Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River (1969)

Sam Cutler recently made a comment in the documentary A Long Strange Trip that’s really stuck with me. He proposes that American bands seem to have this obsession with “discovering” America. An idea that to an outsider (like Cutler), seems like preposterous. Regardless, so many of these bands voyage out into the country to explore what makes America tick, what makes it original, what makes it great. They then channel it into some sort of musical journey. To Cutler, this element is what made the Grateful Dead such a cult sensation. By blending old time folk and country with experimentation and mysticism, they embodied such a unique but all-encompassing sense of America. Pretty fascinating if you ask me.

I’m not much of a Deadhead myself but the idea is one that I can’t really disagree with. Their blend of styles is pretty preposterous – just look at how many different musical backgrounds the musicians came from. Look at how many fans they managed to rope in with that blend. To me though, the Dead encompass just one sort of musical Americana, one based in counterculture and experimentation. On the flip side of the coin, lies Creedence Clearwater Revival. Their idea of America is so vastly different from the Dead, they might as well be from different eras. And that’s what makes them so fascinating.

Counterculture was seemingly the last thing on CCR’s mind, with their idea of Americana based instead in tradition. The band instead seems to represent the values of the old world. The simplicity of life. Musically, they never experimented, sticking with catchy, straightforward bluesy rock. In a late 60s culture so obsessed with counter-culture, the fact that CCR was so popular is astounding. And compared to the absurd quantity that defined the Dead, CCR’s path is remarkably short. Releasing seven albums in just four years (three in ’69 alone) – they were really just a flash in the pan. Here one moment, gone the next.

Listening to Green River, it’s obvious why the group only stayed together so long. The genius isn’t the group. It isn’t the communal nature of their tracks. It isn’t in the balance of personalities or equally talented stars. The simple fact is – it’s all on John Fogerty. Through and through. Sure, each member contributes to the overall sound. Stu Cook lays it down on the bass, giving the band a jumpy, country feel. And Doug Clifford keeps the band chugging along with his straight-forward drum beats. But every recognizable feature of CCR stems from Fogerty. The murky, southern-twinged guitar licks. The mystical, yet not-too-cryptic lyricism (for reference – “The Night Time Is the Right Time” is the only non-Fogerty composition and it’s by far the worst track on here). The country croon. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if the band’s good-ole country boys image stemmed from Fogerty himself.

Though CCR released three albums in 1969, Green River feels quite unique even within that span. Unlike most of their albums, Green River seems to have a downtrodden, weary atmosphere. Lyrics are no longer focused on a sunny day or a nice afternoon lounging near the river. Tracks are no longer filled with upbeat riffs and carefree, good vibes. Instead, Green River focuses on the growing paranoia and anxiety of the country. Almost a premonition of the upcoming 70s, it casts a dark shadow on a group so set out to just have a good time.

Starting with the 2 and a half minute title track, Green River kicks off with a much different tone than Bayou Country. There’s obviously something menacing in the air. The guitar tone is honed in on a much different atmosphere, one with a hint of despair. Lyrically, the song is filled with nostalgia, referencing a vacation spot John Fogerty used to visit when he was younger. However, there seems to be a bit more pain behind the vocals, a sharp twinge to the instrumentation. The track slopes downwards, teetering toward melancholy. Instead of hints of longing, “Green River” is dominated by a painful nostalgic ache. A regret, almost, that the new world is no longer giving Fogerty these moments of peace.

“Tombstone Shadow” is the most obviously negative track on the album. More than just a personal story, it’s psychological, menacing and gloomy. Everywhere Fogerty travels, he’s followed by the shadow of death and it’s something he can’t shake. It’s more than than just a bad mood or a bout of melancholy. It’s an all encompassing darkness. “Lodi” continues the trend, focusing on the downsides of rural living. A rare critique from CCR, it’s centered around a theme of hopelessness. Fogerty is stuck in a lonesome town, in the middle of nowhere – and there’s absolutely nothing he can do about it. It’s the epitome of what makes CCR and Green River so great. The guitar work on “Lodi” is otherworldly, despite being so simple. I’d imagine your average guitar player could learn the riffs quite quickly – but couldn’t evoke the same emotion or conviction as Fogerty. The lyrics are negative and lonely – but once again, John Fogerty’s powerful vocals make them all the more lifelike and believable.

The album’s obvious peak is the world famous “Bad Moon Rising”. The sheer amount of movie scenes and TV openings it’s been in is absurd. It’s been featured in scenes about Vietnam, about the Civil Rights. It’s been used at the emotional climax of rom-coms. Now, it’s even used as an anthem in Argentinian soccer stadiums. It’s a definitive song of the era. In just two and a half minutes, it manages to encapsulate the political tensions and social conflict of the era. Yet it still manages to feel timeless. And it’s been used hundreds of times without feeling too cliche. Not too shabby if you ask me.

Green River isn’t an album that will blow your socks off on first listen. Maybe not even on the 10th. Probably not ever. But it’s an incredibly solid and consistent album that only sticks around for as long as it should. In under 30 minutes, it succeeds at everything it attempts. Fogerty’s precise, bluesy riffs are absurdly catchy despite never wandering far from a classic blues scale. The lyrics start worming their way into your head over time, with their air of despair and melancholy. Tracks are typically 2-3 minutes long but still manage to pack a hell of a punch. Green River is incredible in it’s own right and it proves that music doesn’t have to be complex or experimental to be visionary.

Author: Charlie

Charlie Wooley is an aspiring journalist and founder of The Tenth Man Blog. An avid sports fan and music nerd, he’s written for publications such as Pop Gates, Every Deja Vu and Tremr. A local San Diegan, you can catch him eating fish tacos or cruising through Balboa.

4 Responses to “Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River (1969)

  • Love the contrast between CCR and The Dead. Agree Fogerhty was the master and the centerpiece of CCR! Nice to see you diversify and write about a more mainstream genre. Great writing!

    • Glad you liked it! It’s something I’ve been thinking about ever since I heard that Cutler quote.

  • Good insights, indeed. The Grateful Dead were pretty much only heard on FM, but we’d hear CCR mostly on the AM stations. Fogerty and his band were also from the Bay area (like the Dead, Jefferson Airplane, etc) but mined an “Americana” vein. They molded it into a broader blues sound with, as you note, a sense of dread that was very real because of the explosive events of that fateful year. Nicely done, Charlie!

    • Wow, fun fact with the AM/FM difference! Thanks for pointing that out. Wouldn’t have even thought about that with how little music seems to play on the AM stations now (at least that I’m aware of). Glad you brought up that CCR was from the bay. Not only did they stick to a bluesy, “traditional” sound during the time of all this counterculture, they did so in a spot that was pretty much the heart of the movement. I always thought it was fascinating that they were able to pull that off. Anyway, glad you enjoyed the review!

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