Monday, December 16, 2013

Creedence Clearwater Revival: “Boxed Set” (2013) CD Review

I was born the year that Creedence Clearwater Revival officially disbanded. But while growing up their music was constantly on the radio – particularly songs like “Down On The Corner,” “Travelin’ Band,” “Proud Mary,” “Fortunate Son” and of course “Bad Moon Rising.” I loved it all, and in my early teens I started purchasing CCR cassettes. And that’s when my affection for this band grew. The songs that weren’t always on the radio were just as great as those that were.

Now, with the Creedence Clearwater Revival Boxed Set, I have a chance to revisit all their material I loved, plus hear some early tracks I’d never heard before. This is a music feast for anyone that likes rock and roll – actually, anyone who likes music. CCR is a band you can rely on. Their music makes me feel so good, though of course it’s far from being any sort of pop fluff. Their music has an honesty that you can feel from the very first time you listen.

Besides the first disc, the rest of this collection is basically the band’s official album output, without bonus tracks (except for the promotional single, “45 Revolutions Per Minute” on the fifth disc). I do wish there were one more disc with more bonus material. But that’s not what this set is about. This box set is a celebration of this incredible band’s records.

Boxed Set includes a 76-page book, full of photos and information on the band. I love the way the box is constructed, with sleeves within sleeves to protect each disc and ensure it won’t slip out. Very nice. Plus, the inner sleeves create one big photo of the band when you place them side by side.

Disc 1: 1961-1967: Pre-Creedence

The first disc is mostly stuff I hadn’t heard before. The first four tracks are from two singles put out under the name Tommy Fogerty & The Blue Velvets. “Come On Baby” is early rock and roll with a heavy piano base, which I dig. That’s Stu Cook on piano, before he switched to bass. “Oh My Love” is a slower, pretty early sixties tune. By the way, both tracks were written by Tom Fogerty, who sings lead.

“Have You Ever Been Lonely” was the first recording written by John Fogerty. It’s quite a bit different from what he’d write later. This is more standard fare, but still quite good. I like the piano. The flip side, “Bonita,” is a fun track written by Tom and John, with some nice work on guitar.

The rest of the tracks are from when their name was changed to The Golliwogs. The first couple of these are from 1964, and you can certainly hear the influence of the British invasion on “Don’t Tell Me No Lies.” “Little Girl (Does Your Momma Know)” has a Beach Boys influence, particularly in the vocals. What I really like on that track is the guitar.

“Where You Been” and “You Came Walking” composed the last single with Tom Fogerty singing lead. This was released in 1965. “You Came Walking” is a looser and energetic tune. Check out those great moments on guitar.

Things start getting really interesting with “You Can’t Be True,” with John Fogerty on lead vocals, and some cool work on harmonica, and some interesting phrasing in the vocal line. It’s a seriously cool song. Some studio banter begins “You Got Nothin’ On Me,” which is a fun early rock and roll number. But it’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” where you really start hearing hints of the direction the band would take. It’s a very cool tune, with a good slow groove at the beginning. And John’s vocals have moments of great raw and wild beauty.

“Fight Fire” has an incredible energy to it, and is a groovy mid-sixties gem. I actually really dig its flip side, a very catchy tune called “Fragile Child.” The most interesting Golliwogs single is probably “Walking On The Water,” with its steady beat on the drums and John’s excellent vocals, and then that wild guitar part in the second half of the song. (It would later be reworked as a CCR song.) The flip side, “You Better Get It Before It Gets You,” is likewise a really good tune, with a nice soul groove in its first half, and then some unexpected changes.

There is a lot of previously unreleased music on the first disc, including the very poppy-sounding “I Only Met You Just An Hour Ago,” the fun “Gonna Hang Around,” the British-influenced “Try Try Try,” the seriously cool “Instrumental #1” and the excellent rock tune “Little Tina.” Also previously unreleased was the proposed 1967 single of “Tell Me” backed by another excellent version of “You Can’t Be True.” The first disc ends with a promo spot.

Disc 2: 1967-1969

The second disc contains the first two Creedence albums, but starts with one more Golliwogs song, “Call It Pretending.” This song has an early rock and roll feel and is definitely catchy.

We then get into the CCR material, starting with a glorious rendition of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You.” This was the first version of this song I heard when I was a kid, so it will always have a special place in my music world. The extended instrumental section is delicious, particularly the guitar. I could listen to this for hours.

That first album also includes the band’s amazing cover of “Susie Q.” Again, this was the first version of this song I was exposed to. (Well, actually, it was the shorter radio version.) At eight and a half minutes, this track has a wonderful jam, and I completely love the end. “Get Down Woman” has a great bluesy feel. “Porterville” is a fantastic and kind of strange tune that was released as the first single under the name Creedence Clearwater Revival. “Walk On The Water” is a reworking of the Golliwogs’ “Walking On The Water.” I love the bass on this track. And I love how this band can somehow pack a jam into four-minute songs.

The second album, Bayou Country, kicks off with one of CCR’s great, intense numbers, “Born On A Bayou,” with John’s vocals ripping and tearing. I love the raw, mean vibe of “Graveyard Train,” with some nice emotional work on harmonica. And I like the way the song is in no hurry, with that good groove repeating, like a train itself slowly making its way through some scary territory. Of course, the biggest tune from this album – and perhaps the biggest of the band’s career – is “Proud Mary.” The disc concludes with that nice long groove, “Keep On Chooglin.’”

Disc 3: 1969

The third disc contains Green River and Willy And The Poor Boys. According to the extensive liner notes, Green River is John Fogerty’s favorite CCR album. It has some of the band’s best and most well-known material, including the title track, which kicks off the album. It’s a great tune, but I much prefer the second track, “Commotion.” This is such a fantastic song, with a great driving beat. I also love the way the harmonica supports the rhythm under that lead guitar section. That tune is followed by the excellent blues tune, “Tombstone Shadow,” and then one of my favorites, “Wrote A Song For Everyone.” If you haven’t heard “Wrote A Song For Everyone,” you should certainly check it out. It’s a wonderful, heartfelt slower number.

This album also includes that other CCR monster, “Bad Moon Rising” (which rivals “Proud Mary” as the band’s most popular song). You all know it; it’s been in a lot of films (An American Werewolf In London, The Big Chill, My Girl, Blade). This song still totally works, no matter how many times you’ve heard it. Some of my favorite CCR material is the slower, thoughtful stuff, like “Lodi.” What a great sad song. Green River ends with the absolutely splendid “The Night Time Is The Right Time.”

The band’s fourth album, Willy And The Poor Boys, kicks off with what is probably their most fun tune, “Down On The Corner.” It’s ridiculously catchy and is sure to get you dancing. “It Came Out Of The Sky” keeps things moving. I love the band’s cover of Leadbelly’s “Cotton Fields.” Great country folk. It’s followed with some back porch folk, “Poorboy Shuffle,” with harmonica and washboard. The drums come in toward the end, taking us directly into “Feelin’ Blue,” whose chorus’ vocal line feels like some precursor to 1970s pop and disco. (Or is that just me?) “Fortunate Son” is one I listened to over and over when I first got into CCR, and it still hits me every time. This band wrote a hell of a lot of great material in a relatively short time. They also did some well-chosen covers, including “The Midnight Special,” a song I will always associate with CCR, as this was the first rendition I ever heard.

Disc 4: 1970

Disc 4 contains Cosmo’s Factory and most of Pendulum (the last two tracks are on the fifth disc). Cosmo’s Factory might be my favorite CCR album, if I were forced to choose one. It kicks off right, with the energetic bluesy rock tune, “Ramble Tamble,” which has an interesting change partway through, with a long instrumental section, then going back into the main rock section. “Travelin’ Band” is a great, quick rock and roll tune, one of my favorites when I was a kid and a song I still totally enjoy.

“Lookin’ Out My Back Door” is a wonderful, catchy number. But it is when we get to “Run Through The Jungle” that I get really interested. That’s followed by another excellent rock tune, “Up Around The Bend.” “Who’ll Stop The Rain” has a sweet sound, but the song that really makes me favor this album is “Long As I Can See The Light,” one of my favorite songs. It’s so bloody beautiful. I could listen to this one all night, and it never fails to affect me.

There are also some good covers, including “Before You Accuse Me,” “Ooby Dooby,” a very good rendition of “My Baby Left Me” and of course “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” This is that great eleven-minute version, with its groovy jam.

Pendulum opens with “Pagan Baby,” with a driving beat. “Sailor’s Lament” has a brighter, more pop feel. The album’s big hit was “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” It’s a great song, much better to my ears than the other rain question, “Who’ll Stop The Rain.” One of the other highlights on this album is the Booker T-like jam in “Born To Move.” Very cool. That’s followed by a great, high-energy rock and roll song, “Hey Tonight.”

Disc 5: 1970 (Studio & Live), 1972

The fifth disc includes Mardi Gras and most of The Concert, but starts with the last two songs from Pendulum, including a bright, fun early rock and roll type tune, “Molina,” with a false ending, and an interesting and strange instrumental tune, “Rude Awakening #2.” There is then the promotional single, “45 Revolutions Per Minute,” which I’d never heard before. It’s an odd little record, with sound effects and applause, focusing on a fake radio interview with the band (the answers oddly rendered generally inaudible). The first part ends with the line, “This is the end of Side 1. Turn me over.” The second part continues with the fake interview. Interestingly, one of the questions is “What are you going to do when the bottom falls out?” That ends with the band singing, “Thank you, Mr. J.”

Mardi Gras finds CCR a trio, Tom Fogerty having quit the band. The sound is certainly different, the first tune, “Lookin’ For A Reason,” much more firmly in the country realm. Also, this album features several tracks written by Stu Cook and by Doug Clifford, on which they sing lead. These aren’t bad songs, but they’re different from what the band had been doing under John Forgerty’s guidance. Overall, this album has much more of a country feel. Listen to Doug Clifford’s “Tearin’ Up The Country” for example. By far, the best song on the album is John Fogerty’s “Someday Never Comes,” which is up there among CCR’s best songs. Also featured on this one is John’s “Sweet Hitch-Hiker.” There is one cover, a fun rendition of “Hello Mary Lou.”

The Concert was recorded on January 31, 1970 in Oakland, California. It kicks off with “Born On The Bayou.” There isn’t much in the way of extended jamming here, most of these songs clocking in at approximately the same lengths as the studio versions. Before “Green River,” you hear someone shout out a request for “Susie Q.” I love the introduction to “Don’t Look Now (It Ain’t You Or Me)”: “This is one of those traditional old country and western songs. I wrote it about a month ago.” (Of course, it had been more than a year since the song was released on Willy And The Poor Boys.) This album includes live versions of “Travelin’ Band,” “Bad Moon Rising” and “Fortunate Son,” among others. (By the way, my copy has a problem forty-two seconds into “Commotion,” with one second of empty space.)

Disc 6: 1970-1971 (Live)

The sixth disc includes Live In Europe, but opens with the last several songs of The Concert, starting with two great covers, “The Midnight Special” and “The Night Time Is The Right Time.” These are followed by the fun “Down On The Corner” and then a nine-minute version of “Keep On Chooglin.’”

Live In Europe was recorded in September of 1971, and features the band as a trio. It opens the way The Concert did, with “Born On The Bayou” and “Green River.” But this time “Green River” flows perfectly into a short bit of “Suzie Q.” This album includes Stu Cook singing lead on “Door To Door,” a tune from Mardi Gras. Another tune from that record, “Sweet Hitch-Hiker,” is also performed. There are live versions of “Travelin’ Band,” “Commotion,” “Bad Moon Rising” and a high-energy rendition of “Fortunate Son.”

The disc ends with a nice, long rendition of “Keep On Chooglin.’” This is definitely the major highlight of the album, with some great work on harmonica. The song leads directly into “Pagan Baby,” then back into “Keep On Chooglin.’” This track is fantastic (and more than twelve minutes), and it concludes this wonderful boxed set.

Creedence Clearwater Revival Boxed Set was released on November 11, 2013.

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