Willy and the Poor Boys

I’d go with this as Creedence Clearwater Revival’s best, as it shows so fully the band’s seamless mixture of an unpretentious, rootsy feel (they’re arguably one of the very few rock and roll bands whose live performance was far slicker than their studio work) and John Fogerty’s brilliant political lyrics. Neither element overpowers the other, and in 1969, CCR were at the top of their game. Fortunate Son is a contender for the greatest protest song of the Vietnam era, precisely due to the blend previously described. Maybe it’s that Fogerty is neither a poet nor a straight-up genius like Dylan that makes him one of the greatest rock lyricists, and certainly that the rest of the band treated music as something they loved to do, more like a hard worker who grafts because he enjoys it (they did put out three masterworks in one year), than tortured perfectionists.

Down on the Corner displays perfectly (what I think is) their attitude to music, and has the same effect of the ‘back-to-basics’ opener of The Dead’s ‘Uncle John’s Band’ from Workingman’s Dead, that of transporting the listener straight out of their urban ‘fastness’ to the sound and image of a band playing joyously on the street corner. It Came Out of the Sky tells the hilarious story of a martian asteroid landing in Moline hick country (”Ronnie the popular claimed it was a communist plot…”), while the Lead Belly cover ‘Cotton Fields’ is representative of their charming connection with black roots music (perfect harmonies by the way). Effigy, the epic final number refers to Richard Nixon’s (whodathunkit?!) ‘sneering at anti-war protestors’ outside the White House; what gives Fogerty the edge is that he did do military service, and his lyrics manage to be both arty and unpretentious, as they revolve endlessly around the hypnotising chords. Willy and the Poor Boys is one that will consistently make you smile, think and dance.

Best Track: Fortunate Son

Goof: Can’t say, really…

9 Rotten Cotton bolls out of 10

Note: Brilliant 2003 (40th Anninversary) remaster comes with live renditions of Fortunate Son, and It Came Out of the Sky. Not as good as the studio counterparts, but an interesting snapshot from ’71, as they were slowly breaking. I’d pay 20 pounds more to see CCR on a street corner with a washboard than I would to see them in concert.


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