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Music Review: ‘Creedence Clearwater Revival’ [6-Disc Boxed Set]

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For a group whose entire recorded output was conceived over a period spanning just three years (1968-1971) and seven studio albums, there are few artists in all of rock and roll whose catalog has been reissued and repackaged more times than Creedence Clearwater Revival.

creedencePart of this has to do with the way that the record industry – and particularly what little still remains of the old-school model – has always conducted business. The same, basic rules of commerce that apply to The Beatles, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and the rest of those who for various reasons are mostly no longer making new music (or, at least not in the same incarnations that made their original legend), certainly do here as well.

But in CCR’s case, perhaps more than any of those other aforementioned artists save for the Fab Four, it also has everything to do with the timelessness of the music. This isn’t the first collection to reassemble CCR’s great songs in a sparkling package with a bright, shiny new bow. It isn’t even their first boxed-set.

It likely also won’t be the last. But, unless there are any more undiscovered treasures gathering dust in a vault that have somehow gone undetected for nearly a half century, this should be the definitive, final word.

creedenceboxThe self-titled Creedence Clearwater Revival gathers the band’s complete catalog – seven studio albums, and two live recordings – together with 25 pre-CCR rarities, and spreads it all out over six discs in chronological order. It comes housed in a handsomely designed box, made to look so cleverly like CCR’s amplifier brand of choice, you could easily mistake “Kustom” for the actual title.

The songs of course speak for themselves.

“Proud Mary,” “Green River,” “Born On The Bayou,” “Who’ll Stop The Rain?,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Down On The Corner,” “Lodi,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” and “Fortunate Son” only begin to scratch the surface of everything that made CCR such an enduring national treasure in those three short years.

Here you get every one of them: 121 tracks altogether including the live stuff and the rarities.

What this boxed set also does equally well though, is tell the amazing story of this incomparably great American band. The extensive liner notes here are penned by a who’s who of music critics past and present, including Joel Selvin, Dave Marsh, Ben Fong-Torres and Robert Christgau. This includes analysis of each individual recording, broken down album-by-album, and occasionally even song-by-song, and a detailed history to match.

Reading about the band’s earliest days, while listening to vintage recordings from Tommy Fogerty & The Blue Velvets (before brother John took over both as lead vocalist and principal songwriter), and particularly The Golliwogs (where the more famous Fogerty brother first began to really assert his creative leadership) is a fascinating study in the evolution of this band.

On John Fogerty’s early songs with the Golliwogs, he wears his love of ’60s Top 40 radio on his sleeve. You hear plenty of Beatles and Beach Boys influence, not to mention a few outright rips. “You Got Nothin’ On Me” basically rewrites Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven,” by way of the Beatles. There is even a song called “Brown-Eyed Girl” credited to both John and Tom Fogerty, that nonetheless has Van Morrison’s stamp all over it (though not in exactly the way you might expect).

The story takes on a sadder turn as the liner notes turn towards Tom Fogerty’s departure and CCR’s eventual split. Depending on who you talk to, either John Fogerty gave into bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford’s desire for more creative input, or he just bailed on producing the final Mardi Gras album altogether.

Either way, the resulting split was a messy one, with the wounds continuing on to the present day.

Sadly, Tom Fogerty passed away in 1990 with these differences largely left unresolved. As a successful solo artist, John Fogerty refused to perform his CCR songs for several years, before sorting out issues over publishing with CCR’s original label Fantasy in court, and eventually resigning with them. Cook and Clifford meanwhile continue to play Fogerty’s songs on the nostalgia circuit as Creedence Clearwater Revisited.

Whatever the case, and for all of their chops as the great rhythm section that put the “choogle” into “Keep On Chooglin’,” listening to Cook and Clifford’s songs again here (though they were far from bad), only reinforces that as songwriters, they were no match for John Fogerty. CCR’s brief power trio experiment likewise exposes just how much Tom Fogerty’s rhythm guitar was really missed, especially on the Live In Europe recording.

Anyway, those are the bookends of this set.

The rest of Creedence Clearwater Revival focuses on that great string of studio albums from CCR’s incredible 1968-1971 run. Taken separately, any one of these records qualifies as a greatest hits album in its own right. Which is even more impressive, considering how they were cranked out at the dizzying rate of roughly every six months, even as they maintained a non-stop touring schedule.

creedencebox2CCR was also a band of many contradictions, who wouldn’t be fully understood or critically appreciated until decades later.

You would have never known they came out of San Francisco for one thing. Those original albums – especially Bayou Country and Green River – conjure dark, murky images of forbidden Louisiana voodoo gumbo even now, and certainly much more than anything coming out of the 1960s psychedelic Bay Area scene of the day.

But for all of their success as a singles band, CCR could also lock into a stretched out, improvisational groove just as effectively as the Airplane or the Dead on extended jams like their awesome cover of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.”

John Fogerty songs like “Who’ll Stop The Rain” and “Fortunate Son” (which is just as relevant now as a commentary on economic inequality, as it was as a Vietnam protest back then) have also stood the test of time, prompting no less than Bruce Springsteen to cite him as “the Hank Williams of this generation.”

You’ll find all of those great songs here and more, from the endless well of classic hits to such overlooked gems as “Penthouse Pauper” and “Ramble Tamble.” The definitive, retrospective CCR box is all killer, no filler, and available through all the usual places from Fantasy Records beginning November 11.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.