CCR had a highly distinctive, unique sound worked out from the very beginning, a style that would sustain the band for the duration of its life cycle. Cultivating a gruff, swampy atmosphere further enhanced by John Fogerty's infectious dirty guitar tone, the band infuse this irresistible vibe into each track, in some cases animating otherwise inert numbers and transfiguring them into highly compelling rockers.
The ubiquitous presence of this sound admittedly injects a note of uniformity into the proceedings, but it suits the band so well that it never becomes a problem. Even when multiple songs adhere to this formula the band successfully endeavor to differentiate these tracks from one another, applying this atmosphere to the disparate varieties of forms assumed over the course of the album.
This isn't to say that the record is especially diverse; on the contrary, the songs are distinguished from one another due to their different melodies as opposed to differing moods that they set or tones that they evoke. Most tracks are dirty, bluesy rockers with the occasional gospel element integrated into the mix. Much of the album consists of lengthy, complex jams, which the band had an incomparable flair for from the group's very inception.
John Fogerty was still honing and refining his songwriting acumen at this point, rarely confident enough to devote much space to his original compositions. Ergo much of the album consists of covers, though the band truly makes each song their own. Thus the primitive r & b staple Susie Q is transformed into a gruff behemoth, a prolonged, anthemic rocker complete with the album's lengthiest and best jam.
Elsewhere the classic I Put A Spell On You is performed in its most haunting, harrowing rendition, boasting both exceptional guitar solos and vocals from John Fogerty, while the remaining cover, Ninety-Nine And A Half is the recipient of CCR's trademark arrangement treatments, engendering the band's unmistakable musical vision into the track.
While these covers were intended to mask John Fogerty's shortcomings as a composer, with his songwriting admittedly still in its embryonic phase, the originals present are, for the most part, very strong. While hardly a classic the band's first attempt at incorporating poppier elements into the mix, entitled Porterville, traditionally raises the ire of nearly any listener yet does little in my estimation to warrant the endless vitriolic invective leveled against it. It's the album's weakest cut, but it still mystifies me that it elicits such a violent reaction from most fans of the group.
The other originals are universally superior, however. Get Down Woman is rather generic, as is Gloomy, but they're still performed with the group's usual verve, while The Working Man certainly betrays the innate aptitude for songwriting that John Fogerty had at his disposal even from the beginning.
The best original, however, is Walking On The Water, with a catchy riff and more stellar vocals from John Fogerty. It functions as the perfect closer for the album, a sign of greater things to come on the songwriting front.
Ultimately this eponymous outing does what any debut should, namely establishing a unique sound as the band's foundation while leaving much room to grow and develop from there in the future. The group as depicted on the album may not be in peak form but they have a well defined identity right from the beginning that would continue to serve them well in the future as John Fogerty's songwriting would continue to mature and evolve over the course of their subsequent releases.
There's more to the album than the discovery of their sound, however, as there's ample substance on the debut to heartily enjoy the record on its own terms. Between the burgeoning songwriting talent of John Fogerty and the incredible instrumental chops displayed on the jams, there's much to laud on the album, a highly impressive feat for a first effort.
Thus while a far cry from their future brilliance CCR made for a worthy rock outfit from the dawn of their careers. While their debut paves the way for their future it still exhibits enough care and craftsmanship to demonstrate the inherent talents of the band, illustrating CCR's strengths while still illuminating in which directions the group would need to grow to realize their full potential.
With the group's musical template firmly established after their debut, John Fogerty was free to focus his energies elsewhere, namely on honing his songwriting skills. Thus Bayou Country only has a single cover, a dramatic reduction from the three that composed much of their eponymous outing.
While John Fogerty's songwriting has been greatly refined on this release, his track record isn't quite flawless, hence the enervated jam Graveyard Train that never really seems to go any place in particular. At eight and a half minutes it's a rather tedious ordeal, as well as something of a shock given the band's proven aptitude toward making their lengthy jams interesting and memorable. Graveyard Train accomplishes neither feat, making it the very definition of filler.
A far superior jam can be found at the end of the album with the closer Keep On Chooglin' which, despite its similar length, is far more involving and enjoyable than Graveyard Train, shifting through myriad sections as opposed the largely static and thus irredeemably monotonous content found on that particular track.
The meat of the album can be found in the shorter songs, however. The solitary cover, Good Golly Miss Molly, is adapted to CCR's signature style rather than an attempt by the band to emulate Little Richard's classic rendition. This was a wise choice as the band always excels at making covers their own, with their strengths lying in their own unique brand of arrangements.
Elsewhere Bootleg is a short rocker that seems all the shorter due to the rapid pace of the song but is thoroughly enjoyable all the way through, while Penthouse Pauper features great guitar/vocals interplay, one of those rare examples of a single artist holding up both ends of that equation, a far cry from Page and Plant or Blackmore and Gillan dynamics.
The album's true classics, however, are the timeless masterpieces Born On The Bayou and Proud Mary, two of the more prominent fan favorite staples of all of CCR's concerts. The former boats a stellar riff and great vocals with rocking guitar arrangements seemingly passing through a swampy membrane, as the entire song sounds like it's being filtered through the kind of bayou atmosphere the track evokes. The latter is a true immortal classic, with its unforgettable refrain and fantastic vocal melodies that make it, quite possibly, the band's most famous endeavor.
While Graveyard Train, which could have been a minor nuisance but was infinitely exacerbated by its extended length that make it an egregious lapse of good taste, certainly somewhat mars the album, the quality of the other tracks is sufficiently high that Bayou Country achieves its well deserved classic status. While none of the other tracks can measure up to Born On The Bayou or Proud Mary they're universally strong, with Keep On Chooglin' filling the role of the album's obligatory excellent jam while tracks like Bootleg and Penthouse Pauper provide ample entertainment even if they don't quite attain the same dizzying heights of the record's two most noteworthy highlights.
Thus Bayou Country is an excellent album, illustrating the amazing growth of John Fogerty's songwriting in such a short span of time. While tracks like Walking On The Water were indicative of John Fogerty's strong potential as a composer, it remains shocking that he could exhibit this kind of songwriting maturation in a single year, as Born On The Bayou and Proud Mary rank amongst the best material the band ever had to offer.
Ergo Bayou Country is an essential purchase for any CCR fans, as the listener can chart John Fogerty's incredible songwriting progression from his inhibited creative showing on the band's debut to the quintessential brilliance of his efforts as a composer on the exceptional follow up to their eponymous record.
The album, like their debut, is regrettably lacking in the length department, further compounding this problem with the massive runtime that Graveyard Train is allotted that swallows all too much precious time on the record, but nevertheless Bayou Country remains an excellent outing, a highly entertaining product that portrays all of the band's strengths, from their affinity for jamming on Keep On Chooglin' to their mastery of pop dynamics on Proud Mary to their relentless rocking side on tracks like Born On The Bayou. The album is simply an amazing achievement for a group at this stage of their development, and remains an immortal classic to this day.
On Bayou Country John Fogerty proved that he was capable of penning truly brilliant original compositions, yet there were only two songs that really attested to that fact; on Green River he proves that he has the capacity to write myriad tracks around that level of quality, marrying a prolific tendency to his innate gift for song craftsmanship.
Much like its predecessors Green River is a rather short outing, but this time it boasts eight originals, each a classic in its own right. The title track is another swampy anthem with a stellar riff and indistinguishable yet compelling vocals, Commotion is an eminently catchy fast rocker, Tombstone Shadow is a gripping foray into the realm of blues, Wrote A Song For Everyone is a beautiful, moving ballad, Bad Moon Rising is a bouncy apocalyptic pop tune, Lodi is heartbreaking pathos at its most sincere and touching, Cross-Tie Walker is somewhat rudimentary but is drenched in the group's irresistible sound and thus elevated to the status of a minor classic while the unjustly oft maligned Sinister Purpose may fall flat in its attempt to evoke an ominous, haunting mood ala Run Through The Jungle but is still well constructed and effective as a simple rock song.
The album's solitary cover, The Night Time Is The Right Time, also tends to get lambasted by fans and critics alike, but I find it entertaining in its primitivism, and while it certainly fails to go anywhere in particular I feel that it cultivates an infectious groove through its repetition.
The entire album is a testament to the songwriting genius of John Fogerty. It's amazing that a mere single year prior to the record he was struggling to find an artistic voice for himself, while earlier in the very same year as Green River he had difficulty conjuring enough original melodies to sustain an extremely short LP. His growth was truly remarkable, transfiguring CCR from an accomplished cover band into a first rate creative rock group.
While the album lacks any jams of the nature of Susie Q or Keep On Chooglin' to function as exhibitions for the band's skillful musicianship, they still manage to display their impressive instrumental chops throughout the album, merely distinguishing themselves through the tightness of the short tracks as opposed to being given a prolonged forum for a self-indulgent parade of solos. While I'm fond of their elongated jams this equation works better in the long run, as ultimately a musician's capacity to play his part to perfection over the course of a more compact song is often greater proof of his abilities than being granted absolute freedom for a prolonged session to play whatever he wishes.
Green River is simply a rock masterpiece, a series of brilliantly conceived songs played with extreme skill and passion. While the album directly inherits its fundamental sound from CCR's eponymous debut the strides the band had made in the short period since that record's release were truly impressive, as the group finds new and creative ways in which to employ their signature atmosphere. While CCR retain their trademark sound this is never at the expense of diversity; Green River contains everything from rockers to ballads to blues numbers to pop songs, adapting to the genres while still placing their stamp on every track. No matter how different a track sounds it remains unmistakably a CCR song, the mark of a truly great, unique band.
Thus Green River is an essential purchase for any fan of CCR or rock in general, a brilliant accomplishment that packs more imaginative hooks and creative melodies into its diminutive length than most bands contain in their entire discographies. A marriage of strong songwriting, tight performances and an enthralling atmosphere, Green River is CCR at the pinnacle of their abilities; the album isn't necessarily the group's best, but it's certainly an amazing, unimpeachable product.
Willy And The Poorboys is generally categorized as a concept album, though in a more limited sense than the norm. The album's a concept album in the way that the Beatles' seminal Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is, with this conceptuality manifesting itself in the form of a framing device. Just as the latter is meant to represent a full concert from the fictional title group, on Willy And The Poorboys CCR masquerade as the title characters in their record, delivering the album through the medium of this fabricated rock band.
The chief disparity between the two, however, relates to the nature of these collective pseudonyms; whereas the Beatles assume the identities of a famed rock outfit, CCR's sobriquets are a simple street side band, performing, as is alluded to in the opener of the same name, Down On The Corner. This makes for a far more personal, intimate listening experience compared to the grandiose scope of the Beatles outing, the work of street performers as opposed to superstars.
Willy And The Poorboys tends to be heralded as the band's best album, allegedly capturing the essence of a small, southern town. While rarely specifically addressed in the songs, the tracks are meant to convey the feel and atmosphere of life in a community of this nature, from the beauty of the simplicity represented in the cover Cotton Fields to the latent dark, violent undercurrent to these serene lifestyles depicted so harrowingly in Effigy.
Critics tend to attribute deeper meaning to any record that can be even remotely construed as a concept album, and such is the case with Willy And The Poorboys. While the album is, to a degree, evocative of the atmosphere of a small southern town, it fails to offer much in the way of insight into this way of life, while there's little in the way of conceptual unity between any of the tracks. The album lacks the profundity often pereceived in it by fans and critics alike, and its status as a concept album infuses little in the way of depth into the proceedings.
Thus it's better to simply assess the album in the manner in which all CCR records should be judged, mainly on the basis of its songwriting and performances. In this regard the album is quite strong, albeit not quite up to the level of Green River.
The album wisely opens with the hyper catchy Down On The Corner, which will immediately grip the listener with its plethora of hooks. From there the album continues with the whimsical rocker It Came Out Of The Sky, proceeding into the lovely cover of Cotton Fields.
Poorboy Shuffle, while sometimes looked at askance, is a charming harmonica interlude which segues directly into the overlong but still quite good Feelin' Blue. Elsewhere Fortunate Son is a furious rocker and likely the album's best cut, while The Midnight Special, the record's second cover, is arranged exceedingly well by John Fogerty.
The aforementioned closer, Effigy, is somewhat incongruous with its tenebrous mood and menacing lyrics; presumably its purpose is to prove that southern life isn't always idyllic, and it certainly gets this point across, but it's still an awkward note to end the album on given that there were no hints of this direction on any other track. The song itself is pretty good, while not a highlight, but it manages to stand out due to its contrast with the previous tracks.
In all Willy And The Poorboys is an excellent album. Whether or not it successfully encompasses life in a small southern town is irrelevant in the long run, as the conceptual aspect of the album is, ultimately, extraneous. What matters is that once again John Fogerty's brilliant songwriting prevails, resulting in a number of classic CCR cuts.
Willy And The Poorboys should neither be denigrated or lauded for its efforts to make a broader statement; while ambition of this nature is commendable, the album simply isn't conducive to that end. In the long run it simply feels like an unrelated collection of songs, much like any other CCR album, bereft of any overlapping themes. Also, much like nearly any other CCR album, it's a very good product, and very much worth a listen from any fan of the band.
On Cosmo's Factory, CCR are bereft of the pretensions that animated their previous outing; they don't aspire to convey the minutiae of life in a small southern town, nor do they have any ambitions pertaining to achieving conceptual status. They simply perform a collection of relatively straightforward, axiomatic rock songs, and the result is quite possibly the best album of their careers.
The lack of an attempt at overarching thematic unity doesn't diminish the artistry inherent to these songs; the songwriting is as strong and creative as ever, as nearly every track is overflowing with hooks and compelling melodies. They may not form a cohesive whole (though it's doubtful that they truly did on Willy And The Poorboys as well), but on an individual basis each song is exceptionally strong, requiring no conceptual linkage to elevate them to the level of classics.
John Fogerty is at his zenith as a composer, resulting in a filler free experience. Due to this, however, the presence of four covers is somewhat irksome. Whereas on their debut the group needed covers such as Susie Q to compensate for John Fogerty's shortcomings in the songwriting department, by this point he's so gifted in this area that the covers are invariably inferior to the originals (save one notable exception) and thus largely a waste of space (though admittedly they're quite good as well for the most part, simply not as gripping as their original material).
The exception to this equation is the group's magnificent cover of I Heard It Through The Grapevine. Despite lasting over eleven minutes it never grows tedious or repetitive, boasting an extraordinary jam and a parade of stellar solos, along with some of John Fogerty's absolute best guitarwork. This may very well be the greatest jam in the band's canon, and thus has quite deservedly attained legendary status in the group's repertoire.
The other jam, Ramble Tamble, is no slouch either, functioning as a great opener for the album. While the segments that bookend the track are rather pedestrian, the jam that's the centerpiece of the track is incredible, a testament to both the band's instrumental chops and Fogerty's brilliance at conjuring impeccable arrangements (and further ameliorating it through his capacity as the album's producer).
As stated before covers like Before You Accuse Me, Ooby Dooby and My Baby Left Me are quite solid, but they pale in comparison to the excellent original content. Travelin' Band is a quintessential fast boogie track, and an immensely catchy and enjoyable one at that, while Lookin' Out My Back Door is an infectious lighter number that's charming despite (or perhaps because of) its slightness and welcoming casual atmosphere.
Elsewhere Run Through The Jungle is a haunting, menacing sonic experience, cultivating the tenebrous vibe that was conspicuously lacking on tracks like Sinister Purpose. Up Around The Band is an excellent riff rocker with a catchy chorus, Who'll Stop The Rain possesses a solemn majesty and Long As I Can See The Light is a great moment for the album to end on.
Overall Cosmo's Factory is a masterpiece, a record that abstains from conceptual posturing or attempts at thematic depth in favor of simply being a first rate rock album. CCR prove that there's no shame in being a mere collection of rock songs with no grander purpose in sight, focusing on crafting brilliant music as opposed to loftier ambitions.
Ergo Cosmo's Factory depicts the band at the pinnacle of their powers, featuring extraordinary songwriting from John Fogerty and brilliant performances from the group. Whether jamming to old rock standards or delivering restrained, minimalist performances on heartbreaking ballads the album portrays the band at their very best. The record contains eleven songs with nary a misfire, which is enough to elevate it to the very top of the band's catalogue.
The mythos behind Pendulum states that John Fogerty was greatly perturbed by the accusations of primitivism leveraged against CCR by the critical establishment, and accordingly responded with an attempt at a more artistically complex product. Unfortunately, John Fogerty appears somewhat at a loss for how to proceed in this direction, and these changes come at the expense of the band's old strengths, resulting in an album that manages to alienate both long time fans and their intended new audience alike.
One of the album's greatest defects is its de-emphasis of John Fogerty's guitarwork, which is all too often replaced with keyboards, saxophones and the like. One of Creedence's most important assets was John Fogerty's virtuoso guitar performances, and the elimination of this ingredient substantially mars the quality of the album, while the keyboard and saxophone dominated arrangements come off as incongruous and poorly thought out.
Another component of this intended new direction for the group was an artificial inflation of many of the songs' runtimes, needlessly elongating tracks that lack sufficient musical ideas and substance to warrant these extended lengths. When not engaging in prolonged jams the band had always been quite concise with their songs, a virtue that's conspicuously absent on Pendulum.
Some of the attempts at artiness are even more misguided and egregious, hence the album's closer Rude Awakening #2, an anachronistic psychedelic track that depicts the band aspiring to jump on a bandwagon that had long since departed, rendering this trippy posturing consummately gauche on every level. Truth be told the track's so abysmal that it would have been reviled even in the heyday of the psychedelic movement, as the number's little more than an amateurish sound collage by a group that's way out of their element.
While Rude Awakening #2 is easily the nadir of the album, the remaining songs are somewhat erratic as well. Pendulum opens promisingly enough with the catchy riff rocker Pagan Baby which segues into an effective, compact jam. Elsewhere (Wish I Could) Hideaway is another solid offering, while Have You Ever Seen The Rain? ranks amongst the band's best ballads (though it's somewhat inferior to their previous rain-based anthem).
Few of the other tracks reach this level of quality, however. Tracks like Sailor's Lament and Chameleon are rather nondescript and forgettable, with little in the way of hooks to distinguish them, and they're further exacerbated by the album's lack of the classic CCR sound. In the past even lesser numbers were ameliorated by the band's signature atmosphere, but on Pendulum the weaker tracks have nothing to salvage them from the depths of mediocrity.
The album's second single (with the first being Have You Ever Seen The Rain?), Hey Tonight, is rather pedestrian with some unusually grating vocals from John Fogerty, while Born To Move is a poor song somewhat redeemed by an organ jam that, while feeling rather tacked on, is still superior to the rest of the track.
It's Just A Thought and Molina are wholly inoffensive if rather generic, with neither amounting to much in the long run, which pretty much describes the bulk of the material on the album.
Ultimately Pendulum is easily the band's weakest product to this point, likewise containing the band weakest song to this point as well, as Rude Awakening #2 is little more than a pointless stunt that betrays nothing in the way of creativity or inspiration. None of the remaining tracks are actively bad (though Born To Move would qualify without its coda), but there are only a modicum of truly worthy musical offerings. John Fogerty should be commended for trying something different, but effectively all that he accomplishes is neutering the band's sound while stripping it of many of its most precious merits.
The new style of arrangements simply doesn't work, and this is compounded by the lack of well written songs to successfully apply this newfound formula to. CCR thrived off John Fogerty's skilled guitarwork, while keyboards and saxophones sound woefully out of place on the album.
It's amazing that John Fogerty was able to pen so many great songs in the band's brief history, and thus it's understandable that his facility for composing would deteriorate at least in the short term, but this doesn't change the fact that there's simply a paucity of creative musical ideas on the album. He appears to believe that unnecessarily extending a song is equivalent to making it more complex, while eschewing the brand of instrumentation that had always served the band so well and replacing it with sterile keyboards and saxophones is akin to musical maturation.
Even if John Fogerty hadn't attempted to reinvent the band's image the album would still be a somewhat dismal outing by the band's standards, as signified by the comparatively poor songwriting on the record, but this simply serves to intensify each defect that the LP's afflicted with. Pendulum doesn't feel like a CCR album, as John Fogerty sacrificed the group's identity in favor of attempting to be something he's not (nor should he be). He seemed to lose sight of what made CCR such a great band, and the result is a tepid affair unworthy of the group's name.
When compared with other groups as opposed to their own prior work the album holds up somewhat better, as the record's best material is sufficiently strong to justify a 'good' rating. CCR were, after all, a great band, and thus their misfires are still on par with the better output of most lesser groups. Between featuring tracks like Pagan Baby, (Wish I Could) Hideaway and Have You Ever Seen The Rain? and its general lack of offensive content the album certainly has its merits, and should be credited for them; overall, however, the record remains a huge disappointment, a severe dropoff after the stellar first five LPs.
After Pendulum Tom Fogerty left the group; while this wasn't quite a devastating blow to the band, John's older brother had been an integral part of CCR, as the interplay between his rhythm guitar and John's electric had animated many a fine song. Thus the quartet was reduced to a trio which, in theory, shouldn't have posed an insurmountable problem, but, for altogether different and unrelated reasons, proved to be the death knell for the band in practice.
For wholly unfathomable reasons Fogerty's remaining bandmates, bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford, decided that they wanted to sing and compose their own songs. The reason motivating this absurd decision certainly had nothing to do with any aptitude as songwriters or vocalists, but nevertheless Fogerty acquiesced, thus resulting in the band's first and only democratic album.
Further exacerbating this already dire predicament was another stylistic paradigm shift for the band. Mardi Gras is largely a country album, with many of the tracks aspiring to capture an authentic country sound. While the group had always dabbled in southern musical motifs they had certainly never embraced country before, and on Mardi Gras they exhibit little in the way of skill for that particular genre.
The product of these two developments is an absolutely abysmal record; Cook and Clifford both prove to lack anything in the way of songwriting or singing talent, providing grating vocals and derivative, hookless country fare. Neither produced even a single halfway decent song, simply filling the record with their irredeemable, amateurish effluvia.
Even Fogerty fails to measure up to his usual standards. While Someday Never Comes is a strong, moving ballad, Lookin' For A Reason is more rudimentary country, while Sweet Hitch-Hiker is painfully generic and nondescript. He even suppresses much of his skills as a guitarist so as not to upstage the other members on their respective tracks, thus limiting his presence in any meaningful way on the album to his three originals and a single cover (Hello Mary Lou, which is wholly superfluous as well given that the band fail to make it their own, performing a competent yet completely unremarkable rendition of it).
Ultimately Mardi Gras is about the worst swansong on could hope for, betraying little in the way of the band's talent while being utterly unrepresentative of the group's musical identity. Predominantly composed of pedestrian country fare compounded by frequently noxious vocals the album never feels like a CCR LP, which is to be expected given the role Fogerty's been relegated to on the record.
John Fogerty effectively was CCR, and by de-emphasizing his role on the album the band was left with precious little to sustain them. Bereft of any particular facility for songwriting or any flair for vocals Cook and Clifford effectively create an album that truly isn't CCR, a counterfeit incarnation of the band that lacks the group's erstwhile strengths and abilities. By granting them this artistic freedom Fogerty basically sabotaged the record, though given the caliber of his own contributions it's doubtful that Mardi Gras would have been a classic even if it had adhered to the band's customary formula.
After an album of this wretched quality level the band had no choice but to disband. It's sad that a group of CCR's caliber left the music scene on such an ignominious note, but at least they spared themselves future embarrassment by recognizing that their time had come and gone.
Mardi Gras can't really be recommended to anyone; even the most diehard CCR completists should save themselves from the chthonic ordeal that constitutes listening to the album. In the long run Mardi Gras can barely be called a CCR album, as for the most part it bears no resemblance to the genuine article. True CCR material wasn't composed or sung by Cook and Clifford, wasn't generic, uninspired country fare and wasn't this far removed from their signature sound.
Pendulum may have differed greatly from CCR's usual output but at least it boasted a modicum of energy and craftsmanship, not to mention an admirable measure of musical ambition. Mardi Gras simply captures almost none of the band's strengths, presenting a rock outfit of the most generic, rudimentary variety.