Hailing from El Cerrito, California, Creedence Clearwater Revival should’ve logically been another hippie collective waving flowers in neighboring San Francisco. As these 40th-anniversary editions suggest, leader John Fogerty instead invented an alternate identity for his band based on its otherwise unremarkable 1968 debut album’s rumbling reinvention of a rock oldie. His singing voice swollen with the exaggerated vowels and slurred consonants of shouting Southern bluesmen, Fogerty discovered his songwriting voice on 1969’s auspicious Bayou Country when he further explored the Louisiana roots of CCR’s hit “Suzie Q” cover. He wasn’t, as his song proclaimed, “born on the bayou.” But he could still conjure a Cajun swamp with a thick and steamy tangle of guitars for the instant classic “Proud Mary.”
The band’s most sustained achievement, 1969’s Green River, plays to these imagined Southern-gothic strengths. The title-track boogie offers an oasis of bucolic childhood memories to hide in when “the world is smolderin’.” That’s also the state of affairs in “Bad Moon Rising,” which wraps a blithe rockabilly swing around a soothsayer’s ominous vision of oncoming apocalypse. “Hope you are quite prepared to die” might be the most confrontational Vietnam War-era lyric to ever charm AM radio.
The quartet’s relatively relaxed fourth album, 1969’s Willy and the Poor Boys, nevertheless upped the anger ante on “Fortunate Son,” which rages against class-based draft inequality with rare, beat-driven fury: Even Dylan couldn’t pen a protest song that makes you wanna dance. CCR’s commercial apex, 1970’s Cosmo’s Factory, stacked Fogerty’s peak songwriting streak — check the particularly stellar storybook whimsy of “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” — against divergent Motown, Sun Records and Bo Diddley roots tributes that all proved the same point: CCR blended anxious soul rhythms with loose country twang to embody a haunted but harmonious America. But it couldn’t last. Their guitarist, John’s brother Tom Fogerty, split after the recording of 1970’s uneven Pendulum, and the rest soon unraveled — not even John could ever regain CCR’s telepathic groove. Unfinished demos and ragged live cuts scattered across these reissues similarly add little to the group’s legacy: Hammering out six albums in three years, Creedence couldn’t afford to shelve anything worthy.