Derek & the Dominos

Layla

Composed by Eric Clapton / James Beck Gordon / Jim Gordon

Song Review by

Derek & the Dominos' album Layla was Eric Clapton's dark night of the soul, and the title song was its masterpiece -- an anguished plea to a forbidden love that was Clapton's barely disguised letter to Patti Boyd, the wife of his best friend, George Harrison. Clapton had never sounded as pained as he did here, and he never sounded as tortured again -- not even on "Tears in Heaven," written after the tragic death of his young son. "Layla" is pure catharsis, followed by a coda written by Jim Gordon that is nothing less than bliss, the sound of love fulfilled. Even though that coda was used to terrific effect in Martin Scorsese's 1990 masterpiece Goodfellas, most listeners remember "Layla" for the incendiary, fiery riff that fuels the first section of the song. Easily one of the best-known guitar licks in rock history, the riff was ironically borrowed from a T-Bone Walker vocal riff, which may be the reason Clapton phased it out in his acoustic shuffle reworking in 1991. As pleasant as that version is -- and it is quite nice -- it excised the pain that surges through the original recording, while eliminating the masterful coda that ends the song on a grace note. In other words, he changed the very meaning of the song -- the juxtaposition of the intense blues of the body of the song and the sweetness of the coda was at the heart of the song. Nobody else could figure out a way around that juxtaposition until Clapton reinterpreted it for his Unplugged recording. It was an admirable reworking, but Derek & the Dominos' original recording remains one of the towering moments in rock & roll history.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs 1970 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 7:02