For their final album, “Goodbye,” the members of Cream—bassist Jack Bruce, drummer Ginger Baker and guitarist Eric Clapton—decided each would contribute one studio track; the rest of the album would be live cuts. Clapton told Steve Turner that The Band’s debut album inspired him to pursue a new direction for his last song.
I got the tapes of "Music from Big Pink" and I thought, well, this is what I want to play—not extended solos and maestro bullshit, but just good funky songs.Clapton asked his friend George Harrison for help. Clapton had played on Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” for the Beatles’ “White Album” in September 1968, so Harrison was happy to help a month later. In his autobiography, Harrison described the creation of what has been called Cream’s finest song: “Badge.”
I co-wrote “Badge” with Eric Clapton. The group Cream decided they were making one last album together and they all had to turn up on such and such a day with a new song each. Eric had some of the melody and I helped him finish the tune and then wrote the words.George told Don Menn that the bridge was important because it introduced Clapton’s stunning solo.
While writing the words we got to the middle part which I called the “bridge”, so I put that on the paper with the words. Eric was sitting opposite me and he looked at the paper—upside down to him—and cracked up: he said “what’s that—badge?” and I said “it’s bridge”. So later Eric called the song “Badge”. It’s funny, now he actually sings in concert at the end of the song “Where is my badge?”
Later Ringo came in—he was absolutely plastered—and we were up to the lines:I told you not to drive around in the dark. I told you…–-and Ringo said:…about the swans that live in the park.It’s a bit silly, but that’s what happened, folks.
That’s where Eric enters. On the record Eric doesn't play guitar up until that bridge. He sat through it with his guitar in the Leslie [rotating speaker], and I think Felix somebody [Pappalardi] was the piano player. So there was Felix, Jack Bruce, [drummer] Ginger Baker, and me – I played the rhythm chops – and we played the song right up to the bridge, at which point Eric came in on the guitar with the Leslie. And then he overdubbed the solo later.Harry Shapiro described how Clapton came to use the Leslie speaker.
By the time the studio tracks for “Goodbye” were recorded, Eric was fed up with playing the “fastest axe in the West” game at maximum volume and was experimenting with his amplification. On “Badge” and “Doin’ That Scrapyard Thing”, Eric played his guitar through a Leslie Cabinet normally used in conjunction with an electric organ. The rotary “paddle” located at the top of the cabinet gave a swirling “Doppler” effect to the sound.Harrison was credited on “Badge” as “L’Angelo Misterioso” because his contract didn’t allow him to play on artists’ records not signed to EMI Music. Simon Leng writes that as Clapton intended, “Badge” was a nod to “Music From Big Pink”... as well as “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
“Badge” certainly had more in common with The Band’s work than it did with “Toad” or other Cream archetypes, but it also recalled the first Harrison-Clapton collaboration. Its similarity to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is unsurprising, given that it has the same A-minor setting and jangling piano track. It also matches its progenitor for tension and a stirring Clapton solo, while Harrison’s spare, driving licks were later described by Cream’s virtuoso bass man Jack Bruce as “wonderful rhythm guitar work.” “Badge” introduced one of rock’s more enduring arpeggio chord sequences: the D-C-G-D chord riff introducing the song’s climax formed the basis of “Here Comes the Sun” and the coda to “You Never Give Me Your Money,” as well as a hundred lesser efforts.
“Badge” was more than a rare example of superstar synergy: it was a new type of rock-pop song. It was less blues and more pop than Clapton’s trademark style, and more “rock” than Harrison’s. Clocking in at less than three minutes, “Badge” is a model of clarity and incision.