Green River came so close to making my 100 favorite albums list. I know I have said that about several albums I have profiled so far with these honorable mentions, but Green River was easily one of the last five — or even two or three — albums I had to leave off the list. In fact, when I initially decided to highlight honorable mentions upon the list’s completion, I thought Green River would be a pretty early selection. Instead, I opted to choose ten albums made in the last two decades because, when I looked over my list, I felt like I had leaned more towards the classics in selecting which albums should represent my taste. I still stand by the albums I picked a year and a half ago 100%, it’s just that I wanted to, for the first ten additional albums featured, consciously highlight more recent albums because I felt like I hadn’t written about enough of them.
Anyway, I feel like now is a good time to start going back over some older classics I missed the first time through. I don’t know if I will be doing ten old ones in a row or anything like that, but I feel good about selecting Green River, from a band whose entire catalog is more than four decades old now, for honorable mention number eleven. I have chosen this album mainly because I have felt badly about the lack of a CCR album on the list for quite a while now; the list feels incomplete without the presence of CCR on it, primarily because I listened to CCR’s amazing compilation Chronicle (1976) a ton growing up. Amazingly, Creedence Clearwater Revival were only around for four years, but boy, did they ever produce a wealth of great material, banging out album after album and single after single during the entire timeframe.
Their self-titled debut album was released in 1968, and it was good, but not great — the evidence lies in the singles, which were largely drawn from the album’s covers (“Suzie Q.,” “I Put a Spell on You”) instead of its John Fogerty-penned originals (“Porterville”). Furthermore, hints of psychedelia creep into the album, and considering CCR was a San Francisco Bay band and the city had just experienced the Summer of Love the year before, this isn’t entirely surprising. It is, however, mildly disappointing in retrospect, if only because it kept the band from settling into their sound earlier. By their sophomore effort, however, Fogerty and CCR had “relocated,” in a manner of speaking, to the Louisiana/Mississippi Delta area, and developed their trademark “swamp rock” persona.
The album was appropriately titled Bayou Country, and featured perhaps their signature song, “Proud Mary,” which hit #2 on the Hot 100 and has become a certified American classic. It was a huge step in the right direction, and Bayou Country was actually the first of a staggering three albums Creedence muscled out in ’69. That feat would simply be unfathomable today if Green Day had not just managed to pull off their ¡UNO!, ¡DOS! and ¡TRÉ! hat trick last year. (Even so, those three Green Day albums are all pieces of a clear whole, whereas CCR’s albums are not.) Bayou Country is very close to a great album; just seven tracks and 33 minutes in length, the album runs the gamut from the classic opener “Born on the Bayou,” which effectively announced the birth of a new — and definitive, it turns out — CCR, to my personal favorite, the acoustic “Bootleg,” to a cover of Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly.”
But Green River is where Creedence Clearwater Revival really turned into something special. Just 28 minutes long, it’s astonishingly, but never frustratingly, brief; in fact, every time I finish Green River, I always want to immediately listen to it again. Contained within Green River‘s economical running time is a surprisingly broad palette of both light and dark tunes courtesy of Mr. Fogerty, whose transformation into America’s hit-maker was nearly complete. Something he wisely jettisoned on this album alone are CCR’s long jams — one usually appeared on each side of their albums. This decision cuts the pace of the album down to a near-breakneck speed — the songs themselves, interestingly, are not especially fast — and is ultimately beneficial.
These are simply great songs to while away the time — the title track, “Commotion,” “Bad Moon Rising,” and “Lodi” eventually appeared on the aforementioned Chronicle compilation. Some of the gloomier cuts — “Tombstone Shadow,” “Sinister Purpose” — are worth a listen, too. And as far as CCR album closers go, only “Long As I Can See the Light” from Cosmo’s Factory (1970) has “The Night Time Is the Right Time” beat. (Though “Effigy” from Willy and the Poor Boys — the third 1969 CCR release — is also a favorite of mine.)
Oh, hell. Just listen to the whole goddamn album. It’s all good.