Creedence Clearwater Revival

Creedence Clearwater Revival (Fantasy Records)

Success has its price, and in the case of Creedence Clearwater Revival that price came in the form of the critical beating the band took during its peak years. It seems that the string of hit albums and Top 40 singles that CCR unleashed between 1968 and 1970 triggered a backlash among heady critics who dismissed the music as empty-headed pop.

But CCR's raw, blues-based music was far more than that. For the most part, it was delivered in short, powerful and perfectly crafted punches that countered the hippie anthems of the day. But pundits missed that. They were looking the other way and listening to bands steeped in drug-induced pretensions that aspired to art.

Time has been kinder to the San Francisco quartet than its naysayers once were. Fantasy's new six-disc retrospective shows that John Fogerty -- the eight-cylinder engine behind the CCR muscle car -- was right all along.

Collected for the first time in one anthology, Creedence Clearwater Revival delivers the band's whole story from its humble, garage-band beginnings to its glorious chart-topping apex to its slightly painful final sessions.

No doubt the priggishness that Fogerty, his brother and fellow guitarist Tom, bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford encountered in those days stemmed from the years they spent playing Bay Area bars doing cheesy cover work. Operating under such embarrassing monikers as "Tommy Fogerty & the Blue Velvets" and "The Golliwogs," they earned a reputation as sincere but slightly misguided rock 'n' rollers. It was only after John -- a true visionary -- took the wheel and transformed the group into working-class rock 'n' roll throwbacks that they finally found their niche. While their late-'60s peers were swimming in bong water, Fogerty and Company celebrated swamp water.

But it was more than just an act; these guys really sounded like they crawled out of some backwoods Mason-Dixon holler. And unlike much of the competition at the time, they didn't have to break a sweat to ring true.

Their creepy "Graveyard Train" is a perfect example. Sung by an anguished corpse, the song tells the story of a tragic highway pileup. John Fogerty's ripsaw vocals are as spooky as anything ever delivered by Howlin' Wolf or Skip James, and are far more sinister than Mick Jagger's theatrical posturing in the revered "Midnight Rambler" (recorded the same year). Plus Fogerty blows a much meaner harp than Jagger did.

More important, Fogerty didn't stoop to the minstrel-show antics that his British Invasion contemporaries injected into their R&B covers. As Jagger, Eric Burdon, Robert Plant and the rest magnified their "blackness" to buy credibility, Fogerty delivered "Cotton Fields," "The Midnight Special," "Suzie Q" and countless other creaky old tunes in a more straightforward, refreshing and less condescending manner. An argument could even be made that CCR's cover of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" dwarfed the Marvin Gaye hit version.

Meanwhile, Creedence turned out the hits faster than Jim Morrison went through 12-packs of Schlitz. "Proud Mary," "Bad Moon Rising," "Green River," "Lookin' Out My Back Door" and "Who'll Stop the Rain" are just a few of the titles from their catalogue of Top 10 classics. Best of all, they did it all in two years: about the same amount of time that rusty songsmiths like Neil Young and Paul Simon spend gazing at their navel.

It wasn't a completely flawless ride. When they signed with Fantasy, it may have been the worst record deal in history. And once in a while the band made a maudlin misstep, such as the long-faced "Wrote a Song for Everyone." Toward the end, the missteps became more frequent.

Pendulum, their last album as a foursome, revealed the ideas were running thin. ("Rude Awakening #2" is as pretentious as its title.) Then brother Tom finally had it with John's dictatorial leadership and quit. So the next disc, Mardi Gras, was a trio effort, with Cook and Clifford demanding and receiving equal time as writers and singers, and it made for an uneven mix. But John Fogerty had the last laugh: closing the record with the explosive "Sweet Hitch-Hiker," a three-minute assault that is as good as anything Creedence ever recorded, and proving once again you shouldn't mess with a great thing.

 
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