Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River
Original Release Date: August 29, 1969
When you’re a student of heavy music such as myself, you often come across a recurring discourse on what exactly it means for something to be heavy. Is it volume? Speed, or lack thereof? Intensity? Satanic overtones? Of course, the right answer is that’s not really any single one of these things, and for all we know it might not even be their sum. But you hear this kind of thing a lot lately, as increasingly accessible works by premier metal bands such as Baroness, Mastodon, Torche, Opeth, etc. continue to blur the definition of heaviness, and spark some pretty fierce controversy between “smart bearded dudes who like lame stuff like texture”, and “stubborn teenagers who think anything less than Pig Destroyer is pussy bullshit”.
And while I don’t necessarily defend or prefer the decision of heavy bands to get less heavy, I can certainly get behind the idea that heavy music is defined by something far broader and less palpable than decibel levels, shrieks, and brutality. My favorite Beatles song, “Girl”, is fucking heavy. There’s a Riot Goin’ On by Sly and the Family Stone is fucking HEAVY. And don’t even get me started on Animals. These are bands that couldn’t be further from superficial metal stereotypes, but there’s something about these examples which is truly and undeniably heavy. If you ask me, anyway. Which you didn’t.
Anyway, this week I’m really happy to be reviewing an album that will be turning 45 on Friday, my favorite Creedence album without a doubt, and a perfect example of how a very non-metal band can still make something that is undeniably dark, sinister, and truly heavy.
Creedence Clearwater Revival put their self-titled debut album out in 1968. It was a great album with some minor radio hits, bluesy jams, and a slightly uneven indication of great potential. It’s follow up, 1969’s Bayou Country, mostly followed and deepened the same general formula, however it also contained the smash hit “Proud Mary”, which you might consider the song that really put John Fogerty (& co) on the map. Basically, it was a big enough hit that Creedence could easily have taken the straight rails to commercial success and choogled their way into stardom with a bright follow-up full of pop hits and folky sing-alongs. Rather, later in the same year, they decided to proceed with Green River, which took the path less traveled, opting instead for consummate artistry over radio playability. Sure, it’s got “Bad Moon Rising”, another pop smash, but come on, listen to the damn lyrics. “Proud Mary” was all warm, fuzzy kinship in some riverboat utopia, but “Bad Moon Rising” could not more directly refer to the goddam apocalypse. Quite prepared to die, indeed.
Other recognizable classics on this album include the title track, which simply sounds dark as hell, “Commotion”, a frenzied dismissal of the hustle-bustle, corruption, and vice in modern society, and “Lodi”, an utterly depressing tale of the 999 John Fogerties that fail for every one who makes it as a struggling songwriter. Not much in any of this to be happy about. In between are mostly bluesy jams, but they are much sharper and more focused than those of the previous albums, and consistently maintain an atmosphere of paranoia, misanthropy, and despair. I mean just look at their titles – “Tombstone Shadow”, “Sinister Purpose” – death and darkness abound. There’s also a great ballad called “Wrote a Song for Everyone”, which isn’t remembered as fondly as “Who’ll Stop the Rain” or “Long as I Can See the Light”, but it’s truly beautiful, and, of course, as devoid of hope as the rest of the songs on this epic downer of an album. Things close off in a really big way, with a cover or Ray Charles’ “The Night Time is the Right Time”. While it can only offer so much in the way of real consolation, it’s certainly an opportunity for Fogerty to forget all of the bullshit and tell the rest of the world to fuck off, because it’s time to fucking rock. He might fear society’s progress, fail at communicating with his lover, and foresee the fiery demise of all things, but at the end of the day he has his own way, perhaps his only way, of attempting redemption, and it comes in the form of screaming, electric, homage to the eternal fountain of rock and roll. So no, real problems may not have been solved, but for 3 minutes we have as good a reason as any to forget about them and feel good. Damn good.
Creedence Clearwater Revival is an incredible band. At a time when rock history was mostly being made under the banner of Great Britain, Creedence was back here in the States doing their own thing, their own very American thing, and doing it incredibly well. They deserve as much recognition as they can possibly get, and not just for the heavy handful of radio hits that everyone knows. Ironically, while it might have the least commercial shine of all their albums, I would certainly recommend Green River as a great starting point for someone who wants to delve a bit deeper into the band (and all of you should). It’s just….so good. I’m going to stop talking about it now.
Also “Tombstone Shadow” has one of my favorite guitar solos of all time.
Listen to the whole thing right here: