If I told you that one of the most influential bands in the late 1960s and early 1970s was called The Blue Velvets or the Golliwogs, you’d probably give me a blank stare. In truth, you know them better as “Creedence Clearwater Revival” but such were the names of that band’s predecessors. And while their 1968 self-titled debut album didn’t quite crack the top 50 on Billboard’s pop chart, music executives took notice immediately of the brothers Fogerty, Tom (rhythm guitar, vocals) and John (lead guitar, vocals), and their bandmates Doug Clifford (bass) and Stu Cook (drums). What followed was four years of musical output nearly unparalleled in classic rock history.
The band truly hit their stride in 1969 with the release of now-classic singles such as “Born on the Bayou,” “Bad Moon Rising,” and “Proud Mary” (the band’s oft-covered song off Bayou Country). Their album, Green River, released that same year, went gold; its eponymous single did too. The band also found time to perform at Woodstock, though the group decided their performances weren’t up to their own high standards so they opted out of the Woodstock album and movie.
1969 also yielded Willy and the Poor Boys which went to number three thanks to tunes like “Fortunate Son”, “Cotton Fields”, “Midnight Special,” and “Down on the Corner.” Soon thereafter came Cosmo’s Factory (1970), then Pendulum (1970) then Mardi Gras (1972). These seven studio albums over four short years comprise a staggering amount of classic rock history. Impressive? Yes. Intense? No doubt. Considering the non-stop creative output, “artistic differences” seemed inevitable so CCR’s devolution into a trio as well as various solo careers is hardly surprising.
All this brings us to Craft Recordings’ repackaged, remastered 7-LP collection that pulls together every studio album Creedence released. The recordings were remastered at Abbey Road Studios by Miles Showell — who worked similar magic on the archives of Abba, The Beatles, The Police, and Marvin Gaye. Once again, Showell’s using a “half-speed technique” to attain exceptional clarity and quality. The box set also comes with an 80-page booklet of liner notes by rock journalist Roy Trakin, with photos of the band during its heyday. But on to the music. Here’s a run-down of favorite tracks:
The collection kicks off with a delightful cover of “I Put a Spell on You” as John Fogerty’s growling delivery segues into an extended guitar solo. Indeed what may strike you about their self-titled debut is how many early songs feature lengthy, simmering guitar solos like “The Working Man”, “Porterville,” and “Gloomy.” The sophomore release Bayou Country may pull back a bit in general but “Keep on Chooglin” features some seriously extended harmonica and guitar work within its nearly eight minutes.
Green River gives us the unforgettable “Bad Moon Rising” as well as some less familiar treats like “Lodi” (a lonely little ditty about small-town life, akin to “Who’ll Stop the Rain”) and (“Sinister Purpose”) with its trap-clappy blues guitar and shuffling drums. In truth, one of the pleasures herein are the rediscoveries available: From Willy and the Poor Boys, the screaming harmonica and emphatic washboard of “Poorboy Shuffle” are a jolt to the system while “Side o’ the Road” impresses with its brilliant descending bass line and razors-edge guitar pyrotechnics by John Fogerty. Cosmo’s Factory is remarkable for its wide variety of styles: R&B (“I Heard It Through the Grape Vine”), psychedelia (“Ramble Tamble”), and country ( “Looking Out My Back Door”) among them. Pendulum distinguishes itself in the CCR discography by being their only LP without any covers, thereby providing space for the serious instrumental experimentation that is “Rude Awakening #2.” If their final studio album (Mardi Gras) never grabbed the public or the critics as intensely, it nevertheless has plenty to love, including Doug Clifford talking vocals on the rockabilly “Tearin’ Up the Country” and a faithful rendition of Gene Pitney’s old standard “Hello Mary Lou.”
Happy 50th Anniversary, CCR!
Photo Credit: Public domain image of Tom Fogerty, Doug Clifford, Stu Cook, and John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival circa 1968.