Derek and the Dominos – Layla

More Eric Clapton

More Reviews and Commentaries for Eric Clapton

  • Some of our favorite Clapton songs are here: Bell Bottom Blues, Tell The Truth, Little Wing, Layla and Have You Ever Loved A Woman? just to name a few
  • One of the most difficult albums to find audiophile sound for, but a lot easier for us now that we know what pressings can actually sound good
  • Clapton’s greatest album: “But what really makes Layla such a powerful record is that Clapton, ignoring the traditions that occasionally painted him into a corner, simply tears through these songs with burning, intense emotion.”

Outstanding sound for all four sides of this classic album. Unless you plan on playing a very big pile of copies you will be hard-pressed to find a copy with sound like this.

Sound this good simply means that you will more than likely hear these songs sound better than you ever imagined they could. We guarantee it. Look at all these classics:

I Looked Away
Bell Bottom Blues
Keep On Growing
Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out
Tell The Truth
Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?
Have You Ever Loved A Woman

We hardly ever get around to this shootout because clean copies with potential for good sound are very hard to come by. After not having spent much quality time with the album for many years, we were pleasantly surprised at just how much fun we were having and at how well the music holds up 50+ years after its recording.

On the best copies the sound is amazingly lively and rockin’ and, more importantly, completely engrossing. On this copy you’ll find yourself swept up in tracks like “Bell Bottom Blues,” “Tell The Truth,” “Little Wing,” “Layla” and at least a good half dozen more.

If you could only have one Clapton album, wouldn’t it have to be this one?

What The Best Sides Of Layla Have To Offer Is Not Hard To Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1970
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We’re Listening For On Layla

  • Less grit — Smoother and sweeter sound, something that is not easy to come by on Layla.
  • bigger presentation — More size, more space, more room for all the instruments and voices to occupy. The bigger the speakers you have to play this record, the better.
  • More bass and tighter bass — This is fundamentally a pure rock record. It needs weight down low to rock the way Tom Dowd wanted it to.
  • Present, breathy vocals — A veiled midrange is the rule, not the exception.
  • Good top-end extension to reproduce the harmonics of the instruments and details of the recording, including the studio ambiance.
  • Last but not least, balance — All the elements from top to bottom should be heard in harmony with each other.

Take our word for it, assuming you haven’t played a pile of these yourself, balance is not that easy to find. Our best copies will have it though, of that there is no doubt.

One Tough Album (To Find AND To Play)

Not only is it hard to find clean copies of this album, it ain’t easy to play ’em either. You’re going to need a hi-res, super low distortion front end with careful adjustment of your arm in every area — VTA, tracking weight, azimuth and anti-skate — in order to reproduce this album properly. If you’ve got the goods you’re gonna love the way this copy sounds. Play it with a budget cart / table / arm and you’re likely to hear a great deal less magic than we did.

Like Blind Faith or Surrealistic Pillow, this is no demo disc by any stretch of the imagination, but that should hardly keep us or anyone else from enjoying the music, and now we have the record that lets us do it.

That’s not to say it’s going to blow your mind sonically from start to finish. This ain’t Tea For The Tillerman to say the least — many tracks can sound amazing, but a few (such as the title track) will likely leave you cold. It’s yet another hot-and-cold Tom Dowd production, much like Wheels of Fire and Disraeli Gears.

Next time we do a big shootout I hope to have more specific advice as to what we listen for on the best pressings. For now, allow me to point the way to the tracks that we think have the best sound on each side. Click on the Track Listing tab above for the details.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of later pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful originals.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.

A Must Own Rock Record

This admittedly problematic recording should be part of any serious Rock Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

It also ranks fairly high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale. Do not attempt to play it using any but the best equipment.


Side One

I Looked Away
Bell Bottom Blues

One of the better sounding tracks on the album. If you’re going to critically make judgments about the sound of this or any other side one, Bell Bottom Blues is probably your best bet. It’s usually less dry, richer and bigger than the other tracks on this side, with notably more correct vocal reproduction.

Keep On Growing
Nobody Knows You (When You’re Down And Out)

Side Two

I Am Yours

One of the better sounding tracks on the album. The notes for Bell Bottom Blues above apply. The best copies have superb Tubey Magical grungy guitar tone and energy to spare — they can really rock.

Key To The Highway

Side Three

Tell The Truth

One of the better sounding tracks on the album. If you’re going to critically make judgements about the sound of this or any other side three, Tell The Truth is probably your best bet. Listen for big guitars, lots of energy, plenty of bass (not always easy to come by on this album) and choruses that get big and loud without distorting.

Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad
Have You Ever Loved A Woman?

Another one of the better sounding tracks on Layla. Much more space than most, with more Tubey Magic, less congestion, less compression and less distortion.

Side Four

Little Wing

There’s huge, wall to wall and floor to ceiling sound on the best copies. Listen for how energetic and present the vocals are, and how emotional the singing is. And the soaring guitars on this track are really something, arguably the best playing on the album. If you play this song good and loud and it doesn’t knock you out something is very wrong somewhere.

It’s Too Late

As you might know, some of the songs on here are just never gonna sound all that good — and unfortunately one of those songs is the title track. We played it on our British originals, our domestic originals, later pressings, and the actually-pretty-good Simply Vinyl reissue, and we were never impressed — there’s just too much distortion, and it’s clearly got to be on the master tape as well.

These guys weren’t trying to record an audiophile-quality Demo Disc, but thankfully the best sounding tracks can sound wonderful on the right pressings.

Thorn Tree In The Garden

Allmusic 5 Star Rave Review

Wishing to escape the superstar expectations that sank Blind Faith before it was launched, Eric Clapton retreated with several sidemen from Delaney & Bonnie to record the material that would form Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. From these meager beginnings grew his greatest album. Duane Allman joined the band shortly after recording began, and his spectacular slide guitar pushed Clapton to new heights.

Then again, Clapton may have gotten there without him, considering the emotional turmoil he was in during the recording. He was in hopeless, unrequited love with Patti Boyd, the wife of his best friend, George Harrison, and that pain surges throughout Layla, especially on its epic title track.

But what really makes Layla such a powerful record is that Clapton, ignoring the traditions that occasionally painted him into a corner, simply tears through these songs with burning, intense emotion. He makes standards like “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” and “Nobody Knows You (When You’re Down and Out)” into his own, while his collaborations with Bobby Whitlock — including “Any Day” and “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” — teem with passion.

And, considering what a personal album Layla is, it’s somewhat ironic that the lovely coda “Thorn Tree in the Garden” is a solo performance by Whitlock, and that the song sums up the entire album as well as “Layla” itself.

Theseconddisc Review

Layla features the sound of an impossibly tight band, sympathetic and attuned to each other, producing a joyful noise. They played the blues, for sure, but with a joy, too, that’s nearly unmatched in the annals of rock. The band was born out of sessions held for George Harrison’s solo debut All Things Must Pass, when Eric Clapton, a Brit, found himself jamming with three American wunderkinds: Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon.

Clapton was a restless journeyman, tortured by his personal demons (most significantly, a passion for his friend George’s wife Pattie) but also ever searching for the perfect musical identity, too. He departed The Yardbirds when the group was becoming too pop, and though a blues purist, felt too confined by John Mayall’s ranks. Clapton had his biggest success in Cream, but was losing interest in the somewhat indulgent jams.

Through Blind Faith and then with Delaney and Bonnie, Clapton connected with his desire to be a bandmate, but was frustrated when he still wound up the star attraction with the Delaney and Bonnie band. (See the LP title: Delaney and Bonnie and Friends On Tour with Eric Clapton.)

Derek and the Dominos, though, for a short time appeared to be the answers to God’s prayer. God, of course, was Clapton, so named by the graffiti artists of London, and God became Derek, leading this band under an unassuming doo-wop style handle. The band’s name itself was a throwback to those simpler times, though their music was far from nostalgic.

Layla remains a searing experience. The band was famously joined by Duane Allman, who lent his guitar to twelve songs. Albhy Galuten, a trusted collaborator of Barry Gibb, played piano on one track, a cover of Jimmy Cox’s “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.” Covers were deftly blended with originals by the Clapton/Whitlock team, individually and collectively, and all of the songs feel of a piece. Clapton’s work, including “Bell Bottom Blues” and the title song (co-written with Jim Gordon), was largely inspired by his burning passion for Pattie Boyd, the then-Mrs. Harrison.

Most striking is how well the album appeals to those looking for extended instrumental showcases while still largely adhering to structured songwriting. “Keep On Growing” is one example, a jam that literally grew into a full-fledged song. “Why Does Love Have to Be So Sad” is another, a hard-rocking original that heads straight into jazz improv territory.

“Tell the Truth” had morphed from the original Spector “wall of sound” single into a funkier groove with Allman’s presence. The album literally builds to the thunderous storm that is “Layla,” and relaxes with the lyrical “Thorn Tree in the Garden.” In a most rare scenario, the album was actually sequenced, for the most part, in the order that the songs were recorded!

The Playback Technology Umbrella

Why does Layla sound good now, after decades of problems? For the same reason that so many great records are only now revealing their true potential: advances in playback technology. Audio has finally reached the point where the magic in Layla’s grooves is ready to be set free.

What exactly are we referring to? Why, all the stuff we talk about ad nauseum around here. These are the things that really do make a difference. They change the fundamentals. They break down the barriers.

You know the drill. Things like better cleaning techniques, top quality front end equipment, Aurios, better electricity, Hallographs and other room treatments, amazing phono stages like the EAR 324p, power cables; the list goes on and on. If you want records like this to sound good, we don’t think it can be done without bringing to bear all of these advanced technologies to the problem at hand, the problem at hand being a recording with its full share of problems and then some.

Without these improvements, why wouldn’t Layla sound as dull and distorted as it always has? The best pressings were made more than thirty years ago; they’re no different. What has to change is how you clean and play those pressings.

The good news is that the technologies we recommend really do work. Now the record can do what it never did before: sound so good you can find yourself totally lost in the music. The best copies, played back properly, make you oblivious to the album’s sonic problems because, for the most part, they really weren’t the album’s problems, they were your problems. They were mostly post-groove; you just didn’t know it. This is how audio works. The site is full of commentary discussing these issues. Rest assured that no matter how good you think your stereo sounds now, it can get better if you want it to, and that’s good news if you’re a fan of albums like Layla.


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