Here are my reviews of CCR’s albums:
1968: Creedence Clearwater Revival (9/10)
This is an important record but it is also a flawed record. Because I like it so much I sometimes have to remind myself of that.
So first the importance: along with The Great White Wonder/The Basement Tapes and Music from Big Pink (which was released 2 months after this), this record invented roots rock. More significantly, this record has been more influential on the rock side of roots than those other records (though they’re arguably more influential on the “Americana” side of things). Most roots rock is hard to imagine without CCR, which began with this record.
This record is also great! Their cover of “I Put a Spell on You” is amazing, as is the single edit of their cover of “Suzie Q” (more on that in a moment). Fogerty’s guitar playing is barbed and ferocious and iconic; he was a more talented Neil Young before Neil became famous for playing like this (well, in a more primitive, less bluesy way).
But there some huge issues with this album that CCR resolved with later records:
- First, Fogerty improved by leaps and bounds as a songwriter. The originals here are not particularly great; some are okay but others are pretty weak and he would get much, much better.
- Second, the psychedelic effects are so not CCR and they’d drop them for the next few albums, to great benefit.
- And the album version of “Susie Q” goes on way too long.
Those three things keep me from giving it full marks, even though I want to.
CCR albums released in 1969:
Bayou Country (9/10)
Gone are the psychedelic touches that marred the debut album for some people. So yes, the band double down and commit to their sound, sounding like basically no other (white) band on the planet at this point in time.
And I love this record and I could listen to it over and over again, because I love CCR.
But the material is spotty after the hits and the record feels padded out by “Keep On Chooglin’” – a song I actually don’t mind but is pretty indicative of the way they put out records, three short LPs in 1969 instead of two longer ones.
Yes, this is more clearly “swamp rock” than the debut but I don’t think the substitution of 8 minute jam for psychedelic sound effects is as great as the critics make it out to be.
Still a great record.
Green River (9/10)
The degree to which CCR pumped out music throughout their career, but especially in 1969, seems utterly ridiculous until you look at the album lengths and realize they probably could have put out fewer albums at the expense of a few of the deep cuts. I’m not sure that would have been preferable but one of the things you learn when you spend way too much time listening to this band is that not every single thing Forgerty wrote (or “wrote” in the case of one or two songs) was up the level of the hit singles. Still, much if not most of it was and that is the case, for the most part, on Green River, one of the band’s very best albums, featuring four absolute classic CCR tracks and a bunch of stuff that varies from good to very good.
I used to consider this record one of the absolute classics of its era. But one thing I can’t shake, having listened to all of them way too many times, is maybe a slower pace and a little more internal editing might have created two complete masterpieces out of the material for three shorter records (for example). I don’t know why I feel that way now, all these years later, but I do.
Still, it’s between this one and the next one for their best album.
Willy and the Poor Boys (9/10)
For years and years I drank the critical koolaid that this was CCR’s best album. I’m not sure I ever thought that myself, but I read it so damn much that I just numbly accepted it.
But I’m really not sure about that. And that’s not to say that it’s bad – there is only one bad CCR album, and I might even go so far to say that it’s actually mediocre. Rather, though I love this and can listen to it time and again, I don’t know if it’s their best.
Yes, it contains perhaps Fogerty’s best song ever, or at least his most iconic. And it contains a couple of his other best songs. But it also has a few covers which, though good, are not exactly classic in my eyes, and at least one song that really sounds like Fogerty had run out of steam in his crazy songwriting explosion of 1969.
As I have written about Bayou Country and Green River, I think CCR would have been better served by putting out two albums in 1969 by cutting the weakest tracks from each of these records, as there is probably 15 minutes of chaff that can be found between the three of them.
But I don’t mean to sound negative. They remain one of my favourite bands of all time and his is one of their best albums. And I can listen to it over and over again.
CCR albums from 1970:
Cosmo’s Factory (9/10)
It’s mind-boggling to me that CCR’s fifth album came out two years – two years!!! – after their first. Almost to the day. That makes no sense. I know LPs were shorter back then, but jesus, that’s a kind proclivity that is more common now than it was in the ’60s.
So it should come as no surprise that this album is nearly half covers. Forgerty must have been running out of stream.
“Ramble Tamble” is a jammy, borderline prog-rock (swamp prog?) track that kind of presages where Fogerty’s ambition would go on Pendulum. There are maybe a few antecedents in their discography but not many. It’s like Rush doing CCR. It’s also the first indication that maybe this record is going to be a little more produced than the earlier albums.
“Travellin’ Band” is one of CCR’s great performances. I can’t really separate the song and performance, but the performance is just so on, and that it doesn’t matter whether or not the song is one of the great rock and roll road songs. Fogerty’s singing is fantastic, as are his solos. And the horns make sense, which couldn’t always be said of horn sections in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
“Lookin’ Out My Back Door” is the most country Fogerty had got to date in his own songs (though they had covered “Cotton Fields”). It’s also his debut on dobro. It’s another classic Forgerty song even if it’s a little overproduced (four guitars? five? a piano…).
“Run Through the Jungle” has such a classic opening – copied a million times, I feel like – that the sort of pseudo-psychedelic production of the intro and coda is forgivable. It’s nice to change it up and have the harmonica handle a hook.
When I was younger, “Up Around the Bend” was my favourite CCR song. Well, pretty close. It’s still a great song. The doubletracking on the chorus is great.
“Who’ll Stop the Rain” is one of Fogerty’s classic ballads. I think it was a pretty big hit. It’s actually the lesser of the two ballads on here, in my opinion, but it’s still good as far as these “social comment” songs go (and there were just so many of them back then).
“Long as I Can See the Light” is probably my favourite Fogerty ballad and it features a surprisingly good saxophone solo from Fogerty himself. A great song.
As for the covers…
Their version of “Before You Accuse Me” was apparently initially intended for the debut. I haven’t heard the original in a while but this is a decent, if fairly straightforward, cover.
“Ooby Dooby” is an extremely dumb rock and roll song, but the performance is excellent, so there’s that. Still the weakest thing here by a lot.
“My Baby Left Me” is another straight-up cover. It’s also another traditional rock and roll song. One thing we can say for CCR, is that there was really nobody else (big) doing this at the time.
I don’t care what anyone says, I fucking love this version of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” It’s my favourite version of the song. I used to listen to the CCR green album (too much) when I was in my teens and I could have hummed every note of the guitar solo, had I any musical ability. I don’t care if it’s too long. I just don’t care.
All in all it’s a pretty classic album. Really strong despite so many covers. It’s not their best, in my mind. That probably goes to one of the two previous albums. But it just goes to show you what strong songs and performances can accomplish. CCR was just barely deviating from the formula, but they always keep you engaged.
CCR’s sixth album in two and a half years (!!!) gets off to a good start with “Pagan Baby.” Yeah, maybe Fogerty forgot to write lyrics, but the song embodies much of what was great about CCR. And as you listen to the rest of the album, it’s a reminder of what’s missing; of why this album is the weakest CCR record to date, and why it’s their second worst.
Because, despite the presence of “Have You Ever Seen Rain?”, which you undoubtedly know, there’s not a lot of classic CCR here. And the problem, it seems, is that, on most of the tracks, Fogerty, one of the most engaging guitarists of his generation – a man who makes me love an 11-minute version of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” – decided he’d rather play keys. Sure, there’s the odd guitar solo here and there, but there’s also a keyboard solo, and far too many tracks where Fogerty barely touches a guitar.
I’m not saying bands shouldn’t change, shouldn’t innovate, shouldn’t take risks. But Fogerty is not Al Kooper. And subbing keys for his guitar playing is not a 1-for-1. (And one of the times he does break out the guitar is a weird attempt at almost going prog on us.)
And so even though this is the only CCR record to have no covers, it actually feels like the first time Fogerty couldn’t come up with enough material appropriate to his band.
All this isn’t to say it’s bad – it’s still a pretty good record all things considered. It’s just not a classic and it’s the first sign that the band wasn’t great anymore.
1972: Mardi Gras (5?/10)
I never wrote a review for this, far and away their worst album. I rated it when I was likely to be a little generous, I think. It’s fairly widely accepted that the decision to let the two remaining other band members write songs didn’t really work.