The Best of Eric Clapton: 20th Century Masters (Millennium Collection)

Music review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Best of Eric Clapton: 20th Century Masters (Millennium Collection) Music Poster Image
Early solo-career anthology has some of Clapton's best work.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this music.

Positive Messages

Messages vary from track to track. The song "I Shot the Sheriff" has a lot of explaining to do, even if the singer insists, "I swear it was in self-defense." J.J. Cale's "Cocaine," though a fairly pragmatic description of stimulants and their up- and downsides, is still a party song about drugs. Other songs, including the tender ballad "Wonderful Tonight" and the upbeat "Let It Rain," are joyous celebrations of love.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Role modelhood is not front and center in Clapton's music, but in general his songs show a good moral compass and his characters are trying to behave with integrity under sometimes difficult circumstances.


Mainly an issue in "I Shot the Sheriff," the Bob Marley classic, in which the singer indeed shot the sheriff, but only in self-defense after the sheriff, who had pursued a lifelong vendetta against him, came after him with murderous intent. Now, of course, the singer is on the run, with the law in hot pursuit. In Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," a fatally wounded sheriff sings his last song, giving up his guns and badge.


Actual references are pretty mild, e.g. in "Bell Bottom Blues," "If I could choose a place to die, it would be in your arms" and in "Lay Down Sally," "Lay down Sally and rest here in my arms, I've been waiting all night long just to talk to you."  "Layla," as well as "Bell Bottom Blues," is famously the result of Clapton's trying to escape his love for his best friend's wife, Pattie Boyd, who was then married to George Harrison; they eventually married and their happy times inspired "Wonderful Tonight." However, while this gives the songs a good deal of raw emotion, it does not become explicit in the lyrics.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

There's an entire song about cocaine, and it's pretty cheerfully delivered, even if J.J. Cale's lyrics are mildly cautionary. The song dates from an era when the rock world was just discovering the drug in a big way, to seriously bad effect. Clapton himself has always insisted the song is anti-drug, citing such lines as "If you want to get down, down on the ground, cocaine," but apparently has been troubled enough by the ambiguity that he didn't play it live for many years, and has recently added a bit of commentary about it to his live performances.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Clapton, known as one of rock's best guitarists, is at heart a bluesman, and the blues, by its very nature, is no stranger to life's darker side. Hence some of these songs deal with themes of violence, death, drugs, and sexual frustration, to say nothing of the pure sadness of love gone wrong. And at the time many of these songs were recorded, Clapton was going through drug issues, marital upheavals, and personal tragedies. But the blues, by its very nature, is also a survival tool for getting through life's troubles by giving them expression, and Clapton is one of its most popular and accessible stylists. 

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What's the story?

Drawn from guitar legend Eric Clapton's early solo career in the '70s (including two tracks from the fabled Derek and the Dominos album, which also featured Duane Allman), this collection includes a fine selection of his work in a variety of styles. Besides his own hit songs (\"Lay Down Sally,\" \"Promises\"), there are several outstanding cover tunes: Bob Marley's \"I Shot the Sheriff,\" Bob Dylan's \"Knockin' on Heaven's Door,\" J.J. Cale's \"Cocaine\" and \"After Midnight.\"

Is it any good?

As a point of entry to Clapton's multi-decade career, this collection is an excellent choice. The musical standards are uniformly quite high -- Clapton has always been considered a "guitar god" -- and the tracks are all very accessible and appealing. As usual for rock and blues, some of the themes are definitely adult, including drug references and violence, but they tend to be treated more as descriptions of the landscape the singer occupies than endorsements or advocacy.

This album, which includes a variety of styles, may encourage some kids to delve deeper and track down some of the original albums and the sources of the cover tunes.


Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why drugs seem to be such an issue for a lot of rock stars -- during the time he was recording these songs, Clapton was emerging from a heroin addiction, and dealt with other substance issues. (Now he hosts the Crossroads Festival, benefiting a drug treatment center.) If you're a creative person, what are the dangers?

  • When Clapton recorded "I Shot the Sheriff," Bob Marley's music was just becoming known in the United States. What do you know about Jamaican music, and Marley in particular?

  • Why do you think unrequited or forbidden love is such a popular subject for songs?

Music details

  • Artist: Eric Clapton
  • Release date: June 15, 2004
  • Type: Album
  • Label: Polydor
  • Genre: Rock
  • Parental advisory: No
  • Edited version available: No
  • Last updated: November 11, 2020

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