Once in a previous life – or what at this point feels like a previous life – I was interested in becoming a filmmaker. So I did what many aspiring filmmakers do: I took courses at a local for-profit moviemaking academy to learn the craft. I didn’t become the next Scorsese as I had intended, but I did learn a little bit about the film industry. And one thing I have never forgotten was some career advice an instructor imparted to my class. He said, “Winning an Oscar is good for your career.” And you know what? I think he’s right.
In the music industry, having an extraordinarily good debut single is good for your career. Here are some debut singles that were pretty good for their associated artists’ careers:
Then there’s “Wrapping Paper.”
When people learned of the formation of the supergroup Cream featuring Clapton, Bruce, and Baker, they were extraordinarily excited. Here was a mega-talented collection of musicians, steeped up to their temples in the blues and complete masters of the rock idiom. So, nobody could really be blamed for expecting a blues rock masterpiece as the band’s debut single.
Instead, they got wrapping paper. And it didn’t go over well.
I will quote a short passage from the book “Cream: The Legendary Sixties Supergroup,” by Chris Welch, which is a great read by the way.
“[Wrapping Paper] caused a wave of disappointment among the band’s fans when it was released as [Cream’s] debut single… Reviews were even less enthusiastic, with one claiming that, “the musical content is nil.”
Ginger Baker agreed with the disappointed fans, “Wrapping Paper’ is the most appalling piece of sh-t I’ve ever heard in my life! I was totally against it, right from the start… Eric and I didn’t like it.”
But the thing is, “Wrapping Paper” is actually a pretty good song. It’s melody is strangely grabbing, the jazzy saloon piano is far from unpleasant, and it has a hazy, dreamy feel that’s interesting and worth listening to. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t the right song to choose as a debut single for a band that was expected to be a hard rockin’ electric guitar driven blues riot. It reminds me a little bit of a time I went to a hard rock music festival, and smack in the middle of the show was a performance by the then-still-barely-known Ben Folds Five. Now, I think Ben Folds Five is a great band that puts on a terrific live show. But this was just the wrong circumstance for that kind of band. The music didn’t fit and the crowded hated them, not because they gave a bad performance, but just because it was not what was expected at the time.
Cream needed “Crossroads,” not “Wrapping Paper.” Releasing the tune as a debut single was a tactical mistake by the band and their label.
But I’m telling you, the song is good.
– Brian R.