Eric Clapton's 10 greatest songs ever, ranked

19 September 2023, 11:40

Eric Clapton is one of the most successful and influential guitarists of all time.
Eric Clapton is one of the most successful and influential guitarists of all time. Picture: Getty

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

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Eric Clapton is a bonafide 'Guitar God'.

Undoubtedly one of the most successful and influential guitarists of all time, Eric Clapton paved the way for guitar players in bands to become as significant as their singers.

His creativity and improvisational skills whilst performing live transformed rock music, and took it into radical new territories where genres like jazz had only explored previously.

During his stints with psychedelic blues-rock supergroup Cream, his project with Steve Winwood called Blind Faith, The Yardbirds, Derek & the Dominos, as well as his solo career, Clapton cemented his place in history as one of the guitar greats.

His illustrious career in music isn't only down to his guitar wizardry however - 'Slowhand' is also a dab hand at writing a timeless track.

Clapton's personal tragedies and continual battle with addiction offered an emotional depth to his songwriting, especially when coupled with his soulful, understated vocals.

That said, after digging into his incredible back catalogue which spans over six decades, here are the ten greatest Eric Clapton songs ranked top to bottom:

  1. 'Badge'


    The stand-out moment from Cream's final album, Goodbye, 'Badge' was in fact co-written by one of The Beatles.

    Eric Clapton became close friends with George Harrison throughout 1968, and even lent his guitar skills to Harrison's epic 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps', famously playing the guitar solo.

    George returned the favour with 'Badge', joining the trio in the recording session, though was never credited due to contractual reasons.

  2. 'Crossroads'

    Cream - Crossroads (Farewell Concert - Extended Edition) (5 of 11)

    'Crossroads' is Clapton at his most transcendent, thrashing out a ferocious guitar melody in an unrecognisable cover version.

    Clapton was obsessed with mythic blues singer Robert Johnson, and is largely responsible for bringing his music to a mass audience.

    Cream's tenure as a band was brief - in-fighting and inflated egos meant they only lasted a total of 18 months together.

    But live they were a force unto themselves - just take the live version of 'Crossroads' from their final ever concert at Royal Albert Hall as an example.

  3. 'I Shot The Sheriff'

    Eric Clapton (Live 1977) I Shot The Sheriff.mpg

    Not content with just bringing blues legends to a wider audience, Eric Clapton even did the same with reggae.

    The blues-rock guitar-slinger turned his hand to reggae in 1974 with a cover of Bob Marley's 'I Shot The Sheriff'.

    Ironically, the song didn't feature one of his trademark solos, but was a huge hit for Clapton as it reached No.1 on the US Billboard charts.

  4. 'White Room'

    Eric Clapton - White Room (Live Aid 1985)

    Another classic example of Cream's alchemy as a supergroup is 'White Room'.

    Evocative lyrics - written by poet Pete Brown - grandiose orchestration, inventive musicianship, and psychedelic rock menace makes it one of Cream's most memorable creations.

    Featuring on their 1968 album Wheels Of Fire, it has frequent Clapton's setlists since its initial release.

    He famously kicked off his lauded 1985 Live Aid set with the song, with Phil Collins joining him on the drums for the occasion.

  5. 'My Father's Eyes'

    Eric Clapton - My father's Eyes - Unplugged (First take #1, HD)

    Though 'My Father's Eyes' was officially released in 1998, Clapton previewed the song in 1992 during his iconic MTV Unplugged set, and again in 1996.

    Each version took a different form than the record version however, which became a top ten hit in the US.

    Inspired by the death of Clapton's father in 1985, the guitarist admitted that he'd never actually met him.

    Clapton was raised by his grandparents - which he only found out in his teens - and never knew his father until he contacted him knowing that he was now famous.

    The song expresses his deep sadness at never meeting or knowing his own father.

  6. 'Cocaine'

    Eric Clapton - Cocaine - Live @ Montreux 1986

    In 1977, Eric Clapton transformed JJ Cale's sleazy ode to contraband into one of the most infectious guitar riffs of the past fifty years.

    He'd already covered Cale's song 'After Midnight' years earlier, which won him acclaim and his own record deal.

    Clapton chose to cover 'Cocaine' as it mirrored his own use of the drug.

    He thought he could kick the habit at any time, but chose not to. However, that wasn't the way it transpired. Nevertheless, he carved a classic song out of his addiction.

  7. 'Tears In Heaven'

    Eric Clapton - Tears In Heaven (Official Video)

    'Tears In Heaven' is arguably one of the saddest origins stories in popular music.

    At the age of just four, Conor Clapton fell out of a hotel window from a great height and died.

    Written for the 1991 crime drama Rush, Clapton finally found somewhere he could channel the immeasurable loss of his boy.

    The song Clapton wrote in tribute to his late son became an enormous hit, though he retired from playing it in 2004 because of the raw emotion behind it.

  8. 'Sunshine Of Your Love'

    Sunshine Of Your Love

    'Sunshine Of Your Love' was undoubtedly the track which made the world recognise Clapton as a singular musical talent.

    Its iconic riff, pounding rhythm, and mind-boggling musicianship paved the way for generations of electric guitar icons that followed.

    It became the band's biggest hit, charting in the top five in the US and helping the trio break America.

    Jimi Hendrix would even cover it during his live shows, knowing that the hefty bassline was directly inspired by him after the Cream bassist saw him in concert.

  9. 'Wonderful Tonight'

    Eric Clapton Wonderful Tonight Live greatest version

    Clapton wrote 'Wonderful Tonight' whilst waiting for his then-girlfriend and future wife Pattie Boyd to get ready for a night out together in 1976.

    By the time she had got herself prepared, Clapton had written the entirety of the song.

    Pattie later recalled that Eric "was sitting round playing his guitar while I was trying on dresses upstairs."

    "I was taking so long and I was panicking about my hair, my clothes, everything, and I came downstairs expecting him to really berate me but he said, 'Listen to this!'"

    It has since become one of his most memorable songs, and dedicated it to his wife in concert the day after they married, pulling her on stage at a show in Tucson, Arizona.

  10. 'Layla'

    Eric Clapton - Layla (Live at Royal Albert Hall, 1991) (Orchestral Version)

    Pattie Boyd inspired a great number of Eric Clapton songs, as he was so besotted with her.

    He wrote undoubtedly his finest and most devastating song, 'Layla', about Boyd when she was married to his best friend George Harrison no less.

    During his time in one-off project Derek & the Dominos, Clapton wrote his most iconic song whilst his love was at boiling point.

    "I was driven by my obsession," Clapton later wrote in his memoir. "'Layla' was the key song, a conscious attempt to speak to Pattie about the fact that she was holding me off and wouldn't come move in with me."

    Despite the bizarre love triangle, Harrison and Clapton remained good friends throughout his divorce from Boyd and her subsequent marriage to Eric, even performing at their wedding in 1979.

    With its loaded backstory, and legendary blues-rock riff, 'Layla' is widely considered Eric Clapton's greatest song.