It is considered one of rock music's definitive love songs, featuring an unmistakable guitar figure played by Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, and a piano coda that comprises the second half of the song. Its famously contrasting movements were composed separately by Clapton and Gordon.
Inspired by Clapton's then unrequited love for Pattie Boyd, the wife of his friend and fellow musician George Harrison, "Layla" was unsuccessful on its initial release. The song 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 twenty years later as an acoustic "Unplugged" performance. In 2004 it was ranked #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 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, trouble was brewing for Clapton. Between his tenures in Cream and Blind Faith, in his words, "something else quite unexpected was happening: I was falling in love with Pattie."
The title, "Layla", was inspired by The Story of Layla / Layla and Majnun. It is based on the true story of a young man called Qays ibn al-Mulawwah from the northern Arabian Peninsula, in the Umayyad Caliphate during the 7th century. When he wrote "Layla", Clapton had been told the story 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 someone other than the one who was desperately in love with her, resulting in Majnun's madness, struck a deep chord with Clapton.
According to Boyd, Clapton played the song for her at a party, and later that same evening confessed to George that he was in love with his wife. The revelation caused no small upset among the three of them, but Pattie and George remained married for several more years, and Harrison and Clapton retained their close friendship with no apparent signs of damage.
Boyd divorced Harrison in 1974 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 Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. During their relationship, Clapton wrote another love ballad for Pattie called "Wonderful Tonight" (1977). Clapton and Boyd divorced in 1989 after several years of separation.