"Standing at the crossroads, trying to read the sign, to tell me which way I should go . . ." - Eric Clapton, "Let it Grow," 1974.

Eric Clapton's life has been a series of crossroads: personal crisis, drug addiction and rehabilitation, isolation and pop stardom.His music has been even more a series of crossroads: He left the Yardbirds just as they were breaking through commercially. He left John Mayall's Bluesbreakers to find commercial success with the prototype power-rock band Cream. He broke away from Cream to experiment with Derek and the Dominos and Delaney and Bonnie and Blind Faith and later on his own.

And a good share of the trip he carried two monkeys on his back. One was called heroin, which he defeated with the help of Pete Townsend. The other was the "Clapton is God" hysteria of superstardom - a monkey he has found not so easy to shake.

Fittingly, PolyGram's retrospective on Clapton's career is called simply "Crossroads." And the 73-track (six albums or 4 CDs and tapes) appropriately lives up to its title, covering each and every crossroad in Clapton's storied career.

Eric Clapton is the quintessential blues guitarist: skilled, emotional, idealistic, melodic, powerful, provocative and prolific.

Trying to capture the changing musical spirit of a man who has spent the last 25 years changing was a behemoth task. What do you put in? What do you leave out? Do you make it a greatest hits package? Or do you make it reflective of the man's career?

The package took nearly two years of painstaking research by Bill Levenson, PolyGram's director of catalog development. The result is nothing less than a masterpiece.

PolyGram succeeded by mixing classic favorites with unreleased gems and previously unheard remixes of favorites ("Layla," "I Shot the Sheriff," "Crossroads") from the archives.

Consider these gems: an early demo of the Yardbirds "Honey in Your Hips," covers of John Lee Hookers "Boom Boom" and "Baby What's Wrong," the rare Bluesbreaker single "Lonely Years," unreleased studio versions of Cream's "Steppin' Out" and "Lawdy Mama," a newly discovered Blind Faith track called "Sleeping in the Ground" and a remixed version of "After Midnight" that is taking FM radio by storm.

And there's more. A whole lot more. And it's all presented chronologically in order to paint an evolving portrait of a budding rock star, a blues purist, a guitar hero and a pop star. "Crossroads" offers the whole, satisfying spectrum of Eric Clapton, as well as a unique glimpse at 25 years of rock 'n' roll.

Apologies to Bob Dylan's "Biograph." Apologies to Bruce Springsteen's "Live." Apologies to all those Elvis collections. "Crossroads" is quite frankly the best multi-album retrospective ever assembled.

To quote Rolling Stone senior writer Anthony DeCurtis: "On the path of life, crossroads are where the breakdowns and breakthroughs come, where the danger and adventure lie. As he has forged and disbanded musical alliances, altered his sound and his look, pursued and dodged fame, Eric Clapton has brought himself to the crossroads and proven himself time and time again."