In the late ’60s and ’70s Creedence Clearwater Revival established themselves as one of the classic American roots rock bands. Releasing seven albums in six years and a string of hit singles (including five that reached Number 2 in the US charts), they achieved both commercial and critical success with their brand of southern-fried rock.
This ‘best of’ album – brought out to coincide with CCR leader John Fogerty’s forthcoming solo gigs in the UK – is similar to previous compilations but its 24 tracks do indeed represent the cream of the band’s output. The multi-talented John Fogerty was undoubtedly the main force behind CCR, although his overbearing personality eventually led to the band’s break-up. This album proves him to be an outstanding songwriter, a singer of passionate power and a distinctive guitarist who could let rip if he wanted to.
However, the rest of band should not be overlooked, with brother Tom on rhythm guitar, bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford providing a driving rhythm and gritty texture which meant that CCR were never a one-man band.
You’d never guess that the band actually originated from California, either from their southern musical feel, which mixes different genres, or from their lyrics, with multiple references to the likes of New Orleans, the Mississippi Delta, river boats, hoodoo and Cajun Queens.
Their swamp rock sound is heard in full splendour in probably their greatest song Born on the Bayou, with its thudding bass and reverberating guitar, while Run through the Jungle is a close second, with its wailing harmonica adding to a slightly eerie quality.
Rockabilly is well represented here too, with the likes of Bad Moon Rising, CCR’s biggest hit (a Number 1 here) and Hello Mary Lou, relatively simple songs with infectious melodies. Travelin’ Band is straight rock ‘n’ roll, Little Richard style, while Down the Corner and Cotton Fields (a Leadbelly song) shows the band in country form.
Blues makes a strong impact in Green River, I Put a Spell on You (a cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins‘ massive hit, with a coruscating guitar solo from John Fogerty) and Dale Hawkins‘ song Susie Q. Midnight Special is a gospel version of a traditional folk song, and in Long as I Can See the Light CCR are at their most soulful, with John Fogerty’s voice revealing real emotional depth.
Proud Mary may be best known in the cover performed by Ike and Tina Turner but the original CCR version stands comparison, while I Heard It through the Grapevine is a creditable interpretation of the Motown classic with a rock-solid back beat.
The upbeat rockers Up Around the Bend and Sweet Hitch-hiker are undeniably truckers’ songs (though so much of CCR’s output makes great driving music), but the band could also turn out slower, more tender tracks like Have You Ever Seen the Rain and Whou’ll Stop the Rain? The latter – like the famous lyrics of Fortunate Son, in which the sons of fathers with power can avoid the draft – embodies the spirit of anti-Vietnam War protest.
This compilation shows how an American rock band could be mainstream without being middle of the road, enjoying a broad fanbase without selling its soul, before the homogenized, formulaic sound took over in the States in the seventies. In those glory days, Creedence Clearwater Revival were the Real McCoy.