its chord progression was B–A–D–G–E (which is not true) or simply because the notation of a guitar’s standard tuning (E–A–D–G–B–E) can be arranged to spell “Badge”.

Clapton does a creditable solo in this version, but I prefer his solo in the original version, which starts at 1:38 here.

Rock music is the only art form that can be performed in the Royal Albert Hall with the performers wearing grubby street clothes, including untucked shirts.

30 thoughts on ““Badge”

  1. As an aspiring drummer when Badge was first released (I still play but moved on to an e kit )
    Ginger Baker was the rock solid mover and beater of the day. Mitch Mitchell (Hendricks drummer) being my go to for freedom of expression.
    You can hear the “Beatle” in this song, where?
    Yeah, yeah, yeah… twice. That imo is not a Cream lyric. The piano until now I have never taken notice of.
    It (Badge) surprised me how at the time it sounded, more to the commercial pop end.

  2. Ginger Baker was undoubtedly the most innovative and creative drummer of the rock era. But the best? No. That was Levon Helm!

    1. Neil Peart
      John Bonham
      Bill Bruford
      Chester Thompson
      Stewart Copeland

      I dunno man, I feel like I could name tons of rock drummers better than both Baker and Helm. Though I recognize that Baker was special for his time.

      1. B Guy, G Krupa, J Bonham, G Baker, D Lombardo, V Colaiuta, G Hoglan… (yes I know they play jazz and pop too) and by the way, Clapton don’t come near top 100 guitarists. Second most overrated player ever. Fight me.

        1. Oh, I have no beef with you! I think Clapton is the most overrated player of all time as well. I will never, ever understand why he gets so much love. It’s utterly baffling to me. There is literally not a single aspect of guitar that he does at a top-hundred level. It’s not like he had special speed, or was an especially good picker, or was one of the best improvisers, and so on. Nothing. I can’t think of anything that he did particularly well compared to so many other players. And I knew guys in college that were ten times the guitarist Clapton ever was.

          1. His lead playing wasn’t super-fast (“Slowhand” afterall!) or a spectacular improviser, etc. If that’s your standard, you need to look elsewhere.

            What he did was beautiful, very tasty, and fit the music and didn’t overbear on the songs or show off. That’s why I like him.

            I usually find super-fast lead playing boring. (Fill every 16th note, dammit!)

            1. I actually agree that “super-fast” is also super-boring. One of my favorite guitarists is David Gilmour. I’ve never been a fan of the likes of Satriani, Malmsteen, etc. I was just pointing to one of many different criteria people use when talking about “greatest.”

              I agree that Clapton’s play fit his bands well. But can’t we say that of tons of guitarists? Dicky Betts (and Duane Allman!), Jimmy Page, Steve Howe, Mark Knopfler. We could name dozens just off the tops of our heads who could play in multiple moods to fit whatever kind of sound their band was playing, and all of them more creative and proficient than Clapton.

              Was Clapton a good guitarist? Sure. Was and is he still wildly overrated, to the point that he regularly overshadows dozens of guitarists who were far better? I believe the answer is yes, though I’m willing to consider evidence to the contrary.

              EDIT: And, to continue pointing out the lack of respect Rush gets from the general rock-loving public (they certainly don’t lack respect among actual rock musicians, but that’s separate), I’d like to just throw out Alex Lifeson’s name because, damn it, that man is owed a ridiculous amount of respect.

              1. Thanks. Very thoughtful response.

                I agree on all those guitarists. I love them. Yes, “Clapton is God” was a bunch of bullshit.

                Good guitarist and I love much of his work. But the greatest? No way.

                He’s pretty good though. I can play, for instance, Here Comes the Sun, Stairway to Heaven, Blackbird, From the Beginning, etc. Some of Clapton’s acoustic stuff is harder!

              2. About half of the solos on my list of greatest guitar solos are from Lifeson. He’s really good. I think that one reason he is overlooked is that there are several good guitarists. However, he was in a band with one of the handful of top bassists and THE top rock drummer.

              3. @jBillie Thanks for the compliment 🙂

                @Phillip I agree that the lack of respect given to Lifeson is his bandmates. It took even me a long time to realize just how important Lifeson is to the sound of Rush. People always ask, “how do only three guys make that enormous sound?” In the End (heh), that “big sound” largely comes from Lifeson’s effects and absurd intelligence as a composer, as he was so innovative technologically and used such unique phrasing. The man was absolutely brilliant when it came to both the effects he used to enlarge the sound of the band as a whole, and the chords, licks, and solos he played for each song. What an absolute legend. He’s almost like a guitarist and a producer on stage.

              4. @Phillip Sorry, I forgot to ask: which solos of Lifeson’s are your favorites? Just without thinking, my top five, in no particular order, would likely be

                1. YYZ — I love the Eastern tone of it
                2. 2112 — I’m cheating a bit here, but I love the solo from the Presentation movement, with its anger and rage in response to the Priests, and the sorrowful solo from the Soliloquy movement
                3. Red Barchetta
                4. The Trees
                5. Tom Sawyer
                6. Analog Kid

                Well, I guess that’s actually six or seven…

      2. Great list. I would add Gavin Harrison. His playing is sublime, and his versatility is astounding.

        Copeland is a great pick. He’s easy to overlook because people tend to associate the Police with pop songs, and tend to associate “pop” with simple rhythms, but ask any drummer and they’ll tell you how insanely good he was. (Or watch a Rick Beato video on a Police song.) Neal Peart, as you no doubt know, was hugely influenced by Copeland and The Police. That influence was a big part of Rush’s ’80s era sound.

        1. Yeah, I feel like Copeland is often overlooked simply because it takes a certain level of knowledge about song composition, the drum kit in general (how many people realize just how much he did with the hi-hat, or can recognize great ride work?), and the history of technology being used in drumming. He was a brilliant player, and an innovator both in technology and composition.

          Have you ever heard his work with the short-lived super-group Oysterhead? He was really given a chance to shine with them, playing absolutely out of his mind. It was more like Rush than The Police! If you’re interested, check out their performance at Bonnaroo in 2006: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pV6uIhmVX1U

          1. Yes, Copeland is also very good. Also Pierre Moerlen. Keith Moon. Ringo Starr (who is probably the most famous AND the most underappreciated drummer, though actual drummers rate him as one of the best). There is a book about all of the Beatles recording sessions: who played what, how many takes, etc. Probably a few thousand altogether. They had to do another take because Ringo (as opposed to someone else) didn’t get it right just twice.

    2. My faves: In no particular order:

      Mick Fleetwood
      Jim Gordon
      John Bonham
      Keith Moon
      Max Weinberg
      Levon Helm
      Ginger Baker
      Jim Keltner
      Stewart Copeland
      Larry Mullin Jr.
      Roger Taylor
      Danny Seraphine
      Steve Jordan

      1. Remember Elliott Randall too. A session guitarist rather than a regular band member, but Jimmy Page rated Randall’s riff on Reelin’ in the Years as his favourite guitar solo ever. I can’t think of a better one, though admit to bias in favour of anything by the magnificent Steely Dan.

        1. If we’re talking Steely Dan licks, I think Jeff Baxter takes the cake with his various riffs on his theme in Parker’s Band.

  3. The only problem with ‘Badge’ is that it is too short! Poor old Ginger Baker, ended up in the Baker-Gurvitz Army and then, thankfully, avoided Adrian Gurvitz’s collaborations with Graeme Edge (ex-Moody Blue). Briefly, I kept his memory alive with a nickname for my A-level physics teacher, Mr Baker, who actually had both ginger hair and beard. I rather loved that man, who made all the intricacies of A-level physics quite simple and got me a grade A. After medical school I went back and visited him when I was a resident, and he was quite chuffed and made me have lunch at the teachers’ table with him. Probably he’s dead now, but he will be remembered as long as I’m around.

  4. At around 1:16 when the guitar comes back in, with the Leslie cabinet….. what a glorious sound. There have been many attempts to recreate that sound with analog or digital processing, but *nothing* sounds like moving air spun around the room by a proper Leslie Speaker.

  5. One of my favorite Cream songs. Too brief, particularly compared to some of their other songs which went on far too long!

  6. Mr. Coyne, you are truly a connessouier of the rock music of our generation. I truly value your blog, and view it almost every day. You are a voice in the wilderness, so to speak.

    Do you value swing and be-bop music like our parent’s did?

  7. I’ve always loved the song but considered the lyrics nonsensical. Apparently I was right on both counts. Now I know why it was named “Badge.” A great story.

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