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S.W.L.A.B.R. by Cream

Album: Disraeli GearsReleased: 1967
  • The title stands for "She Was Like A Bearded Rainbow." Like the songs' lyrics, it is not supposed to make much sense.

    The words were written by Pete Brown, a poet who was friends with drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce before they formed Cream. Early on, most of Cream's songs (including this one) were sung by Bruce. Brown was able to put words to the instrumental Cream tracks that Bruce was comfortable singing, making him a welcome addition to their songwriting process.
  • Cream used Felix Pappalardi as the album's producer. Pappalardi was also a musician, and later formed the band Mountain. He encouraged them to experiment in the studio, which led to unusual songs like this one. It was done on a tight schedule, however, as the band had just three days to record Disraeli Gears (except for "Strange Brew," which they put to tape a month earlier) before shipping back to England. The sessions took place at Atlantic Studios in New York City, and were engineered by Tom Dowd, who took care of the mixing after musicians were called away. When Eric Clapton formed Derek and the Dominos a few years later, Dowd produced their classic Layla album.
  • Eric Clapton's guitar part was heavily processed. He ran it through a fuzz-box and used a wah-wah pedal.
  • This was released as the B-side of "Sunshine Of Your Love," Cream's only hit in the US.
  • Eric Clapton got the idea for the album title after a roadie told him about the derailleur gears on his bicycle. Derailleur, pronounced "Di-rail-yer," are the kind of gears commonly found on 10-speed bikes. The roadie (Mick Turner) pronounced it "Disraeli," which led to the title.
  • This was one of two Cream songs (the other being "N.S.U.") that consisted of only initials. Many DJs attempted to give the song title to listeners by reading it as if it were a real word, instead of reading each individual letter (i.e. "swuh-lah-bur," instead of "S.W.L.A.B.R."). (thanks, James - Tracy, CA)
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Comments: 50

Pete in Svendborg wins for his explanation of where the other "initialism" (sez Wikipedia) title of a Cream song, "N.S.U." comes from. Supposedly around the time of the song, E.C. had contracted urethritis from, umm, "dalliances" with hippie chicks. Hey, I wasn't there at the time, but it's on the Songfacts page for that song, so take it for what you will.
And there is some debate over whether it was "She *was* like" or "She _walks_ like." Either/or; it was the Sixties, eh?
I think Brian from Meriden nailed the album title thing. Well said.
Now quit arguin' and play the music.
Doug - Bristol, Me
NSU is also a car made in E. Europe.Rich - Portsmouth, Nh
You would only have to look into the LP cover! Now, may it only be possible ? that we could slip back in time and be in that room coming on to that osley or sandoz heavenly blue then most likely we would know the real story!Jeff - Los Osos, Ca
"She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow" it was inspired by the bearded rainbow iris. According to Pete Brown (wrote the lyrics), Jack Bruce (composed the music) ordered flowers for his girlfriend and had them delivered. Both of them being high, they noticed how they swished and swayed. They asked the delivery guy what they were called and he responded "Bearded Rainbows".Steve - South Central, Fl
Great classic music! This was one of the first albums I played along with when learning guitar in my teens. Thank you Eric! I also just found videos on youtube for the making of the disraeli gears album, lots of interviews, etc. very informative. for those of you who enjoy / appreciate jack bruce's singing and pete brown's lyrics, check out Jack's solo albums, with such songs as "Rope Ladder To The Moon", "You Burned The Tables On Me", "Tickets To Waterfalls" etc. incredible lyrics and music.Wayne - Mt. Pleasant, Sc
trans-modal s--t !!!!Joe - Grants Pass, Or
So obviously about a bird Jack Bruce was seeing on the side who was a bit of a flawed sort!Richard - North Shields, United Kingdom
This is a great song but my favorite Cream song has to be "Deserted Cities of the Heart." I always wanted to know what the hell that song meant, but it's not listed on this website! Travesty! What was going through Jack Bruce's and Peter Brown's mind when they wrote "Deserted Cities"? Acoustic guitar, Baker's apocalyptic drumming, those cello breaks, Bruce's voice at its most melodramatic/operatic, and Clapton's (of course) guitar solo- and the lyrics! "On this dark street, the sun is black, the winter light is coming back..."Mac - Evanston, Il
---From Frank Zappa's "Keep it Greasy" "Take a little swlabra [slobber] from the side of your mouth" anybody else catch this?Wayne - Elizabeth, Nj
I believe you all have it wrong...it refers to a woman's wispering eyeSteven - Martinsville, Nj
i thought a bearded rainbow meant a woman's private, back when it had hair ;-)Betsy - Staten Island, Ny
No, Allie, "a little ol' town in, MI,' you're not! I happen to find Jack Bruce one of the most outstanding vocalists of all time. How such a powerful voice came out of such a young guy is beyond me. He is wonderful.Erin - Clarksville, Pa
Dobie's explanation above is pretty interesting. Intriguing for sure. I'd never heard this one before. And I think, though, that as good a rainbow as the story is - it has a seriously bad beard, unfortunately. This is just not Clapton's song. he didn't write, he didn't sing. He played the guitar - that's it. For the Dobie explanation to be true, it would have to be Clapton's song. But it's not. Really nice and intriguing story - but I think this rainbow's got a beard.Ddva - Poughkeepsie, Ny
I LOVE THE GUITAR. the lyrics are pretty hilarious. am i the only person who is in love with jack's singing?!?!?!?!?!Allie - A Little Ol' Town In, Mi
As someone who actually has spoken to Pete Brown, perhaps I can offer a couple of pieces of information. Firstly, Disraeli Gears is a corruption of "derailleur gears", which many of us had on our racing bikes in those days. Yes, Disraeli was a UK prime minister in the Victorian era, but the album name was just a play on words. And it did come from Mick the roadie. Secondly, S.W.L.A.B.R . stands for She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow. According to Pete (who after all, was the lyricist), the song title came from an incident when flowers were delivered one day to his flat. Jack Bruce had ordered them for his then girlfriend, but hadn't specified the type of flower. When the bouquet arrived, the chemically-enhanced pair of songwriters were impressed. Pete was particularly taken by the way the long stems of the flowers swayed around. He told Jack that the flowers reminded him of the way girls walk. The flowers turned out to be Irises - a variety known as "Bearded Rainbow". The rest is in the song.Alan - London, England
I had a 10 speed in the US in 1964, but it was an import thru the riding club I was in. They weren't common, but were in Europe. By '67 you could buy them locally in stores.Jd - Atlanta, Ga
Try to extrapolate direct meaning from "115th Dream" by Bob Dylan, or "A Moment Like This" by Keli Clarkson - HAAA!! OK, YOU'RE AWAKE NOW!!!Ric - Miami, Fl
An artist is going to visualize a song rather than thinking about anything like actual meaning - especially in those days. Back then, it was the first time musical and lyrical experimentation were going on - nowdays, it's almost kind of cute. Whatever the case - THIS SONG FREAKIN' ROCKS!!! There should be a webiste dedicated to little gems like this song that NEVER get airtime. (Come to think about it - there should be RADIO STATIONS dedicated to that.....)Ric - Miami, Fl
Arthur is pretty close with his interpretation but the case if far from closed - there is only one thing at the end of a rainbow and that is a pot of gold. SWLABR aka slobber is simplisticism in its lower case, or bottom drawer as it is known in wing-tailed circles.Shovitin - San Diego, Ca
Guys, here's the truth: She has that "rainbow feel" and comes around when her other man throws her out. Clapton is saying that he understands what is at the other end of the rainbow; i.e., the other dude she is involved with. Although she acts "pure" she is really two-timing him emotionally and (when she can/must) physically. Bottom line: Clapton can't reconcile himself to sharing her with some other guy. So, when he is with her, she is like a rainbow (in terms of "feel" and having two ends) that leads to some other man, and that disturbs him greatly. When he is with her he is somehow upset or tortured and can only envision the other man's beard and mustache. If there is a lyric in the song that disproves this theory, please chime in. I could add that Layla appeared in 1970, and if we consider Clapton's lyrics in that song with the real "Layla's" involvement with George Harrison of the Beatles, then I think we can conclude who had the mustache and beard, a style that the Beatles helped click into place during those same years. By the way, SWLABR was also released in 1970. Case closed, mystery solved.

SWLABR is Clapton's best song from this era.
Dobbie - Salem, Or
SWLABR also means the squishy sound when there is (nice way to say it)kissing below the belt.Shovitin - San Diego, Ca
The fact that the word gears is present in the album title seems to support the bicycle gears origin. If the person Disraeli were the origin, then the additional word gears would be an amazing coincidence.Barny - London, Australia
SWLABR has always meant Sex With Lsd Always Brings Relief !!!John - Bakersfield, Ca
SWLABR/ songs with lyrics about bearded rainbows?Mike - Branford, Ct
As "Mac, evanston, IL" and "Terry, Richardson, TX" already pointed out, the Title of the Song stands for "She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow" not 'Was Like'.Charlie - New York, Ny
I read somewhere that Pete Brown got the name this after he saw a girl walk past him in a park with the sun shining thru' her hair, splitting it into prismatic hues, like a rainbow.
Thats the beauty of L.S.D. it makes you think of such crazy, but poetic, images.
Paul - London, England
why do ppl keep repeating what the title stands for? it's a groovy good song, doesn't have to mean anything!Janice - Nyc, United States
I do believe that N.S.U. is an acronym for Non-Specific Urethritis.Pete - Svendborg, Denmark
This is a great song! Like someone else said, Sunshine of Your Love is NOT the only hit Cream had. If you go by the pop charts, they had 2 other top 40 hits, White Room & Crossroads, and Badge was a minor Hot 100 single. But Cream's radio airplay was primarily at Underground radio (which would evolve into AOR, or Album Rock radio, then eventually Classic Rock), and they had numerous hits there. To only go by the pop charts, look at Jimi Hendrix. He only had 1 top 40 hit (All Along The Watchtower). Are you gonna call him a one-hit wonder?Philip - Winnetka, Ca
I always thought that the song stood for "She Was Like A Bearded Rainbow". Could the album title refer to Benjamin Disraeli, a British political figure?

On another note, were 10 speed bikes even available in 1967? I remember them being popular in the early 70's, but I could be wrong about the date.
Steven - Boston, Ma
I very clearly remember hearing several Cream songs on the radio as a child, including this one. Sunshine of Your Love, White Room, Badge (though it was years before I learned the title - I just called it 'Swans'), I Feel Free, Born Under a Bad Sign, Crossroads, Tales of Brave Ulysses, even Spoonful. I heard them often enough to recognize them when they came on. I often wonder about how people define "hit."Dennis - Anchorage, Ak
You know mac i was just wondering what N.S.U. stood for today also. Possibly Nothing So Useless? Probably not, but I'd like to know. And the picture has a moustache.Mischa - Winnipeg
Ya, I agree sal from NY. gotta love it when Clapton makes the guitar talk- said someone. And Hendrix.Johnny - Los Angeles, Ca
This song is soooo great. But the rainbow has a beard.Johnny - Los Angeles, Ca
While we're on the subject, what do the initials N.S.U. stand for? It's the first song on Cream's debut album Fresh Cream (1966).Mac - Evanston, Il
I also heard it stands for "She Walked (or Walks) Like A Bearded Rainbow." As with many songs of the 1966-1969 era, the meanings are ambiguous and probably deliberately so. After all, "So many fantastic colors, I feel in a wonderland" are hardly lyrics associated only with the wiles of "deceitful women";one might, just might, interpret them as drug-related AND about the deceits of romantic love. "Purple Haze" is also probably about drugs and the love of women and whatever else was floating through Jimi's wonderously imaginative (and psychedelicized) brain on any given day in late 1966, when he wrote it...Anyway, I hear all these allusions and none of them when I'm listening to the song. Barry's comments about Disraeli were right on; he was Jewish but baptized Anglican (Karl Marx, incidentally, was Jewish but baptized Lutheran) because of prevailing prejudices in even relatively "enlightened" societies like Victorian England...Mac - Evanston, Il
the roadie story is true...its in the sleeve notes of their 'those were the days' box setDave - London, Other
I think this song is about a deceitful woman. A woman that basically uses her sweet innocent features to use and decieve him for her own personal selfish reasons.Mo - Newark, Nj
gotta love it when Clapton makes the guitar talkMark - Virginia Beach, Va
SWLABR's a great song! I heard it for the first time a few weeks ago, when I finally got around to listening to my Very Best of Cream cd.Stefanie - Rock Hill, Sc
The title means "she walked like a bearded rainbow." Bruce mentioned in an interview that he was referring to when someone draws a comical mustache and beard on a photograph or a portrait of a person. It's a silly psychedelic lyric but we have all seen this on advertisements on display on public property.Barry - New York, Ny
Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) was the 1st Earl of Beaconsfield and was prime minister of Great Britain twice. He was born Jewish but was baptised into the Anglican Church. This allowed him to gain political legitimacy in England.Barry - New York, Ny
The title stands for "She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow."Terry - Richardson, Tx
Clapton got the idea for the album title after Ginger Baker (a bicycle enthusist) told him about the derailleur gears on his bicycle. Derailleur, pronounced "Di-rail-yer," are the kind of gears commonly found on 10-speed bikes. Clapton pronounced it "Disraeli," which led to the title.Terry - Richardson, Tx
Guys - the song could both refer to Mr. Disraeli and have a connection to the derailing system on a bicycle. So many double-meanings and word-connections in rock, ya know.
It's true, Sunshine of Your Love was not their only hit. Many people only look to the top 40 or other higher-up charts. But it was hardly their only hit.
I always loved SWLABR. I think the lyrics are hysterical, too. I was bracing for some long-winded explanation. Maybe there is one somewhere that relates to a bicycle part or Zen or maybe the art of motorcycle maintenance.
Brian - Meriden, Ct
"Sunshine Of Your Love" was their only U.S. hit ?? What about "White Room" ?? (or perhaps by "US", you mean Upper Saskatchewon)Doug - Lake Mary, Fl
yep. that roadie story sounds like a load of crap. Clapton was english, as was Disraeli, the prime minister of England for some part of the 19th centuryJake - Sydney, Australia
The story about the roadie giving Clapton the title for the album based on the 10 speed gear system bor bikes may be true. The FACT is that there was a big fish in British politics named
DISRAELI.
Floyd - Syracuse, Ny
i love this song, it's aaaaammmmaaazing funny, no one ever comments on so many good songsSal - Ny, Ny
SWLABR stands for she walked like a bearded rainbowEdward - Virginia Beach, Va