RISING AGAIN Creedence Clearwater Revival

Fantasy’s expanded
remasters run that voodoo choogle down anew.

 

BY A. WATT

 

They arrived just in time to get in on the forefront of a
back-to-basics roots revival then usher rock ‘n’ roll out of what many saw as psychedelic
excess into something Elvis might have thought was real, real gone. But
Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty, his brother Tom and high school
friends Doug Clifford and Stu Cook had a claim on the sound of the Bayou as
deep as the Rolling Stones’ claim on the blues and R&B songs of their
earliest recordings. They were based in California, not some voodoo-ridden
swamp.

 

Still, in 1968 that didn’t stop them from nailing the
essence of their inspirations on jaw-dropping first-album covers of Dale
Hawkins’ “Suzie Q,” Wilson Pickett’s “Ninety-Nine and a Half” and an
album-opening “I Put A Spell On You” that somehow managed to feel spookier than
the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins original. Rounding out the band’s 8-star, self-titled
debut were a handful of John Fogerty originals, the best of which,
“Porterville,” was strong enough to hold its own against the covers and the
classics he would soon be writing. Anyone looking for proof that CCR was not,
in fact, as out of step with psychedelic rock as some critics would have you
believe, there’s “Gloomy,” with its headphone-ready sound effects and a
backwards guitar lead. Or you could just check the length of “Suzie Q,” a
relative epic at 8:37 – it’s even longer on the live recording from the Fillmore
West, tacked on as a bonus track. The coolest extra by far, though is “Call It
Pretending,” a Motown-worthy B-side by the Golliwogs, the Fogerty Brothers’
pre-Creedence outfit.

 

The reissue is one of six expanded/remastered CDs issued by the
band’s longtime label Fantasy (www.concordmusicgroup.com)
intending to mark the group’s 40th anniversary. They’re intended as
standalone artifacts, although for longtime CCR collectors, they don’t replace
2001’s six-disc box set Creedence
Clearwater Revival
, which in addition to all of the studio albums included
a wealth of concert recordings and pre-Creedence material.

 

1969’s Bayou Country (8 stars) found John Fogerty moving beyond merely aping his heroes as a writer.
And it paid off on the pop charts when a million-selling double-sided single,
“Proud Mary” and “Born on the Bayou,” soared to No. 2, effectively establishing
their hit potential. Meanwhile, “Graveyard Train” and “Keep On Chooglin'” gave
Fogerty plenty of room to stretch out on guitar. The strongest bonus tracks on Bayou Country are “Born On The Bayou” (captured
live at London’s Royal Albert Hall) and psychedelic blues jam “Crazy Otto.”

 

Green River (9
stars), also released in ’69, took things up a notch, with two more massive pop
hits, “Bad Moon Rising” and the twang-guitar-fueled title track, in addition to
road-weary “Lodi” and the album’s most surprising revelation — the soulful,
surprisingly personal ballad “Wrote A Song For Everyone.” And while a lot of
people may have been too caught up in the “What, me worry?” good-time groove to
notice, “Bad Moon Rising” found Fogerty turning his attentions to the troubled
times he saw developing around him and the darker times to come. For this
release, the bonus tracks to beat are live recordings from the European road –
a heartfelt “Lodi” captured in Hamburg and “Green River” morphing into “Suzie
Q” in Stockholm.

 

Willy and the Poor
Boys
(10 stars) is their third release of 1969, which only makes the total
lack of filler that much more impressive. This one also spawned two classic
singles – the blistering class resentment of 
“Fortunate Son” and a spirited ode to a made-up band of street
musicians, Willy and the Poor Boys (“Down on the Corner”). When Fogerty turned
his attention to the UFO craze on the best Chuck Berry song he’d ever write,
“It Came Out of the Sky,” the targets of his comic indignation ranged from
California governor Ronald Reagan to the Vatican, but the album’s strongest
cut, by far, was “Effigy,” his most impassioned social commentary yet, even if
the most impassioned voice was Fogerty’s stinging guitar.  The one essential bonus track is a live “It
Came Out Of The Sky.”

 

A lot of people point to 1970’s Cosmo’s Factory (10 stars) as their finest hour, and it’s hard to
say why anyone would choose to scoff at that suggestion. It was certainly thee
band’s biggest, boasting several massive double-sided hits (“Run Through The
Jungle,” “Up Around the Bend,” the disillusioned “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” the
Little Richard-flavored “Travelin’ Band,” the admittedly goofy “Lookin’ Out My
Back Door” and “Long As I Can See The Light”). That’s practically the whole
damn album. And the other tracks are just as good, including an 11-minute cover
of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” the psychedelic rave-up “Ramble Tamble”
(mocking “actors in the White House” long before we’d actually been duped into
electing one) and classic cuts by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and Bo Diddley. Bonus
tracks include an amazing live performance of “Born on the Bayou” with the
legendary Booker T. & The MGs joining in the fun.

 

Fantasy’s CCR back catalog overhaul wisely signs off with
the last thing Creedence ever did that anyone with half a brain would care to
hear again, 1970’s 7-star Pendulum,
sparing fans the shame of 1972’s Mardi
Gras
. It only sent two singles to the pop charts (“Hey Tonight” and “Have
You Ever Seen The Rain?”) but they’re both brilliant. And it’s shocking just
how strong the tracks most pop fans never heard are, from the raunch ‘n’ roll
abandon of the first track, “Pagan Baby,” to “Sailor’s Lament,” which comes on
like the bastard child of “Proud Mary” and “Who’ll Stop The Rain,” but with a
female gospel choir chiming in (a sign of things to come for Fogerty, who’s
eventually sued for ripping off his own back pages). As oddities go, you’d be
hard pressed to top bonus track “45 Revolutions Per Minute,” a two-part tape
collage that seems like it meant to be funny. Many fans will skip ahead to “Hey
Tonight” as captured live in Hamburg on their final tour.

 

What pulled the band apart? The liner notes blame hipsters
mocking Fogerty’s best work as hopelessly commercial, which is all you really
need to know about why hipsters can’t be trusted.

 

But what really did Creedence in was the other guys wanting
a piece of the songwriting pie and Fogerty, reluctantly, agreeing. That
decision, of course, resulted in Mardis
Gras
, an album weak enough to
drive them to an early grave.

 

 

 

 

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