1969 and 1970 were flagship years for rock music, with most major 1960s acts still releasing albums, and exciting new acts that would dominate the 1970s emerging. But perhaps the best performing band in this micro-era was a four-piece band from California, which played stripped-down, swampy rock.
During 1969 and 1970 Creedence Clearwater Revival released five strong albums and landed five singles in the US top ten, including five #2s. Their bluesy sound was in contrast to the psychedelic rock prominent in 1968, while they wrote about Southern imagery despite never having visited. Creedence Clearwater Revival were nominally a band but were essentially a vehicle for frontman John Fogerty. Fogerty wrote all of the band’s significant original material and supplied the group’s most distinctive elements with his gritty voice and his fierce lead guitar.
The group recorded local singles as The Golliwogs in the mid-1960s, but the group was put on hiatus as John Fogerty and drummer Doug Clifford undertook national service. When they reformed, they were named Creedence Clearwater Revival. Their 1968 debut was enjoyable swamp rock, but John Fogerty quickly developed into an outstanding songwriter for the group’s 1969 and 1970 albums.
John Fogerty’s dominance eventually took its toll – his brother, rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty, left the band after 1970’s Pendulum, due to frustration with not having his songs featured on the band’s albums. John Fogerty responded by forcing the rhythm section, Stu Cook and Doug Clifford, to contribute songs on 1972’s Mardi Gras. When their contributions were roundly panned, the band was wound down.
Creedence Clearwater Revival aren’t a band of hidden depths – what you see is what you get, with their straightforward arrangements. But that’s perfect for their material, and John Fogerty is a charismatic frontman and a very good writer. Keep on choogling, y’all.
Creedence Clearwater Revival Album Reviews
Favourite Album: Cosmo’s Factory
Creedence Clearwater Revival
The group’s first album has their sound fully formed – they already have their infectious rootsy rock in place, with John Fogerty’s gritty vocals and impressive lead guitar. The main issue is the song-writing – the most memorable songs are the covers of ‘I Put A Spell On You’ and ‘Suzie Q’, the latter a minor hit which started the band’s career. While Fogerty wrote five of the eight songs, most of them aren’t distinctive. As a result on this debut, Creedence Clearwater Revival are a tight bar blues band with a charismatic, throaty lead singer.
‘Porterville’ is the exception – it’s the song that’s furthest from the blues template, and it’s a portent of things to come from Fogerty, energetic and hook-filled. Creedence Clearwater Revival also features rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty’s only song for the band – a co-write on ‘Walking on Water’.
Creedence Clearwater Revival is an enjoyable, promising debut, but the group would become much stronger once John Fogerty’s writing hit full stride.
Creedence Clearwater Revival’s second album Bayou Country is a step forward from their debut – while it’s similar-sounding, John Fogerty’s songwriting is more confident, and songs like ‘Proud Mary’ and ‘Born On The Bayou’ are Creedence’s first great originals. Fogerty has stated that the success of ‘Suzie Q’ gave them a pathway to success, but meant that he had to assert his authority over the band: “The other guys in the band insisted on writing songs for the new album, they had opinions on the arrangements, they wanted to sing. They went as far as adding background vocals to ‘Proud Mary,’ and it sounded awful. They used tambourines, and it sounded no better….. Now we had to make the best possible album and it wasn’t important who did what, as long as the result was the very best we could achieve. And of course I was the one who should do it.”
The only cover, ‘Good Golly, Miss Molly’ is fun, but it’s a light-hearted throwaway next to the Fogerty’s best work. The best-known songs, ‘Proud Mary’ and ‘Born On The Bayou’, are the most substantial, but the fun blues of ‘Penthouse Pauper’ make up a solid album track. There are a couple of longer songs that finish each side of the original LP – the loping groove of ‘Graveyard Train’ outstays its welcome, but ‘Keep On Choogling’ is energetic with Fogerty’s stinging guitar.
The band are generally still too reliant on blues forms for Bayou Country to be their best work, but it’s consistently enjoyable and another step forward for the band.
In much the same way that Bayou Country built on their debut, Green River is another step forward for the band, as they outgrow the bluesy boogie that they started the career with. A hint of country starts to drift in, and the most obvious development is the inclusion of acoustic textures – notably ‘Wrote A Song For Everyone’ and ‘Lodi’ are both based around acoustic guitar.
And each album, the complement of Fogerty written originals grows stronger – ‘Bad Moon Rising’ is perhaps the best known, with its combination of upbeat music and doomsday lyrics, but there’s also the swampy grind of the title track and the acoustic despair of ‘Lodi’.
Some of the blues-based material, like ‘Tombstone Shadow’, is a little dispensable, and the album ends meekly, but Green River was Creedence Clearwater Revival’s best album yet, as their rapid development continued.
Willy and the Poor Boys
Willy and the Poor Boys marks the point where Creedence Clearwater Revival were no longer primarily a blues band – it’s still part of their DNA, but there’s also a big dollop of country twang. With their albums no longer weighed down by a couple of predictable blues jams, they moved into their most vibrant, consistent era. And on Willy and the Poor Boys, John Fogerty songs have taken another step forward as he moves away from blues conventions.
The album’s title comes from the irresistible funky groove of ‘Down On The Corner’, while ‘Fortunate Son’ is a savage political rocker. ‘Effigy’ closes the album with a long, dark tale, that criticises, rather than romanticises, the American South. The two brief instrumentals are the album’s weak point, and ‘Feelin’ Blue’ is a little drawn out, but none of them diminishes the impact of Willy and the Poor Boys as a fast-paced, fun record. The two covers, of ‘Midnight Special’ and ‘Cotton Fields’, are both fun, while there are hidden Fogerty gems in the raucous ‘It Came Out Of The Sky’ and ‘Don’t Look Now’.
With lots of energy and lots of great Fogerty songs, Willy and the Poor Boys is yet another building block for Creedence, and they’d peak with their next record.
Creedence Clearwater Revival peaked on Cosmo’s Factory – all of the songs bear the distinctive Creedence Clearwater Revival sound, but there’s just the right amount of diversity. ‘Up Around The Bend’ is arguably the heaviest song they recorded, ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’ is jangly folk-rock, and the closing ‘As Long As I Can See The Light’ is beautiful and gentle, while they still retain their bluesy roots with material like ‘Before You Accuse Me’. It’s similar in feel to Willy and the Poor Boys, but there’s little throwaway material.
Indeed, Cosmo’s Factory is so packed with terrific songs that it feels like a greatest hits – you’ll probably know half of these songs from classic hits radio, like ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’, ‘Up Around The Bend’, ‘Looking Out My Back Door’, ‘Run Through The Jungle’, and the epic cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’. The album tracks are all super solid as well – the opening ‘Ramble Tamble’ has a hypnotic groove, while ‘Ooby Dooby’ and ‘Travellin’ Band’ are propelled by raw energy.
Cosmo’s Factory was the peak that Creedence Clearwater Revival had been building towards. After this, it felt like group in-fighting took its toll and that John Fogerty’s wellspring of songs was depleted.
While the previous Creedence Clearwater Revival albums felt like a measured progression from a straightforward swamp boogie outfit to a classic rock hits machine, 1970’s Pendulum is markedly different. It’s much more sonically expansive – not surprising for an album where the songs weren’t written in advance, and the band spent more time in the studio. The result of more studio time means the instrumental mixes are fuller – they use plenty of organ, which gives them a 1960s soul feel on songs like ‘Born To Move’
But song for song, Pendulum is weaker than any of their previous records. It features the well-loved ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain?’, but the other single, the rocker ‘Hey Tonight’ feels a little perfunctory. The bluesy opener ‘Pagan Baby’ is one of the album’s best songs and it’s one of the few songs from the albums that feels like it could have come from a previous Creedence Clearwater Revival record.
Tom Fogerty quit the band in frustration at not having his songs used after Pendulum, but the rest of the band held on for one more album.
Tom Fogerty left Creedence Clearwater Revival after not being allowed enough creative input. In a fit of pique, John Fogerty demanded that the two other remaining members contribute material and vocals to Mardi Gras. Stu Cook and Doug Clifford are a great rhythm section but aren’t great frontmen – Cook’s an almost passable minor league Fogerty, but Clifford struggles. Mardi Gras was out of print for years, and it has a terrible reputation.
Despite the album’s issues – Clifford and Cook’s material ranges from forgettable to awful, and the running time is a skimpy 28 minutes – it’s not a serious contender for the worst of all time. There are solid Fogerty tracks – ‘Sweet Hitchhiker’ is as heavy as CCR ever got, while ‘Someday Never Comes’ is pretty. There’s a cover of ‘Hello, Mary Lou’ with Fogerty on lead, and Cook’s ‘Take It Like A Friend’ is a decent facsimile of CCR’s signature style.
Mardi Gras was bad enough to spell the end for CCR – the band quietly split shortly after its release – but I’ve heard worse.
Ten Favourite Creedence Clearwater Revival Songs
Up Around The Bend
Down On The Corner
Lookin’ Out My Back Door
It Came Out Of The Sky
Who’ll Stop The Rain
Wrote A Song For Everyone
Back to 1960s album reviews…..
Cincinnati Babyhead says:
(CCR) Susie Q started it for CB. ‘Put a Spell on You’ is a beauty. CCR knew how to cover other peoples songs. Like you said this was an alternative to the music that was in back then. Fogerty’s guitar does it for me.
(Bayou Country) ‘Born on the Bayou’ opens this album perfectly. Penthouse Pauper is an example of why I love this band. Their version of Little Richards ‘Molly’ is another case of doing great work on other peoples songs.
(Green River) The love continues. I just did a take on this one for a reason, it is a fave like most of their albums.
(Pendulum) The sax for CB on Molina is worth it.
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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