CCR: Green River (40th Ann Ed)
In honor of the 40th anniversary of their debut album, Fantasy Records is releasing the six studio albums of the band as a quartet. No word yet of their final album, Mardi Gras, which found lead guitarist John Fogerty, bassist Stu Cook, and drummer Doug Clifford as a trio after rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty quit.
John must have been on fire creatively because in March 1969, weeks after Bayou Country, they released “Bad Moon Rising” with “Lodi” on the flipside, two CCR classics with the former arguably being their definitive and most well-known song. In August of that same year, Green River was released. If Bayou County is where they found their distinctive sound, Green River is where they perfected it. The only flaw is its length, coming in at 28-plus minutes, but it’s a fair trade off for such a quick turnaround of such strong material.
A surefire way to get yourself back to the bayou is to travel down “Green River.” John’s swamp boogie guitar on the title track that opens the album lets you know your heading in the right direction to get “back down where cool water flows, yeah.” The reason the narrator needs to “remember things I love” is because many of the songs on the album are filled with gloom and doom and in his youth he was given sage advice from Old Cody Jr. that “if you get lost come on home to green river.”
One reason to feel lost is the “Commotion” of life. The band rips through this one at an up-tempo pace, reflecting the hectic nature of life as people are “hurryin' to get” where there going. However, a commotion can be raised by someone not even moving, such as those who “keep a-talkin', they don't say a word,” yet that doesn’t stop them as they “Jaw, jaw, jaw, jaw, jaw,” including those in the White House, one of John’s first songwriting slights at those in charge.
“Tombstone Shadow” is another spooky blues number in the vein of “Graveyard Train.” This time a gypsy man, “way down in san berdoo/… Said I got thirteen months of bad luck.” John’s guitar has a great tone that rings out. On the second bridge, there’s a fantastic, creepy-sounding guitar duet.
“Wrote A Song For Everyone” is a little bit country as John writes a song for those that need to be remembered: those in the welfare line, those goin’ down to war, those in jail fighting for what’s right. This is one of the many songs that show how the talented the rest of the band was as they are create music that matches whatever genre the song resembled.
“Bad Moon Rising” is about the end of the world as he knows it and the band sounds fine. Never has impending Armageddon sounded so good with John’s almost joyful delivery backed by a foot-tapping, hand-clapping beat. They might have the right idea. Shouldn’t we all be “quite prepared to die” since death is part of the price of admission in this crazy thing we call life? If you have to deal with earthquakes and lighting, hurricanes and floods, better to do it with a smile on your face and a spring in your step.
“Lodi” tells the tale of so many who “set out on the road,/ Seeking my fame and fortune,/ Looking for a pot of gold.” It’s especially poignant for the musician who, in contrast to what they hear from their friends or “the man from the magazine,” comes up short on talent or luck, seeing their one-night stand last seven months and their dreams turn to home.
“Cross-Tie Walker” has a riff similar to “Bad Moon Rising” and continues John’s fascination with trains. “Sinister Purpose” finds the Devil offering a deal to “Make you rich and wise” and the music is wonderfully evocative and menacing.
The album proper closes with the only cover “The Night Is The Right Time.” First recorded in 1937 by Roosevelt “The Honeydripper” Sykes then a year later by Big Bill Broonzy. The definitive version for me is Ray Charles’ version from 1958 where Margie Hendricks joined him. CCR do a fine job, but it doesn’t fit the mood or themes of the album.
Probably do to its short length, Green River offers the most bonus tracks of the re-issues. Two unfinished songs feature only the music. “Broken Spoke Shuffle” has serious country western twang. “Glory Be” has a British Invasion sound and Stu standouts on bass like never before, offering up some funky lines that make you wish he had been allowed to do this more often.
The three live tracks are from the band’s final concert swing through Europe as a trio in 1971. “Bad Moon Rising” from Berlin, Germany is played in their typical “slightly faster live” pace. John’s vocals are mic’d well, but his guitar sounds out of tune and over amplified so you can’t make anything else out but the drums. In this performance, some of the joy is missing and is replaced with trepidation.
The melding of “Green River/ Suzie Q” shows how close the music. In fact, the transition is seamless. The audio quality is much better in its presentation of the whole band, likely due to this performance being recorded for but cut from Live in Europe.
While the audio quality of “Lodi” from Hamburg, Germany doesn’t sound good, the bad recording actually adds to the song. The poor-sounding performance helps to exemplify why the narrator is stuck in Lodi, and sounds like an AM radio station having trouble picking up a signal.
Creedence Clearwater Revival didn’t rest on their laurels as they toured, including joining the world at Woodstock, and released Willie and the Poor Boys this same year in November.