A Buyers Guide to Creedence Clearwater Revival

In the USA, Creedence are seen as one of the great American rock bands. Here in the UK they are generally seen as a brilliant singles band rather than an act that put out a string of great albums. Creedence are so ingrained into the American psyche that their music frequently soundtracks all manner of television series and films, so much so that it’s in danger of becoming over-familiar, to the point where we just don’t give them the respect that they are due.

One of the reasons that the music of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s music is so frequently used in soundtracks, is that for a long time the vast majority of royalties earned by their music didn’t go to the members of the band due to an unfavourable record deal signed in the band’s early days. In recent years this situation has been remedied to a point, but royalty grumbles have remained a big part of the fractions between the former band members.

Despite my tendency to approach an acts back catalogue chronologically, Creedence’s debut was actually one of their last albums I checked out. I don’t know why it took me so long to check it out, after all everything else I had by them had been a top-draw album. Perhaps it was the assumption that they were still finding their groove on their debut album, which is of course total nonsense, as few bands had paid their dues throughout  the 60s to the same extent as Creedence. After gigging hard for the best part of a decade, there was no way that they were going to release a debut album that was going to fall flat on its face.

Much of the success of their debut is down to the same thing as most other albums by Creedence, the fact that John Fogerty understood what made a great rock and roll song. That’s not to belittle the contribution of the other three quarters of the band though, as Creedence albums always rely on all four band members being on song of them to work so well. Of particular note on this self-titled release is Doug Clifford’s splendid drumming which seems to be higher in the mix than on the later albums, which highlights just what a fantastic drummer he was and how much he brought to the mixture.

If their debut has a weak-spot, it’s that some of the songs are dragged out just a little too much in order to fill out the modest 34 minutes of run time. Personally I would have much preferred a more taught and slender album with shorter instrumental passages, but given that the band had no idea whether they would be given the opportunity to make another album, why not show off a little?

Creedence Clearwater Revival would go on to make superior albums to their debut, but it was nevertheless a splendid way to kick off an illustrious career.

At a time when their American peers were becoming ever more trippy and psychedelic, Creedence were stripping rock’n’roll down to basics. While prog-rock was starting to gain a foothold in the UK, Creedence were reminding us that simplicity could be just as impressive.

Boasting one of the best rhythm sections in the history of rock’n’roll, Stu Cook and Clifford, a great rock’n’roll vocalist in John Fogerty who could also pay blistering lead guitar lines and his older brother Tom on rhythm guitar to hold it all together, Creedence were as musically accomplished as any act in the late 60s, but what marked them apart is that they understood the beauty of simplicity and no frills rock’n’roll. Where their tracks did break the four minute mark, it was because they’d found a groove and they were happy to follow it until it ended naturally.

The best known track on their second album, Bayou Country, is “Proud Mary”, one of the great soulful rock’n’roll numbers, given the seal of approval from the soul community when no less an authority than Solomon Burke covered it soon after it’s initial release. It’s not the only highlight though, as “Born On The Bayou” and “Keep On Chooglin'” are among Creedence’s best work. Elsewhere there are energetic covers of rock’n’roll standards (“Good Golly Miss Molly”) and bluesy numbers (“Penthouse Pauper”), both done with equal aplomb.

Where Bayou Country does sag though is the eight and a half minute plus “Graveyard Train”, which stretches the groove far beyond comfort levels and ultimately leaves the listener bored.

Where Bayou Country was a little leaden thanks to a number of elongated songs, Green River was an album with fat cut off (only one song breaks the four minute mark). Just about any of the tracks here could have been issued as singles, distilling as they did the original spirit of rock’n’roll.

Where The Band were simultaneously encouraging the American public to explore their traditional music, Creedence making a good case for the argument that their rock’n’roll heritage was just as important. That both bands were able to do this with a rootsiness rarely heard in the charts shows how close they were in spirit. True Creedence had the hit singles, but to my ears they are as equally important as The Band in the development of American music.

With Green River John Fogerty had really hit his stride as a songwriter. “Bad Moon Rising” was the big international hit, though the title track was almost equally as successful. “Wrote A Song For Everyone” and “Lodi” are two of Fogerty’s finest compositions and the cover of “The Night Time Is The Right Time” is the band’s finest closing number on any of their albums.

I initially viewed Willy And The Poor Boys as the weakest of all the Creedence albums in my collection. Time has proved me a fool though and I now find the rootsiness that I originally found so tiring to be my main reason for loving this great little album.

From the shuffle of “Down On The Corner”, to the UFO landing of “It Came Out Of The Sky”, the blistering rock of “Fortunate Son”, to the alt-country prototype of “Effigy” (later covered to great effect by Uncle Tupelo), it’s arguable that Willy And The Poor Boys is Creedence’s most diverse album.

Although they rarely indulged in the extended jams of their contemporaries, Creedence were much envied for their musical prowess and their commercial success. Sadly the former is overlooked somewhat when people analyse the music of the music of the late 60s / early 70s. What is also overlooked is that Willy and the Poor Boys was Creedence’s third album in eleven months – a frighteningly efficient and productive work-rate by anyone’s standards, especially when you consider how strong those albums are.

With only “Feelin’ Blue” outstaying it’s welcome, Willy And The Poor Boys continued to  build upon the reputation of Creedence as one of the era’s finest bands and still the best was yet to come.

Creedence’s longest album up to that point in their career, Cosmo’s Factory was also the album that blended all the best bits of Creedence’s repertoire to date and distilled it down to what everyone individually loved about their previous albums. It had the extended jams of Bayou Country, it had the direct rock numbers of Green River and it had the rootsiness of Willy and the Poor Boys . Not only did it combine all these elements, but it also perfected them and it still had room for four blinding cover versions.

It probably comes as no small surprise that Cosmo’s Factory is my favourite Creedence album and I feel the pinnacle of their career. This was where John Fogerty managed to not only match, but surpass his influences. Of course he couldn’t have done this without the musical prowess of the best rhythm section of the era, but the writing and arrangements were all down to John. From the direct rocking of “Travelin’ Band” and “Up Around The Bend”, to the more sedate numbers like “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” and “Who’ll Stop The Rain”, there’s no question that Fogerty was on top of his game.

Although the album boasted no less than three hit singles and their equally accomplished B-sides, the most celebrated track here is the jaw-dropping eleven minutes plus cover of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, Creedence finally proving to the unbelievers that they could jam and follow an extended groove just as well of any of their trippier and more stoned peers. Although not as definitive as Marvin Gaye’s version, it remains a towering monument to the band’s ambition and ability.

To me Cosmo’s Factory is one of the best rock albums of the early 70s – an era not short on great rock albums and is the obvious purchase for anybody wanting to sample Creedence for the first time.

If anything, follow up album Pendulum had the potential to top the mighty Cosmo’s Factory as Creedence’s best album, consisting as it does of some of Creedence’s most mature material and possessing a noticeably more soulful edge.

As they are primarily seen as a guitar band, it may strike the uninitiated how well Creedence assimilate organ sounds into their style. The rhythm section is noticeably funkier as well. This suits the material well, with “Sailor’s Lament” and “Chameleon” being the most obvious beneficiaries. “Born To Move” also benefits from a funky sound, however an over long and unnecessary coda does spoil it somewhat.

Therein lies the trouble with Pendulum, it just doesn’t know when we’ve had enough of a good thing and occasionally a groove is followed to within an inch of it’s natural life. There’s also too many filler tracks, with “Rude Awakening” being possibly the weakest closing track to date.

It’s not all bad news though, “Hey Tonight” is one of the band’s best singles and “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” being a brilliant follow-up to “Who’ll Stop The Rain”. It’s also the only Creedence album to consist solely of John Fogerty penned numbers, although it’s apparent in some places that the band were tiring of John’s dictatorship by now, regardless of their success.

Sadly it was this that was to prove the downfall of Creedence. With Tom Fogerty quitting the band and the remaining members demanding more creative input, Creedence meddled with the fried-gold formula and their next (and final) album would be a relative disaster.

So welcome to the runt of the litter vis a vis Creedence Clearwater Revival albums. Previous to this all song writing duties were performed by John Fogerty, which inevitably made him the creative fulcrum of the band. While he was a gifted writer and tunesmith, his business deals were among the worst in the music industry. Despite enjoying massive international success, Creedence’s royalty payments were well below the average, even in those cut-throat times. Somebody was making a huge pile of cash out of Creedence, and it wasn’t the band. Becoming wise after the event, the rhythm section of Doug Clifford and Stu Cook demanded more input to the band – which given Fogerty’s form regarding the business side of the band was fair enough, especially as Clifford had a business degree. Fogerty, thus challenged, then decided that if they wanted more input, they had to have input in all aspects of the band, including songwriting duties…

Thus painted into a corner, Clifford and Cook (who would probably have happily admitted that they weren’t even in the same league as Fogerty creatively) found themselves in a position where they must have realised that the album they were pouring their energies into was going to be a pale shadow of their previous releases.

There’s an air of defeat about Mardi Gras. Fogerty had decided to hit the self-destruct button and had found a way of pinning the blame on his bandmates. To make matters worse, Fogerty’s minimal contributions to the songs he hadn’t written are the work of a gifted man who is obviously putting no effort into what he was doing at the time. Compare his guitar work on the Cook or Clifford compositions to that on “Sweet Hitch Hiker” or “Someday Never Comes” and it’s obvious that Fogerty was determined to make it obvious how little faith he had in his bandmates’ material. As a result of this, despite Fogerty’s contributions being great tunes and Clifford and Cook’s efforts being creditable, listening to Mardi Gras always results in a bitter taste and leaves me with a sad and hollow feeling.

If Creedence had managed to communicate better as people, then their winning formula may never have been tampered with and who knows what they could have achieved throughout the next decade. As it was they suffered a needlessly fractious end and they spluttered out.

Due to the situation surrounding their early record deal, there are a mind-boggling amount of compilations clogging up the shelves, the majority doing a good job of summarising their career, however, for the big picture, you really do need their studio albums, which have been released together as a number of boxed sets over the years.

Since the split of the band John Fogerty has forged an on / off / on again solo career, and Cook and Clifford still regularly tour as the rhythm section of Creedence Clearwater Revisited. Tom Fogerty sadly passed away in the early 90s, having apparently never rebuilt his bridges with his brother.

John Fogerty continues to release new music and still tours from time to time, but the chances of him ever reuniting with Cook and Clifford are slim to none, despite it guaranteeing a huge payday for all three of them. As a result Creedence Clearwater Revival are one of the few bands of their vintage that haven’t cashed in on the renewed interest in them since mid 90s. Should they ever choose to do so, a money-spinning tour of North America and a handful of European tour dates would ensure that none of them would ever have to worry about money again.

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