“Layla” is a song written by Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon, originally released by their blues-rock band Derek and the Dominos, as the thirteenth track from their only studio album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (November 1970). Its contrasting movements were composed separately by Clapton and Gordon.
The song was inspired by a love story that originated in 7th-century Arabia and later formed the basis of The Story of Layla and Majnun by the 12th-century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi, a copy of which Ian Dallas had given to Clapton. The book moved Clapton profoundly, because it was the tale of a young man who fell hopelessly in love with a beautiful, young girl and went crazy and so could not marry her. The song was further inspired by Clapton’s then unrequited love for Pattie Boyd, the wife of his friend and fellow musician George Harrison of the Beatles. Clapton and Boyd would eventually marry.
“Layla” was unsuccessful on its initial release, but has since experienced great critical and popular acclaim, and is often hailed as being among the greatest rock songs of all time. Two versions have achieved chart success, the first in 1972 and the second (without the piano coda) 20 years later as an acoustic Unplugged performance by Clapton. In 2004, “Layla” was ranked number 27 on Rolling Stone‘s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, and the acoustic version won the 1993 Grammy Award for Best Rock Song.
In 1966, Beatles guitarist George Harrison married Pattie Boyd, a model he met during the filming of A Hard Day’s Night. During the late 1960s, Clapton and Harrison became close friends. Clapton contributed uncredited guitar work on Harrison’s song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on the Beatles’ White Album, and Harrison co-wrote and played guitar pseudonymously (as L’Angelo Misterioso) on Cream’s “Badge” from Goodbye. However, between his tenures in Cream and Blind Faith, Clapton fell in love with Boyd.
The title, “Layla”, was inspired by the story of Layla and Majnun, which Clapton had been told by his friend Ian Dallas, who was in the process of converting to Islam. Nizami’s tale, about a moon princess who was married off by her father to a man she didn’t love, resulting in Majnun’s madness, struck a deep chord with Clapton.
Boyd divorced Harrison in 1977 and married Clapton in 1979 during a concert stop in Tucson, Arizona. Harrison was not bitter about the divorce and attended Clapton’s wedding party with fellow Beatles Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. During their relationship, Clapton wrote another love ballad for Pattie, “Wonderful Tonight” (1977). Clapton and Boyd divorced in 1988 after several years of separation.
AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine reviewed “Layla” seemed to be the Unplugged album’s hit which the critic describes as a “slow crawl through Derek & the Dominos’ version, turning that anguished howl of pain into a cozy shuffle and the whole album proceeds at a similar amiable gait, taking its time and enjoying detours into old blues standards.” Journalist Steve Hochman called the acoustic version a “low-key but seductive recasting”. Music broadcaster VH1 thinks the Unplugged version revealed Clapton’s guitar skills in the acoustic setting, which was particularly obvious on the re-working of “Layla” that “stressed Clapton’s tender side without forfeiting intensity.” Entertainment Weekly journalists picked the tune as the mega-hit of the Unplugged album. The critics especially liked Leavell’s piano work on the song, saying that it “adds a smoky-jazz-joint torch-song ambiance that’s both expectation shattering and emotionally compelling to the tune”.
In 1970, Jamrock Entertainment listed “Layla” as the best song of the year. Acclaimed Music rated the original version as the best song of 1970 and the 12th most popular song of the 1970s. In 1972, “Layla” was one of the most performed songs of the year, and was just a year after its original release considered a “Rock standard”. With its re-release in 1982, the Rock song cemented its reputation as a global Rock hit track. The tune features one of the most iconic Rock guitar riffs of all-time, and it is one of the popular songs written about a woman. It is featured on a number of “greatest ever” lists. The song was chosen by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of their “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll”, and Rolling Stone ranked the song at #27 on their list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. The Recording Industry Association of America ranked “Layla” at number 118 on their Songs of the Century on March 7, 2001. Music critic Dave Marsh placed the tune on number two for his “Best Singles of the Year 1972” compilation. With its makeover in 1992 for the Unplugged album, “Layla” became an all-time hit song, as it won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Song in 1993, and was broadcast nonstop in 1992 and 1993 on the radio, in stores, and on television around the globe. In 1992, “Layla” was the most performed song of the year, and won a BMI Broadcasting Award for radio and television appearances of the 1992 “Layla” for more than two million times in summer of 1994 – just one and a half years after “Layla” had been released as an acoustic version. As of 2011, “Layla” attained more than six million broadcasts on television and the radio or performances on other records and during live concerts.