Although it doesn't look like it on the album cover, Tom Fogerty's right arm must have been about twice as big as his left. I mean, you play these 100-downstrokes-per-minute songs like "Tombstone Shadow" every night, and you're going to develop some muscles, right?
John Fogerty likes to make a big deal out of his assertion that the other guys in Creedence were nobodies who wouldn't have made it without him, but I think the opposite is just as true. The Creedence rhythm section had a unique sound that was crucial to their success; if John had hooked up with a bunch of well-rounded country-rock players like, say, Dan Hicks' Hot Licks, his derivative (although powerful) compositions wouldn't have had the sonic impact they do.
By no means were Doug Clifford, Stu Cook, and Tom Fogerty naturally gifted musicians. It's clear that sheer persistence and studious rehearsal are responsible for their sound. I have a video of Creedence playing a concert (the same show that produced The Concert album) and they don't do anything that looks like they're having fun - no leaping around, swaying with the beat, tapping toes; heck, they hardly smile (although Tom does make googly eyes during "Keep On Chooglin'") - instead they bear a look of intense concentration throughout the show. This single-mindedness is an asset, though. Where more naturally talented musicians "go with the flow" and deliver that laid-back groove, the Creedence rhythm section lays down a sound as intense as their concentration.
All those years of practice got Creedence to a point where every beat is delivered precisely at the proper point in time - they are one of the most consistent bands ever, never speeding up or slowing down - and that precision is a unique sound for a rockabilly-style band. There's simply no swing in this group (the only hint of swing at all is in the bassline for "Cross-Tie Walker"). On cuts like "Green River", "Tombstone Shadow", and "Commotion", it works fabulously; the strict beats propel the tunes forward and give an appropriate accompaniment to John Fogerty's howling vocals. Particularly powerful is the low-in-the-mix rhythm guitar, delivered exactly on the beat for an added percussive attack; I can't think of any other band that uses rhythm guitar in such a propulsive way, and it's a large part of what makes Creedence unique.
This reliance on precise rehearsal (they practiced eight hours a day - can you imagine, practicing Creedence tunes all day?) hurts them when they loosen up, however. "Wrote a Song for Everyone" is a mess, with Tom's acoustic guitar slipping into inappropriate strum patterns and Clifford's drums all over the place. And the lack of spontaneity makes "The Night is the Right Time" one of the most spectacularly unsuccessful cover versions ever recorded. Sure, the mathematical formula for syncopation is applied to the rhythm, but it sounds so stiff it's unbearable. Coupled with a lead vocal that is the farthest thing imaginable from Ray Charles' sly, lustful delivery, it's a disaster.
But wait a minute, you're saying, weren't there four guys in Creedence? Yes, there were, but everyone knows John Fogerty's a genius - just ask him - so I'll let his reputation speak for itself. You just try to stop humming "Bad Moon Rising" or "Lodi".
Willie and the Poor Boys
This is their third album of 1969, and the workload is beginning to show. Take away the covers and the two pointless instrumentals, and you've only got 6 new Creedence songs. Of course, 6 Creedence songs is as good as 6 Creed albums, but it's still a bit of a ripoff.
Fortunately, they make up for with top-notch performances. Tom Fogerty is at the top of his game here, and while Cook and Clifford would get better, they're in fine form. Tom's parts show a lot of progress, branching out into new rhythms while keeping that famous choogling sound. Take "Down on the Corner", where the rhythm guitar actually takes the solo with its Bo Diddley-meets-Dave Brubeck syncopated triplets, or "Fortunate Son", where Tom's distorted line (probably the only one in the entire Creedence catalog) provides the main point of rhythmic interest in the verses. "Feelin' Blue" has an oddly timed line, playing eighth notes on the and of two and the downbeat of three, but it nicely fills in between John's double-tracked lead lines, and "Midnight Special" finds Tom providing the only accompaniment during the first and last verse - it sounds like his timing is off until the drums come in and you realize he's playing the offbeat. Cook lets fly with a fantastic running bass line under "It Came Out of the Sky", and Clifford actually puts in a syncopation with the kick drum in "Feelin' Blue". Otherwise, they're as steady as ever and sounding fine.
Although John Fogerty only came up with six originals for this album, they're doozies, and the covers are for once appropriate to the band. "Down on the Corner" features a rare situation for Creedence in that the album mix is different than the single (more percussion at the beginning) and is one of the rare moments of levity in their catalog, with a portrait of the band as street musicians over one of the all-time great riffs. "It Came Out of the Sky" suffers in these late days from its abundance of topical references (for the record, Walter and Eric are, respectively, Messers Cronkite and Sevareid, network news anchors, and Ronnie the Popular is Ronald Reagan, then governor of Creedence's home state of California) but remains one of the fiercest slabs of pure driving rock ever cut, with its concise leads and thundering rhythm guitar-bass-drums attack. "Feelin' Blue" is a rather underdeveloped E major riff (it could really use a change up halfway through the verse), but it has a nice bit of ambiguous word play ("if it's happy you can say I ain't... Feelin' blue" - is he not happy or not feeling blue?).
"Fortunate Son" is one of the band's most famous tunes, and rightly so. They abandon the country and blues elements of their sound for an almost heavy metal drone sound, with a lead line that plays just a few notes with massive sustain. The lyrics are a masterpiece, using just a few vivid images ("star spangled eyes", "point the cannon at you") to indict an entire system of privilege and abuse of rank. I believe songs like this made a major contribution in changing attitudes about the draft that led to its abolition a few years later. "Don't Look Now" is a pleasant ditty with an unremarkable tune that serves as a companion piece to "Fortunate Son" in that it points out that the unpleasant tasks like mining, farming, etc. that allow our economy to thrive have to be done by someone. I do have a couple quibbles: first, he says "it ain't you or me" but what about the miners, farmers, etc. in the audience? It is them. Oh well. Second, he says, "who'll take a leaf and grow it to a tree?" No one will. Leaves don't make trees, seeds do. And it's not anyone's job, it's nature at work.
Unlike previous covers versions where Creedence's approach simply destroyed what was good about the song to begin with, the two Leadbelly numbers they tackle on this album are just right. The fatalistic lyrics are right in line with John's worldview, and the straightforward rhythms suit this unswinging band.
That just leaves the instrumentals. As I pointed out earlier, Creedence + improvisation = bad news, and it's no different here. Someone must have told John Fogerty he was a great ad lib guitarist, because he went on to plumb the depths of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine", but he's not. He's good when he's got a nice tight lead line all practiced, but he tends to repeat himself when he's put on the spot. "Side o' the Road" is just three minutes of dull lead playing. "Poorboy Shuffle" is much worse. If they couldn't improvise on their regular instruments, who thought having them play gutbucket bass and harmonica was a swell idea? There are literally only two musical phrases in the entire piece. As an amusing snippet to illustrate the album cover, it would have been cute. As a two-minute album cut, it's disastrous.
It's hard to say if this is better than Green River. Its best moments are out of sight, but they seem to be scraping for material to fill up the LP. Call it even and say you need both records.
CCR was so successful that their sound has now become associated in many minds with the 60's. Yet, at the time, many critics thought they were reviving the 50's rockabilly sound. On Cosmo's Factory, it seems like they're deliberately setting out to make a 50's-style album.
You've got your hit singles, you've got your covers of other 50's songs, you've got your filler, and most indicative of all, you've got a sequence that indicates that some record company executive determined the song order by plucking the titles out of a hat.
Ah, but Creedence doesn't make just any 50's album. The hit singles epitomize the art form, the covers are immaculate re-creations, and the filler is so fillerly it chews nearly a quarter of an hour off the clock.
Everyone knows these hits, and they're uniformly great. "Who'll Stop the Rain" is one of the few Creedence singles that takes advantage of Tom Fogerty to create a double-guitar hook. John plays a few ringing notes, and Tom's downward chord change completes the musical idea. I love the frantic drum fills in "Travelling Band" they shift the unwavering beat for just a half-second (this song, by the way, is pure 50's rock, taken directly from Little Richard's style). "Run Through the Jungle" has the world's most threatening hand claps (probably recorded in an echo chamber) and a lyric that for years I thought was about attorneys ("Lawyers are so true"). "Long as I Can See the Light" reflects an influence you wouldn't suspect CCR of having: gospel. And it works well as a vocal quartet number (Garrison Keillor did it once).
Covers were never Creedence's strong point: from the monotonous "Suzie Q" to the unconvincing "Night Time is the Right Time", there was something about the band's approach that made their originals sound much better than their covers, but they don't quite ruin anything here. "Before You Accuse Me" could swing a little more, but John's got those blues licks down, and Tom's rhythm line pushes this number into rock territory. "Ooby Dooby" is a number we like to sing for Abe. It's got a cute little lyric (Roy Orbison considered it the dumbest song he ever did) and hops along nicely. Abe giggles when we do it.
There are lots of approaches a band can take when they've got vinyl to fill. You can record the band chatting over instrumental vamps, you can let the less-inspired members of your band take a turn at the mic, or you can play some instrumentals. Creedence takes the latter approach, and fry their listeners' attention spans with an eleven-minute version of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." The first three minutes or so are fine, the usual Creedence-not-quite-mastering-the-groove cover style, and there's even a pleasant guitar solo, with lots of quick, stinging runs. But it goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on. For Pete's sake, it's monotonous. There is a funny moment, though, when it's clear that John was listening to Marvin Gaye's version, because Marvin sings the third verse ("People say believe half of what you see, son, and none of what you hear") in a way that's hard to understand. So John just sings it phonetically ("People say you hear from what you see, na na not from what you hear.") There's an original, too, that's half filler. "Ramble Tamble" takes an exciting beginning, with a chills-down-the-back riff and spooky lyrics ("mortgage on your life"), and a nice dramatic closing (I love Tom's gradually slowing guitar slashes before the big drum roll and cymbal crashes), but sticks in about three minutes of creepy long guitar notes that completely break up the action.
The biggest complaint about this album is its incoherence. It jumps from peak to valley with no thought to establishing a mood or putting weaker songs together so as not to point out their flaws by sticking them between two monster hits. But if anybody's entitled to re-make the classic approach to 50's albums (ever listen to an old Elvis LP, lurching from ballad to rockabilly to Hollywood movie soundtrack?), it's Creedence. It's largely through their efforts that rockabilly and blues licks are still such a large part of the rock and roll vocabulary.
Pardon by my badly use of the English. I do not speak this language.
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