River was Creedence
Clearwater Revival’s third album,
the second of the three they released in 1969 and the first of their ‘trilogy
of masterpieces’, to be completed with Willie
And The Poor Boys and Cosmo's Factory.
John Fogerty seemed to be touched
by a magic wand and his creativity overflowed. It is incredible to think that
between May 28, 1968 and December 9, 1970 the band (with its four original
members) managed to release six albums of such quality in such a short time.
Now that we live in a time in which the normal period between records is more
than three years, it is hard to imagine a moment in which a band, with only one
composer, would manage to release so many records in just two and a half years.
And they weren't just any records, Green River is, as I said, his first absolute masterpiece and the record that, to this day, is still Fogerty's own favourite. This is perhaps unsurprising when we're talking about a work that contains songs as incredible as the title track, Bad Moon Rising, Wrote A Song For Everyone, Lodi or his excellent cover of Night Time Is the Right Time popularized by Ray Charles.
Surrounded by bands that stretched their 'jams' up to 20 minutes long, John Fogerty's boys returned rock to the simplicity and energy of its beginnings. With an eye on the Sun label and rockabilly, Creedence created their own style with three clear signs of identity: the voice, the guitar and the compositions of John Fogerty, one of the fundamental figures of American rock. It might seem that the group was just him, but the magic achieved by the four members was one of those impossible chimeras of rock; four elements that worked together perfectly and achieved a unique and unrepeatable sound.
Fogerty was delighted with his ES-175, with which he had recorded Proud Mary, but when he was about to start recording Green River it was stolen. Instead of buying another one, he decided that his moment to buy a Les Paul had arrived. So he went to the nearest store and bought a black Custom with which the first thing he recorded was Bad Moon Rising, one of the many anthems of his career, which reached number one in the British charts and two in the American charts. His guitar work is reminiscent of Elvis’ songs in his Sun days, but the rest of the band also shines with a perfect groove.
Upon this, the rest of the album would be constructed. The song that gave the album its title is the perfect example of that sound, a powerful opening riff on which the song is built, Fogerty's voice full of reverb, and a feeling capable of transporting you in time in less than three minutes. It's Fogerty's own favorite song; he says that he finally achieved "that Sun Records touch " with it. Although instead of Scotty Moore, the song is closer to the guitar sound of James Burton, whose riff for Suzie Q was a tremendous inspiration for his career. Fogerty shared with Burton an obsession for the tone and rhythm of his guitar; here he uses an acoustic J-200 and his Rickenbacker 325 connected to a Kustom K200A 100 watt amplifier.
But the heart of Green River may be in its two mid-tempos: Wrote A Song For Everyone and Lodi. The first is a beauty in which Fogerty demonstrates that his throat is on a par with that of the great soul singers of all time. Lodi, for its part, has that country charm so characteristic of the band, a song with a lot of heart that speaks of those musicians who were not lucky enough to succeed.
Commotion and Tombstone Shadow are two perfect proofs of Fogerty's stellar role as a guitarist, he may not be very technical but, just like when he sings, Fogerty puts every atom of his heart into every note, and that shows. Cross-Tie Walker is pure rockabilly and Sinister Purpose is another perfect distillation of Creedence's swampy sound. Finally, the album closes with the only cover, Night Time Is the Right Time in which Fogerty shines on guitar and vocals.
It's the perfect ending to an album that overflows with love for the simplicity of popular music, is full of the passion of early rock & roll, the roots of country and the soul of the best black music. All played by four musicians who seem to be on a divine mission, and manage to recycle all those influences into something totally their own.