On Sept. 7, 1976, while waiting for his girlfriend Pattie Boyd to get ready for a party, Eric Clapton made the most of his time and wrote one of the most beautiful ballads of his career.
Clapton may be the one of the most famous musicians in rock history as well as a full-fledged guitar god, but with a story like this, he’s still a completely relatable bloke. After all, if you’ve ever had a significant other, then you’ve also certainly found yourself in a position at some point where you had to wait for them to finish getting ready. That’s exactly where Eric found himself on that September night in ’76.
Mind you, the whole relatable thing falls apart when you find out that he was waiting for Boyd to finish getting ready because they were heading off to Paul and Linda McCartney’s annual Buddy Holly party, but try not to focus on that bit.
As Eric waited for Pattie, he decided to fill his time by writing a song; looking at the lyrics of “Wonderful Tonight” through that lens, you'll realize precisely how little work went into penning one of the loveliest rock ballads of the ‘70s:
It's late in the evening
She's wondering what clothes to wear
She puts on her make up
And brushes her long blonde hair
And then she asks me, ‘Do I look alright?’
And I say, "Yes, you look wonderful tonight.’”
That’s right: the opening lines of the song are literally just a play-by-play of Pattie getting ready to leave and Eric only leaving off the bit where he yells, “Now get in the car!” Feels a tad less romantic when you look at it that way, doesn’t it?
Nah, of course it doesn’t. It’s far too ingrained in our psyches at this point: it’s one of the most romantic songs in rock history, and it’s far too late to change that now.
You might be surprised to discover, however, that for as much airplay as it’s gotten over the intervening years, “Wonderful Tonight” didn’t find all that much chart success in the U.S. or the U.K. upon its initial release: in Britain, it only hit No. 81, and in America it never made it higher than No. 16. Even more surprisingly, however, is the fact that it only just barely cracked the Top 40 of the adult contemporary chart, stalling at No. 39. For the record, though, the most successful version of the song on either side of the pond is actually a cover by R&B group Damage in 1997, which hit No. 3 on the U.K. singles chart.
Great version, right? Good for those guys!
Besides, who cares how well Clapton’s original version did on the charts anyway? No matter how high it climbed when it was released in May 1977, “Wonderful Tonight” is now considered a classic, and that’s what counts.