Famously released with a controversial cover featuring a topless pubescent girl, the Blind Faith album was also issued with this photo of the band on the cover.

What would an English edition of the Band have sounded like? Eric Clapton wondered, too. And in 1969, he set out to form one, but without much confidence that it would work out. So little confidence, in fact, that he codified it in the name of the band.

Clapton and Steve Winwood had discussed forming a band together as far back as 1966, when they both participated in the one-off project called the Powerhouse. But Clapton was already committed to Cream at that time, and nothing came of it. After Cream’s demise, Clapton and Winwood decided to take the plunge. Ginger Baker caught wind of the project, and Clapton wanted him aboard. Bassist Rick Grech completed the foursome, which Clapton named Blind Faith.

Even at the band’s debut performance, in London’s Hyde Park in June 1969, Clapton had already given up. “We played in front of this vast crowd on a beautiful, sunny afternoon,”  he said in his autobiography, “and I wasn’t really there. I had zoned out.” He felt that “whatever we had achieved up till that point in terms of bonding, rehearsing, and playing had been a complete waste of time.” His misgivings had to be swallowed, however, because Blind Faith had already been booked on a 21-date American tour. On the road, Clapton spent most of his off-hours hanging with the opening act, Delaney and Bonnie (“they were miles better than us”), and when Blind Faith fell apart, as it was destined to do, he joined them as a sideman.

Blind Faith came out while the band was playing in the States, and swiftly rose to #1 (September 20, 1969), staying two weeks. Among its tracks are two enduring classics, “Presence of the Lord,” written by Clapton and sung by Winwood, and “Can’t Find My Way Home,” which Winwood had written before joining Blind Faith. “Can’t Find My Way Home” is one of the great acoustic rock classics, but the deluxe CD reissue of Blind Faith has an electrified version that’s also mighty fine.

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With Blind Faith, this series on the albums to reach #1 on the Billboard 200 reaches a special point. For the rest of 1969, all of 1970, and all of 1971, each of the #1 albums is one that should be part of any comprehensive rock collection. Your individual taste might preclude one here and one there. You might want to argue about whether Blood Sweat and Tears 3 belongs (and we will, when we get there), or whether we could extend the streak through all of 1972 (which we might be able to do with a tweak or two). It’s easy to carelessly throw around the phrase “golden era,” but there’s no way around using it here: Blind Faith really does mark the beginning of one.

In the next installment, a great American rock band does with an album what it could never do with a single.