Is it possible to achieve any new vistas with the oft-collected, endlessly repackaged hits of John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival? This collection, quite unexpectedly, makes the case.
Comprised of the Fogerty brothers Tom and John along with friends Stu Cook and Doug Clifford, the stunningly productive CCR was only together as a foursome from 1968-70. During that time they somehow never had a charttopping song, though Creedence in fact sold more singles in 1969 than did the Beatles — and ultimately saw a number of their songs become embedded in the culture.
In keeping, Ultimate Creedence Clearwater Revival features every one of their remarkable string of No. 2 hits — “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Travelin’ Band,” “Looking Out My Back Door” and “Green River.” Other Top 10 entries include “Up Around the Bend,” “Hey Tonight,” “Down on the Corner” and “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.” Since their early 1970s split, however, those songs have found a home in countless compilations. There hardly seems a need for yet another. Thankfully, Ultimate Creedence spends as much time reiterating the necessary but familiar favorites as it does seeking out lesser-known album cuts and tasty live versions.
That enlivens this 3-CD set, due November 6, 2012, from Fantasy Records, as the hits are not only contextualized but are in some instances born anew within their fresh musical contexts.
Over the first two discs, for instance, we hear “Walking on the Water” from their 1968 self-titled debut, “Tombstone Shadow” from 1969′s Green River, “Don’t Look Now” and their take on Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter’s “Cotton Fields” from 1969′s Willie and the Poor Boys, “It Came out of the Sky” and “Hideaway” from 1970′s Pendulum, and a few well-chosen tracks from 1972′s Mardi Gras, the group’s overlooked swan-song recording — highlighted by the poignant “Someday Never Comes” and the return-to-form thumper “Sweet Hitch-hiker.” They’re mixed and matched brilliantly with the old hits.
The third disc of Ultimate Creedence, meanwhile, features 12 in-concert performances recorded in 1970 and ’71 — and may be this set’s most important element. Over lengthy live examinations of both “Suzie Q” and “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” — songs that dated back to the band’s youthful repertoire as the Golliwogs in and around El Cerrito, California — illustrate both the power and finesse that CCR possessed. They might just have been the jam-band equal of other Bay Area contemporaries, had Creedence chosen to go that route.
Instead, their music was more often compact, short and sharp — yet still bursting with ideas. For all of the commonality found in the best-known Creedence Clearwater Revival songs (the yowling vocals, the choogling rhythms, the Southern-fried guitar licks), each stands on its own. From the rolling river adventures of “Proud Mary” to the blistering indictment of warmongers on “Fortunate Son,” from the swamp-gothic mystery of “Born on the Bayou” to the devastating life lessons of “Lodi,” from the party rock of “Up Around the Bend” to the sad goodbyes of “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” there remain these indelible characters, these deeply connective narratives.
If they sound of a piece anyway, like one thought following another, that’s likely because of John Fogerty’s central place in the songwriting process. It’s the thing that propelled their shooting-star moment — CCR would record five original albums in just three years — and ironically also the thing that drove them apart. By 1970, older brother Tom Fogerty had left. And after one album as a threesome, Creedence Clearwater Revival was no more.