Mar 082024

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.


Duh duh de duh, dun dun dun da DEEEEE duh.
Duh duh de duh, dun dun dun da DEEEEE duh.

That “Sunshine of Your Love” riff has been rewiring my circuits all day, my ears thoroughly and efficiently wormed. Music writers Covach and Boone describe the riff as “blues-derived, using a minor blues pentatonic scale with an added flattened fifth note,” doncha know, and I can’t get rid of it. So I’m hoping it might help if I wrote about it. Otherwise that riff is going to stay with me ’til my seas are dried up.

“Sunshine of Your Love” was created and made famous by Cream, the band, in 1967, emerging out an all night studio jam. With Jack Bruce playing an upright bass, his lyricist, Pete Brown, was desperately trying to fit some words to it. This perhaps explains the sometimes somewhat awkward scansion. Suitably worded, and with Eric Clapton then adding the bridge containing the song’s title, add Ginger Baker’s tom-tom-heavy percussion and job done.

The second track on their second album, Disraeli Gears, it became the second single from the set. The label didn’t see it as chart fodder, and were reluctant to condone the release. When they did, it initially attained 36 on the Billboard charts in January ’68; a second wind, in July, saw it hit number 5. Oddly, it did not get a single release in the UK until the band had already announced their breakup, then getting to the 25 spot. It has remained a favorite, a perennial in those interminable lists so beloved of Rolling Stone and VH1, Greatest Songs, Greatest Guitar Tracks, Best Hard Rock Songs, all of that, probably deservedly, a template for much of the hard riffing the next few years brought forth, for your Zeppelins, Sabbaths, Purples and all in their wake.

Has it lasted? Does it linger? Let’s see, but, before hitting the toppermost of the poppermost, consider also some the also-rans, such is the treasure trove of versions available, ranging from the fine to the fatuous, the deft to the daft. Your choice dictates where you would place these, but how about steel drums, disco, bonkers and bizarre, as genres abused for this song. (I especially commend the bonkers, going boldly where no man has gone before, if you catch my drift!)

Jackie DeShannon – Sunshine of Your Love (Cream cover)

How had I ever missed this? An extraordinary version and an extraordinary vision, the relevance of this version has been all but airbrushed out of history, perhaps as the singer had insufficient gravitas to be taken as seriously as she deserved. But the “What The World Needs Now (Is Love, Sweet Love)” hitmaker had a whole lot more in her than merely regurgitating the songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, however well suited the anonymity of her vocals. A writer, she wrote both “When You Walk in the Room” and “Bette Davis Eyes,” hits respectively for the Searchers and Kim Carnes.

This interesting piano-led version comes from her 1968 album, Laurel Canyon. This was a year or two before Laurel Canyon was a Thing, stylistically, what with Joni Mitchell et al not having moved in yet. But it is the sound of the production and arrangement that provokes the most interest. To my ears, it predates the whole ragged soul/blues/rock soundscape of Delaney and Bonnie, later to so captivate Eric Clapton, begetting his involvement with them, and then his own Derek & the Dominos. I wonder if Clapton heard DeShannon doing his song, then sought out the musicians who might take that journey further forward with him. Do you suppose…?

Rotary Connection – Sunshine of Your Love (Cream cover)

We tend to think of Rotary Connection, principally, as towards the more accessible disco end of the Black Psychedelic movement, Funkadelic lite, if you will. This actually does them a great disservice. More a collective than a brand, their aim was to look beyond the then rigid and narrow genre labelling of music, linked often as much to skin tone as to content. The musicians involved all had a firm grounding in the blues; after all, it was they who backed both Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf for their own, if ill-received, excursions into a psychedelic blues.

It is that background that allows them to take the liberties they take here, bundling it all back together in a just about coherent form. One might better call it a deconstruction than a cover; the psychedelic soulsters discard with near all but the lyric and a vague memory of the melody, resulting in this beguiling rendition. This is one of those covers that you think of as a masterpiece or as merely preposterous, depending on your mood. I beg to offer it is the former. Kudos.

Dread Zeppelin – Sunshine of Your Love (Cream cover)

Dread Zeppelin, the never quite sure if they were parody or not japesters, hit their serious side for this. Well, serious as a would-be genuine blend of reggae and Elvis the pelvis gets. It’s nonsense, of course, but curiously hypnotic. The burbly bass buoys most of it along, with the staccato backbeat of the guitar that traverses the chorus surprisingly apt for the tune. Yes, the vocal errs toward the ridiculous, not least the Presley-esque asides, but that was by design. The musicianship here is impeccable, not least the wailing guitar of the middle eight. Joke or no joke, it’s worth more than one listen.

Trini Lopez – Sunshine of Your Love (Cream cover)

No, I’m not joking you, this is great, however much muscle memory might scream no. Trini Lopez seems interminably tarnished with being the song and dance soft-shoe man, the who had the hit with Tim Hardin’s “If I Had A Hammer.” That inescapably cheeky-chappy rendition of Hardin’s serious love song diminished both the song and the writer at the same time. But this–this is a whole lot different.

This comes from a Boyce/Hart helmed 1969 album, The Whole Enchilada. On it, the Monkees’ songwriters attach a whole lot of sunshine-related songs to the Texan of Mexican origin. Their “Sunshine of Your Love” clatters and batters all over the shop, with a percussively sharp and twangy motif occurring repeatedly to take the pressure off the main riff. It is odd, for sure, but it has a certain je ne sais quoi. The flute solo is just wonderful, as it clashes swords with the spiky electric guitar. Ignore Allmusic’s damnation of the rendition as “useless”; it’s just different.

Ella Fitzgerald – Sunshine of Your Love (Cream cover)

I don’t know who suggested that Ella Fitzgerald might include “Sunshine of Your Love” in her repertoire, but they deserve a medal, so way off-piste is it from anything remotely like her safety zone. The title track of a live album, this saw the doyenne of silky smooth jazz crooning more contemporary material than her usual milieu. The success rate varies, and it is no surprise her “Hey Jude” failed to make the grade for our recent rundown of the best-ever Beatles covers (though her “Savoy Truffle”made the top ten).

On balance, I think this cover works, with Ella’s vocals running the full gamut of note bending and blurring to almost Aretha-esque wails. Even the brief moments of scat add luster, something I never thought I’d say. This may not be the most representative of Fitzgeralds’s undoubted majesty and caliber, but for a sideways glance at the Diva’s capabilities, you could do worse than give this a twirl.

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  7 Responses to “Five Good Covers: “Sunshine Of Your Love” (Cream)”

Comments (7)
  1. Thanks for the covers.
    Here’s a couple of other excellent versions.
    Rockers HiFi meets Ella Fitzgerald
    Spanky Wilson

  2. It’s usually fascinating and compelling to hear how another artist chose an original song, which was often a deep personal expression of whomever first sang/played it, as well as inseperable from the times in which it originated, and made it uniquely their own. But appreciating other versions of Sunshine of Your Love, more than any covered song that I can recall, requires forgetting that you ever heard the original. Without that forced amnesia they’re tough to take; with it…you have Jackie DeShannon!

  3. So is it “dawn” or “dull” surprise?

    And, on the mondegreen level, I always heard “I’ll be with ’til my seeds are planted.” To that, I was a much younger man then.

    Great site!

    • I always thought it was “’til my seeds are dried up.” That is, until I’m no longer, how you say, fruitful. I still think it’s a better lyric.

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