But the six albums Creedence released at a breakneck pace from 1968-70 earned the band, and particularly John Fogerty, a lofty place in rock history. The band’s eponymously titled debut, propelled by their hit version of Dale Hawkins’ “Suzie Q,” launched them into stratospheric fame, missing Billboard’s Top Ten by one point. Another cover, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,” introduced thousands of suburban kids (myself included) to a grittier, darker bayou sound, and prompted us into an investigation of the roots of the sound that CCR espoused. Another highlight of the debut is “Porterville,” a song Fogerty had written some years earlier, and considers his first “real” composition.
What makes this freshman effort important is it marks a departure, and a transition, in rock’s late adolescence from flower power to more of an everyman experience. Creedence was a band that had spent years (in various incarnations) honing their craft in clubs and bars. In the process, they built their own version of rock mythology, one more closely aligned to bar patrons than making social statements. The album largely reflects the values of a working band stretching their wings. The 40th anniversary edition of Creedence Clearwater Revival is a noteworthy remaster of the debut album, containing four bonus tracks, including “Call It Pretending” (the B-side of the band’s first single), their first recording of Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me” (found later on Cosmo’s Factory), as well as live versions of “Ninety-Nine and a Half” and “Suzie Q.” Former Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres, wrote the booklet notes, which also includes reproductions of the singles’ package art, and photos of the band at the time.
As auspicious as the debut was, “Suzie Q” barely missed cracking the Billboard’s Top Ten, topping at #11, and the second single never made the Top 40. It wasn’t until the dying days of 1968, when the band released “Proud Mary,” and its B-side “Born On the Bayou,” that the band exploded on the scene. Released in advance of the band’s sophomore album release Bayou Country, the single was a smash hit, and inspired countless covers. No less a personage than Bob Dylan declared it his favorite record of the year. Creedence were suddenly stars, and Bayou Country went platinum. The British Invasion and psychedelica were effectively demolished.
Bayou Country was more than CCR’s first major hit — as San Francisco Chronicle critic Joel Selvin says in the notes that accompany the reissue, “it announced Creedence Clearwater as a bright, vital force in rock and staked a place for what was yet to come.” Creedence had created a sound that was born of a mythical south that never existed, but resonated with the romance of a Mark Twain novel combined with a vaguely outlaw spirit. Besides Selvin’s illustrated notes, the reissue includes an extended take of the jam “Bootleg,” more definitive of the Creedence sound. It also features versions of “Born on the Bayou” and “Proud Mary” from the band’s farewell 1971 European tour. By this time, Tom Fogerty had left the band, and these recordings are interesting historically, showing a band on the verge of doing their separate ways. While those performances represent a shadow of the band at its prime, the 1969 live jam “Crazy Otto” displays the band at its most playful.