Seven hit singles, three classic albums, and one legendary performance at the biggest concert in history—1969 was indeed a banner year for Creedence Clearwater Revival, and to commemorate, over the next few months, I’ll be taking a comprehensive look at all three ’69 LPs plus the (finally!) just released recording of the band’s Woodstock set.
Green River, 1969 –
The band’s second record of 1969 and third overall, Green River could aptly be described as “the album when Creedence became Creedence.” Featuring interesting interpretation of blues covers and originals not quite ready to be hits, their eponymous debut had been an odd for its time, alt-blues/rock affair. The band’s sophomore effort Bayou Country was a bit better. Frontman John Fogerty had begun taking his country/western, blues, and rock ’n’ roll influences and filtering them into a sound familiar yet unique and, above all, highly accessible to the masses. Still, there were some rough edges on Bayou—a slight lack of focus and clarity. Not so for Green River, as Fogerty laid hold on the style he established with Bayou and crafted it into a truly signature sound.
A1. “Green River”
First up is the title track, a song that, together with “Born on the Bayou,” defined the swamp aspect of CCR’s catalog and helped birth an entire sub-genre. The tune is obviously inspired by blues and rock ’n’ roll, and there’s something in the scratchy acoustic that hearkens to country and folk—all playing into the group’s M.O. as the band for the every man.
Based on John’s childhood memories of family vacations, the lyrics conjure vivid images of simple life in the outdoors, further playing into the Creedence mythos of swamp and poor folk. The music is stellar, with an E7-based riff that is, in typical J. Fogerty fashion, simple yet iconic. The use of the C chord in the key of E (which Fogerty probably borrowed from Suzie Q) also elevates the track, and the layered electric licks playing off each other add yet another level of charm. I would say the track is the perfect opener…if track 2 wouldn’t have made a better one.
#2 Billboard Hot 100
Following the grooving swampiness of “Green River,” “Commotion” comes out of left field with a screeching, hard-hitting rock guitar riff, soon joined by a perfectly matched, hammering kick drum. Then, halfway through the intro, the full kit enters, switching the rhythm the a ’50s rockabilly shuffle; the rest of the instrumentation soon joins in sync. Yet the hard-edged guitar, reminiscent of ’70s hard rock still a few years away, continues throughout, creating an unexpected blend of old-meets-new. The lyrics are a commentary on the mad rush of late 1960s American life that is possibly even more apt today.
For me, the “in-your-face,” “no apologies” attitude of the track makes it a more appropriate opener candidate than “Green River,” and I’m not entirely certain why the choice was made to kick off the project with the latter. If I had to guess, I’d say it was to open the record with the A-side and B-side of the album’s lead single. If that’s the case, I get it but would have never done it myself. Then again, I’ve never been a member of the #1 band in the world, so….
#30 Billboard Hot 100
A3. “Tombstone Shadow”
Boasting a funky-soul grove, “Tombstone Shadow” is another blues-based track with a swampy feel that continues to expand on Bayou Country‘s themes. The song recounts an actual encounter the band experienced with a fortune-teller who made ominous predictions about the group’s fate. For me, the most unexpected element and highlight of the piece is John’s quickened pace of lyric delivery on verse 2:
Said I got thirteen months of bad luck
Bound to be some pain
Don’t you do no travelin’
Or flyin’ no “machains”
It’s a perfect addition to the CCR canon.
A4. “Wrote a Song for Everyone”
The A-side closer is a loping country/folk ballad that feels like the serious brother of “The Weight” by The Band. You see, instead of recounting a humorous tale about a town full of colorful characters, “Wrote a Song” seems to paint a portrait of the Civil War then compare that period of American history with the sociopolitical climate of the late 1960s. But the crux of the song is actually Fogerty lamenting his ability to speak to the whole word through song yet having problems communicating with his wife. The song packs a wallop and might be Fogerty’s best ever. It’s certainly the best on the record.
B1. “Bad Moon Rising”
Opening the record’s B-side is the most iconic song on the release, “Bad Moon Rising,” a straight-up Sun Records rockabilly tune. But the gritty, high tenor John is unmistakably not Elvis, Johnny, or Carl, and the portentous lyrics about the pending end times are a delightful juxtaposition to the toe-tapping music. Seriously, it must be the happiest-sounding song ever written about the apocalypse. Another CCR signature track.
#2 Billboard Hot 100; #1 UK
An easy country/rock ballad that would have also sounded quite at home on an Eagles record. The song placement seems to be another case of an A-side/B-side single tandem, but unlike the “Green River”/“Commotion” combo, “Lodi” seems a perfect follower to “Bad Moon,” offering a smooth country respite from a hand-clapping cataclysm. The lyrics are a fine example of country balladeering, chronicling the rise and fall of a professional singer, though as Fogerty later semi-joked, he wasn’t actually “stuck in Lodi” when he penned the song—that happened later.
#52 Billboard Hot 100
B3. “Cross-Tie Walker”
The project takes its first step down with another straight rockabilly track. Unlike “Bad Moon,” “Cross-Tie Walker” features a mellower J. F. vocal and lyrics about the poor class. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; the song simply lacks the elements necessary to make it as special as “Bad Moon.” There is an unusual walk-down throughout, however, that elevates the track a bit and also gives underrated bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford something “cool” to do. It definitely belongs on the record. In fact, the lyrics tie directly into the title track’s story, similar to the “Keep on Chooglin’”/“Born on the Bayou” relationship on Bayou Country.
B4. “Sinister Purpose”
Another down-step, “Sinister Purpose” hits the requisite swamp/blues musical and hoodoo lyrically marks but is far inferior to most of its brethren, often feeling like a generic late ’60s rock track that could have been recorded by any number of period acts. It probably would’ve fared better on Bayou Country, and it’s definitely the weakest track on the album.
B5. “The Night Time Is the Right Time”
An exceptional cover of a blues standard, most likely perfected during the group’s stint as a bar band. It’s reminiscent of the band’s work from their debut, only tighter and more polished. As great as the rendition is, however, the song feels out of place on a record where blues is otherwise relegated to being a component of swamp rock and all other songs lean toward one wave or another of the country spectrum. Subsequently, it isn’t a particularly fitting closer.
While odd track-placement and a couple of lesser cuts keep the record just shy of perfection, every other element makes Green River one of the best albums ever from one of the greatest bands of all-time.
Related:Creedence Clearwater Revival 50th Anniversary Special, Pt. 2 – Live at Woodstock Creedence Clearwater Revival 50th Anniversary Special, Pt. 3 – Born on the Bayou Creedence Clearwater Revival 50th Anniversary Special, Pt. 4 – Willy and the Poor Boys