Thursday, September 13, 2012

Recognizable Revival: Creedence Clearwater Revival's Chronicle, A Decent Best-Of Album!

The Good: Lyrics, Moments of instrumentals, Moments of voice
The Bad: A few duds or less-inspired tracks
The Basics: Creedence Clearwater Revival was more than just a voice in the right place at the right time and Chronicle offers future generations the chance to appreciate that.

As I finally catch up on my many music reviews - I've been quite backlogged in that section, among others - I find myself writing to the Creedence Clearwater Revival compilation album Chronicle. This is only the second CCR album I've ever listened to, the other being Willy And The Poor Boys and I think this might be the only one a casual fan of Creedence Clearwater Revival actually needs. After all, it does seem to be chock full of all of the radio hits.

The truth is, I was very close to not picking this album up. I've just finished a pretty terrible job, working a little to the left and under Hell itself. It was a job filled with very masculine men who only listened to the two local radio stations that blared the same one hundred Classic rock songs day and night. Seriously; one hundred. One day, I counted and whenever I stayed more than eight hours, I would inevitably hear them start to duplicate tracks I heard at the beginning of the shift. These Classic Rock stations in my area seem to only know a pretty limited selection of rock and roll songs, all by men (Sidenote: if you ever want to truly upset a whole lot of very blue collar, working-class redneck - and yes, there is a difference between working-class and redneck! - homophobes, all one has to do is suggest that there is something inherently gay about listening only to male musical artists!) and after six months in that environment, I have pretty much sworn off anything even bordering on Classic Rock. My mom wanted to listen to my Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers Greatest Hits and I threw it out the window. So that I even gave Chronicle a chance shows some serious fortitude on my part.

That said, it takes very little endurance or willpower to listen to and enjoy this album. For sure, between the two stations I shall never listen to again, I heard "Bad Moon Rising," "Down On The Corner," "Fortunate Son," "Who'll Stop The Rain," and "Have You Ever Seen The Rain?" at least once a day for the past six months, but still Chronicle deserves the attention of anyone who likes Classic rock or even folk-rock music.

With twenty tracks, clocking in at 68:10, Chronicle is a wonderful retrospective of the radio hits of Creedence Clearwater Revival, one of the seminal bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s. They were part of the antiwar movement with songs like "Fortunate Son" and despite the fact that Ike and Tina Turner pretty much made it their own, it is CCR who originated "Proud Mary." The quartet evolves on the tracks on this album from a cover band ("Suzie Q" and "I Put A Spell On You" were both Screamin' Jay Hawkins tracks) to a true American original. Led by John Fogerty, who wrote all of the other songs on Chronicle (save "I Heard It Through The Grapevine"), Creedence Clearwater Revival stuck together as a small band that hit it big. They are a guitar and drum-driven band with a somewhat limited sound. John Fogerty arranged and produced every song on the album and for a compilation album, it holds together as a remarkably cohesive musical work.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of Creedence Clearwater Revival is the quality of the lyrics the group sings. John Fogerty is a gifted songwriter and Chronicle illustrates some of his best musical poems. His songs range from social commentary ("Proud Mary," "Fortunate Son") to slice-of-life vignettes ("Down On The Corner," "Lookin' Out My Back Door") to musings on the nature of existence ("Have You Ever Seen The Rain?"). Fogerty delves into the purely emotive as well, with songs like "Someday Never Comes." On that track, he writes quite articulately, "Well, time and tears went by and I collected dust, / For there were many things I didn't know. / When daddy went away, he said, try to be a man, / And, someday you'll understand. / Well, I'm here to tell you now each and ev'ry mother's son / You better learn it fast; you better learn it young, / 'cause, someday never comes" ("Someday Never Comes"). He is able to capture longing and disfranchisement quite well.

Moreover, he clearly has a spiritual side to him, which allows his rock and roll to have strong crossover appeal to Country and folk music fans. There is a strong undertone of spirituality to the way he sings the plainly written "Long As I Can See The Light," with its lines, "Guess I've got that old trav'lin' bone, 'cause this feelin' won't leave me alone. / But I won't, won't be losin' my way, no, no / 'long as I can see the light. . . / Put a candle in the window, 'cause I feel I've got to move. / Though I'm going, going, I'll be coming home soon, / Long as I can see the light." That type of more subtle and genuine spirituality has a bit more class than much of today's Christian Rock, making it a nice alternative to those who don't want a message shoved down their throats.

That said, much of Creedence Clearwater Revival is packed with message and meaning. Possible the most obvious example of this is their classic antiwar anthem. I have often said that what the nation needs now is for the aging hippies to get off their butts and start preaching again. And yes, we need people my age who were raised on Yoda's opening lines to stand up and represent as well [because no one ever seems to get that reference, when Luke Skywalker first meets Yoda, he references his father as a great warrior, to which Yoda responds, "Wars not make one great" in "The Empire Strikes Back"]. Perhaps those in power would stop sending the children of poor folk off to war if they truly understood lines like "Some folks are born silver spoon in hand, / Lord, don't they help themselves, oh. / But when the taxman comes to the door, / Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale, yes, / It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no millionaire's son, no. / It ain't me, it ain't me; I ain't no fortunate one, no" ("Fortunate Son"). Then again, maybe not. For a bunch of people educated at the best universities in the United States, Congress sure is full of people who fail to learn from history's mistakes.

The fortunate thing about the United States is we have just enough freedom to make art and so long as it is commercially successful enough, it shall endure until a generation truly "gets" it. That is what Chronicle is good for. Sure, there might have been a generation who "got it" for a time, but wow did they abandon that for a driveway and a mortgage! Chronicle reminds the listener of the joys of the simplicity of rain and making music. There is no shame in the poor making music on tracks like "Down On The Corner" and "Lodi."

Where Creedence Clearwater Revival's Chronicle shows little growth is in the vocals. John Fogerty presents virtually all of the songs from the safety of his mid-range vocal tone. He has a voice that goes from smooth ("Green River," "Have You Ever Seen The Rain?") to scratchy ("Hey Tonight," "Commotion") but he never seems to go for the higher notes. Instead, he plays it safe and while it is a good niche, it does make listening to Chronicle over and over again somewhat tiresome.

Similarly, the instrumentals are pretty much set in the classic rock/Southern rock equivalent of a garage band sound. It is all guitars and drums, interrupted only by tracks that use less of the same. So, for example, "Commotion" features a more electric sense of the twanging guitars than the usual strummings on "Bad Moon Rising," but they are both the same instrument set. Occasionally the vocals manage to overpower the guitars and bass, like on "Long As I Can See The Light," but for the most part, this is a funky, folk-rock sound that borders on classic Country.

This is, of course, indicative of the style of popular music from the five years encapsulated by the career of Creedence Clearwater Revival encapsulated in Chronicle. And for a historical document, it is remarkably fresh and listenable to even now.

The best track might well be "Fortunate Son," the low point is the cover "Suzie Q," which just sounds annoyingly simplistic next to Fogerty's lyrics on other tracks.

For other classic albums or artists, check out my reviews of:
Covers - James Taylor
Break Every Rule - Tina Turner
Rumours (2-disc version) – Fleetwood Mac


Check out how this album stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Music Review Index Page where the reviews are organized best to worst!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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