Creedence Clearwater Revival

     Creedence Clearwater Revival (Fantasy, 1968)
     Bayou Country (Fantasy, 1969)
      Green River (Fantasy, 1969)
      Willy and the Poor Boys (Fantasy, 1969)
      Cosmo's Factory (Fantasy, 1970)
      Pendulum (Fantasy, 1970)
    Mardi Gras (Fantasy, 1972)
     Creedence Gold (Fantasy, 1973)
   Live in Europe (Fantasy, 1973)
    More Creedence Gold (Fantasy, 1973)
      Chronicle (Fantasy, 1976)
    Creedence 1969 (Fantasy, 1978)
    Creedence 1970 (Fantasy, 1978)
    The Concert (Fantasy, 1980)
    Creedence Country (Fantasy, 1981)
      Chronicle, Vol. 2 (Fantasy, 1986)
    At the Movies (Fantasy, 2000)
    Creedence Clearwater Revival (Fantasy, 2001)

They say when you get lost in the woods, you should walk downhill until you find the river, and then follow it to town. But for Creedence Clearwater Revival, America was never that simple, and its songs endure as a map of the country's traps, terrors, treasures, and pleasures. CCR was a classic hippie guitar band, soaking in the Northern California air, but it stood apart from the San Francisco psychedelic bands, partly because of its blue-collar earthiness, and partly because its drummer didn't suck. John Fogerty's spit-and-growl voice was the purple mountain majesty above the fruited plain of phenomenal rhythm section Doug Clifford and Stu Cook, California's answer to Wyman and Watts. The guys rambled their tamble while Fogerty ran down the road, chased by a tombstone shadow under a bad moon rising.

The first two albums show that Creedence could jam and get loose with any of the ballroom acid rockers, but with a much tougher sound honed during its years playing swamp blues, country, and rockabilly as an East Bay bar band—they had been playing together, for the sheer love of it, ever since they met in junior high school. Even at its rootsiest, the music was full of mystery and menace: The apocalyptic guitar riff of "Walk on the Water" was scary enough to inspire the Clash's "London Calling." But Creedence truly arrived with Green River, from the pastoral beauty of "Green River" to the sexy nightmare of "Sinister Purpose." John Fogerty sings about a river, pure and unpolluted, with the power to "let me remember things I don't know." But his green river is alive with the noise of all the drowned souls it carries—the ghost cries of flatcar riders and cross-tie walkers, pharaohs and Israelites, husbands and gamblers. Absurdly underrated as a lead guitarist—just listen to his terrifying one-note solo in "Tombstone Shadow"—Fogerty sings his hairy ass off, whether his struggles are personal ("Lodi") or political ("Wrote a Song for Everyone").

Willy and the Poor Boys is Fogerty's songwriting peak, with the sharp working-class anger of "Fortunate Son," "Don't Look Now," and "It Came Out of the Sky" (one of rock's first attacks on "Ronnie the Popular"). Cosmo's Factory shows off in two fantastic jams, the seven-minute "Ramble Tamble" and the 11-minute "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." Fogerty waxes world-weary in "Lookin' Out My Back Door" and "Long as I Can See the Light," while breathing fire in the demented raveup "Travelin' Band." Pendulum is spottier but peaks high with a couple of pensive farewells to the Sixties, "It's Just a Thought" and "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" At this point, Creedence had just released four all-time classic albums in 16 months; arguments over which one's the best will be going on for as long as those big wheels keep on turnin', but my quarter's down on Green River. Or maybe Cosmo's Factory. Hmmm…side two of Willy?

The band was falling apart by Mardi Gras: Rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty, John's older brother, had quit, while Clifford and Cook started taking equal shares of the songwriting, although the best they could do was Clifford's "Need Someone to Hold." CCR split bitterly, and it's been depressing to watch the grudge fester over the years—in the late Nineties, Fogerty even sued to keep Clifford and Cook from touring as Creedence Clearwater Revisited. All four band members kept recording, but without the old Creedence magic—the closest any of them came was "Rock and Roll Girls," from John Fogerty's only solo hit, 1985's Centerfield.

The label kept putting weak live albums and redundant compilations, including the 2001 box set, which includes just about everything the band ever recorded. The 20-song Chronicle is a superb place to start, the greatest hits of a band populist enough to put its greatness into its hits. Unlike so many of its peers, CCR was staunchly committed to the public pleasures of rock & roll, making music anyone could love at first listen, which is why its songs have been sung by everyone from Richard Hell to Pavement, from Bonnie Tyler to the Minutemen, from the halls of Tina Turner to the shores of Bon Jovi. In short, for a couple of years there, Creedence was as great as any rock & roll band could ever be.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

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