1968 was a big year for Rock, seeing the release of The Beatles’ White Album, The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland and The Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet. Not to mention the formation of bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Free and one of America’s premier Rock n’ Roll bands, Creedence Clearwater Revival. To celebrate their 50th anniversary Craft Recordings have compiled The Complete Studio Albums (Half-Speed Masters) 7 LP Deluxe Box Set, containing all seven albums remastered and restored onto 180g vinyl alongside an 80 page book containing archival photos and new liner notes by music journalist Roy Trakin.
CCR’s lifespan may have been a short, just four years to be exact, but their music has lived on. Their eponymous debut [6/10] may lack the hooks of their later albums but it set the tone for things to come, a hurricane blast of bluesy Southern Rock. The best tracks here are the covers: John Fogerty’s snarling take on Screamin Jay Hawkins’ ‘I Put a Spell on You’, a wonderfully raucous version of Wilson Pickett’s ‘Ninety-Nine and a Half (Wont Do)’ and their eight and a half-minute psychedelic take on the Dale Hawkins original ‘Suzie Q’. The latter was their first Top 40 hit and the only one not written by John Fogerty, such are his mercurial songwriting talents.
The remastering done here by Abbey Road Studio’s engineer Miles Showell is great; it is clear and crisp and does not take away the feel and tone of the originals, the music is left to do the talking. Just as well! As we approach the next three albums Bayou Country, Green River and Willy and the Poor Boys remarkably all released in 1969, a work ethic which makes Joe Bonamassa look positively work-shy!
Bayou Country was their breakthrough, reaching seven on the US charts and containing the worldwide smash ‘Proud Mary’, a much covered and instantly recognisable classic. The B-side is no slouch either, being the evocative swampy Roots Rock of ‘Born On The Bayou’. Those two and the dirty little rocker ‘Penthouse Pauper’ show the band’s playing and John Forgerty’s songwriting have improved, his ambition to be the next Elvis or The Beatles-esque chart topper definitely gets realised.
U.S chart topper Green River continues the purple patch. It may come under thirty minutes but it hardly puts a foot wrong – with evergreen nuggets such as ‘Green River’, ‘Commotion’, ‘Bad Moon Rising’ and ‘Lodi’- short, sharp and oh so sweet! Ending on the big bluesy number ‘The Night Time Is the Right Time’, GR is their first consistently great record, a homogenous, foot-tapping blend of Country and Southern Rock with small hints of the political rage to come.
The insatiable earworm that is ‘Down on the Corner’ kicks off Willy and the Poor Boys, their fourth record. It has the political ire to match the boundless hooks, chief amongst them being ‘Fortunate Son’ – a barnstorming anti-Vietnam War rocker about Senator’s sons dodging the draft, its charms persisting despite its near constant use in films, television and video games. The working class concerns of ‘Don’t Look Now (It Ain’t You or Me)’ come in the form of delightfully bouncy Rockabilly, and the Dylan-esque societal satire of ‘It Came Out of the Sky’ is an irresistible Chuck Berry inspired ditty.
With Cosmo’s Factory they entered 1970 in just as healthy fashion. As well as the two to three-minute bops, CF features two longer tracks , the seven minute Southern and Psychedelic fusion ‘Ramble Tamble’ and their extended take on ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ which is somehow 11 minutes long. Either side of those is the usual array of irrepressibly catchy Roots Rock – the rowdy ode to life on the road ‘Travellin Band’, the happy go lucky ‘Up Around the Bend’ and the melancholic political folk of ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain’ are the cream of a very good crop.
Pendulum signalled the beginning of the end for CCR, after the recording rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty grew tired of John’s vice-like grip on things and left. The beautifully simple, plaintive melody of ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain’ was inspired by this and provided the album’s biggest hit. This album was the last one written solely by John and is more experimental, horns, saxophone and keyboards feature more prominently. On the whole it works, as the wondrously soulful ‘Charmeleon’ and the danceable groove of ‘Born to Move’ sit nicely alongside the bar room Rock of ‘Hey Tonight’. Not so much on the utterly bizarre, avant-garde album closer ‘Rude Awakening #2’.
With the departure of Tom, for Mardi Gras, John demanded/offered (depending on who you believe) that bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford write their fair share of songs, refusing to even perform on their songs. In such an acrimonious atmosphere the record suffered, the only standout song is the mournful, divorce-inspired ballad ‘Someday Never Comes’. The Clifford penned ‘What Are You Gonna Do’ is merely OK, the rest of the tracks are either forgetful or better left forgotten in this sad end to a glittering career.
Overall, though, while there is no denying the quality of the music within this glossy, well-made box-set, however at £170 / $260 on the official U.S. store it really does seem like they are asking too much for what fans already have. Only hardcore fans and collectors need apply.