Favorite Albums | Honorable Mention: Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River (1969)

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 for my In Rotation column, 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 conceived this column 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 albums featured in In Rotation, consciously highlight more recent albums because I felt like I hadn’t written about enough of them.

ChronicleAnyway, 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 In Rotation album 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.

Creedence Clearwater RevivalTheir 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.

Bayou CountryThe 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.

Willy and the Poor BoysThese 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.


Bonus Anecdote

When I was a senior in high school I went with a group of classmates and a couple of teachers down to New Orleans to “gut”/work on some houses that had been flooded during Hurricane Katrina about nine months previously. We didn’t work in the notorious Lower Ninth Ward — that whole place had been cleared out some time before we got there and was a desolate wasteland — but the neighborhood where we did spend our time, St. Bernard Parish, wasn’t much better off. The entire place was dead; for one thing, the people had been forced to just pick up and leave, so we were isolated in this deserted enclave of the country that was pretty much beyond the reach of the law, but I actually meant “dead” in a more concrete sense. It took me a couple of days to notice that there was no grass. Like, actually zero. I was so unnerved by that I had to ask one of the locals what the deal was and, it turns out, the Mississippi River — as it flows through New Orleans, at least — is very brackish, so all that salt from the Gulf of Mexico came in and killed off all of the grass when the city flooded.

It probably took me another day or two to notice that there was no noise other than the racket we were making doing demo (demolition) work in the houses. It was eerie how dead quiet the air was. The awful humidity added a really stuffy quality to the silence, too. You could seriously take a dead body out into one of these neighborhoods — actually, you probably still can, which makes what I’m about to say all the more chilling — and throw the body into one of the abandoned houses and nobody would ever catch you doing it. Every once in a while a patrol car would come around to make sure no mischief was going on, but make no mistake, this was the Wild West. Anyway, when we were working on our first house I walked out into the backyard, which was littered with all sorts of junk and debris from the flood. Then I spotted a small cage, and I realized it was for a pet. I looked inside and saw what was unmistakably the remains of a white rabbit, only the carcass had been completely deflated somehow. The thought of what that poor little guy (or girl, I suppose) had to have gone through during the storm as he/she remained trapped in that cage has always been quite disturbing to me.

Somehow I managed to look past that and spot a river/stream close by, and I noticed the surface of it was covered in algae. I thought, “Whoa! This is just like the CCR song!” and took a picture of it with a disposable camera I brought with me:

Algae

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A green river, indeed.

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