CCR Revisited

Nine Pounds of Rock ’n’ Roll

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CCR Revisited

All the studio albums by Creedence Clearwater Revival have been reissued on The Studio Albums Collection, Craft Recording’s 7-LP box set spanning the group’s run on the Fantasy label from 1968–1972. Cut by Abbey Road Studio’s Miles Showell using high-resolution transfers from the original analog tapes, these half-speed masters capture in stunning sonic clarity every stinging guitar lick and raspy-throated yowl of the group’s firecracker front man, John Fogerty. The deluxe package includes 180-gram vinyl, replicas of the original jackets, and an 80-page hardbound booklet replete with rare archival photos, CCR memorabilia, and comprehensive liner notes by music journalist Roy Trakin. This hefty memento stands as a prime example of the power of simplicity and is a testament to Fogerty’s estimable gifts as singer-songwriter and underrated guitar slinger. Weighing in at nine pounds, The Studio Albums Collection documents the rise and fall of the Rock & Roll Hall of Famers, who split in acrimonious fashion following their disastrous swan song in 1972.

There was something positively primal about John Fogerty’s urgent vocals, which approximated Howlin’ Wolf’s imposing growl while cutting a distinctive swath of their own in the amalgam of styles—blues, rock, R&B, folk, country, gospel—that would later become known as Americana. That rootsy quality permeates the group’s self-titled debut, which was originally released in May, 1968. From a nasty garage band interpretation of Screaming Jay Hawkins’ 1956 minor key classic, “I Put a Spell on You,” to a hoodoo rendition of Dale Hawkins’ 1957 rockabilly hit, “Susie Q,” Fogerty’s voice resounds with rare authority for someone so young. Released on his 23rd birthday, that debut outing also has the front man tackling Wilson Pickett’s “Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)” while showcasing his budding songwriting prowess on “Working Man” and two songs (“Porterville” and “Walk on the Water”) written in 1966–1967, when the band was known as the Golliwogs. Elsewhere, Fogerty’s “Gloomy” alludes to Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful” while injecting some cool backwards guitar effects into the proceedings that add a touch of psychedelia. Based on a John Lee Hooker riff, the straight blues, “Get Down Woman,” features Fogerty’s signature penetrating guitar licks. Rather than emulating the flowing legato virtuosity of Hendrix, Clapton, and Beck, he instead squeezes the last drop of juice out of each note while soloing.

The album that helped define “swamp rock,” 1969’s Bayou Country imprinted itself on our collective consciousness on the strength of “Born on the Bayou” and “Proud Mary.” Recorded at historic RCA Studios in Hollywood, this second CCR album featured an echo-laden early Sun Records vibe on “Bootleg,” a kind of companion piece to “Born on the Bayou.” The group put its own manic stamp on a cover of Little Richard’s “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” courtesy of Fogerty’s grungy guitar tones and a driving rhythm provided by his brother and fellow guitarist Tom, bassist Stu Cook, and the rock solid drumming of Doug Clifford. The album is filled out by the hypnotic one-chord vamp of the John Lee Hooker-inspired “Keep on Choogling,” the moody “Graveyard Train” (which has John Fogerty flaunting some cool blues harp work), and “Penthouse Pauper,” a tough psychedelic blues song that sounds like pre-Grace Slick Jefferson Airplane. “The second album is a lot better than the first,” Fogerty wrote in his autobiography, Fortunate Son. “It’s a huge step up. There’s a maturity, a sonic difference. We really grew.”

Released in August 1969, Green River repeated the early Sun Records formula with its heavily-reverbed vocals and twangy guitar, as heard on the title track and “Commotion,” which has Fogerty delivering raw, impassioned vocals to rival contemporaries Wayne Cochran and Mitch Ryder. “Lodi” and “Wrote a Song for Everybody” carry a distinct country-folk appeal while “Tombstone Shadow” recalls the tough appeal of Chicago’s Butterfield Blues Band. “Bad Moon Rising” is the killer single here—a little bit country, a little bit rock ’n’ roll. “Cross-Tie Walker,” about a hobo catching trains, is reminiscent of Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train,” which became a hit for Elvis Presley in 1955. Fogerty also has the temerity to cover Ray Charles’ “The Night Time Is the Right Time,” and the band sells it with a persuasive, rollicking energy of its own.

Also from 1969, Willie and the Poor Boys contains the protest song “Fortunate Son,” which Fogerty wrote after reading about the relative of a senator being given a military draft deferment. Another political song, “Effigy,” was aimed at President Nixon’s refusal to acknowledge the growing unrest of the country while “It Came Out of the Sky” name-checked Ronald Reagan and Spiro Agnew. This fourth studio album, the group’s third to be released in 1969, included a Pops Staples-inspired reading of “Midnight Special” and a faithful cover of Lead Belly’s “Cotton Fields” along with the instrumentals “Poorboy Shuffle” and the Booker T. and the MG’s-styled “Side O’ the Road.” The swampy “Feelin’ Blue” is yet another variation on “Born on the Bayou.”

The last great CCR album, Cosmo’s Factory (July 1970), yielded a string of catchy singles, including “Up Around the Bend,” the anti-war anthem “Who’ll Stop the Rain?,” the swampy jam “Run Through the Jungle,” and “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” with its reference to Buck Owens and use of dobro giving it an undeniable country appeal. Creedence also turn in convincing covers of Roy Orbinson’s 1956 Sun Records hit “Ooby Dooby,” Bo Diddley’s 1957 hit “Before You Accuse Me,” and the Motown classic “I Heard It through the Grapevine.” The churchy “Long as I Can See the Light” features gospel holler-intense vocals and a workmanlike turn by Fogerty on saxophone. The oddity here is “Ramble Tamble,” an eight-minute piece that shifts from Buck Owens’ Bakersfield sound to a patchouli-laden arpeggiated hippie jam midway through.

The less consistent Pendulum (December 1970) contains such forgettable Fogerty originals as the punk-edged “Pagan Baby,” “Sailor’s Lament,” the minor key organ-fueled ballad “(Wish I Could) Hideaway,” “It’s Just a Thought” (his answer to Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale”), and “Born To Move,” which features an uncomfortably long organ solo by Fogerty himself. The hits here are the effervescent “Hey Tonight” and the anthemic “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?,” which hinted at internal strife within the band. The sixth CCR album also includes a strange detour into avant-garde psychedelia in “Rude Awakening #2,” their answer to the Beatles’ artsy musique concrete sound collage on “Revolution 9.” 

Before Mardi Gras (April 1972), rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty had left the band, turning a quartet into a trio. Fogerty had essentially abdicated his principal songwriter and front man role for this album, allowing bassist Cook and drummer Clifford to present their own tunes and sing on such unfortunate dreck as “Take It Like a Friend,” “Need Someone to Hold,” “Tearin’ up the Country,” and “What Are You Gonna Do.” Fogerty contributed only three songs, including his hit single “Sweet Hitch-Hiker” and the bitter ballad “Someday Never Comes,” which addressed his breakup with his wife Martha. He also lent his treasured pipes to a cover of Gene Pitney’s “Hello Mary Lou,” a hit for Ricky Nelson in 1961. As Trakin points out in his informative liner notes, the critics ravaged Mardi Gras, and they were helped along by Fogerty’s scathing comments in the press, calling the record “horse manure, baloney.” By then, however, CCR had already stamped its ticket into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

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