Creedence Clearwater Revival - Willy and the Poor Boys
(1969 - #392 on the Rolling Stone 500 greatest albums)
John Fogerty - lead guitar, vocals
Tom Fogerty - rhythm guitar, vocals
Stu Cook - Bass
Doug Clifford - Drums
Creedence Clearwater Revival was a churning out hit song after hit song during the late sixties to the early seventies. Singer and lead guitarist John Fogerty himself said "We try to fill our albums with as many hits as possible," and he wasn't kidding. Willy and the Poor Boys can be seen as an argument FOR filler tracks on albums. Every single one of the ten tracks is strong enough to be a hit single, but obviously some of them ended up being overlooked. The album as a whole is very consistent from track to track. It has a very good flow and is one of CCR's strongest efforts.
Willy and the Poor Boys can be seen as a semi-concept album. The cover of the record shows the members of Creedence playing on a street corner as a jug band. This is the band referred to in the hit single "Down on the Corner." Creedence Clearwater Revival "becomes" Willy and the Poor Boys in a way similar to The Beatles becoming Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The concept is only carried out on two tracks however. On the instrumental track "Poorboy Shuffle," the group proves that they can play the instruments they brandish on the cover. In fact, while they were doing the cover shoot fooling around with their instruments they came up with the song, walked two blocks back to the studio and put it on tape. I'm always impressed when I hear it, especially since I know the washtub bass is not an easy instrument to play.
Creedence Clearwater Revival is probably best known as being a protest band. While they never embraced this label they also never shied away from it. "Fortunate Son" is another hit single off this album and it is also the strongest political song they ever recorded. Many people misinterpret the song as a strong patriotic anthem (a problem exacerbated by a Wrangler Jeans commercial in which the only lyrics played are "Some folks were born, made to raise the flag/Ooh they're red, white and blue," conveniently leaving out the rest of the verse which says "And when the band plays hail to the chief/They point the cannon right at you!") The song is as powerful today as it was then due to the fact that Fogerty did not hold back any punches. Even without a strong political statement Fortunate Son is one of the finest rock and roll songs ever.
"Effigy" is the other politically charged song on the album. It is more downcast and haunting than Fortunate Son is. The main guitar riff has a wonderful surprise that makes me smile every time I hear it. It seems to be a normal chord progression until out of nowhere a louder note gives the riff dissonance. It makes the riff more memorable and fits the mood of the song melodically and lyrically.
Creedence also has a sense of humor which is shown on the track "It Came Out of the Sky." This hilarious song is about a farmer named Jody who witnesses an unidentified flying object crash landing. The event first triggers fear and later greed. The last verse contains the classic lyrics:
"The White House said put the thing in the blue room
The Vatican said no it belongs in Rome
But Jody said it's mine and you can have it for seventeen million"
The album has two covers that were both originally written by Leadbelly. Both "Cotton Fields" and "The Midnight Special" have been transformed into CCR songs but still retain what made the originals strong. John Fogerty overdubbed his vocals several times in both songs to create a chorus sound that greatly adds to the tracks. The songs have a distinct soul sound to them which differentiates them from the other songs on the album.
Also worth noting is the second instrumental on the album, "Side O' the Road." This instrumental showcases John Fogerty on lead guitar. Instead of playing a shred style of guitar that was more popular at the time (think Jimi Hendrix or Alvin Lee), Fogerty plays a no bull shit lead that harkens back to 50's rock and roll. It's a perfect example of CCR's style: not going out of their way to impress you, just writing kick ass songs.
Creedence Clearwater Revival is legendary for the sheer amount of hit songs they produced in their relatively short major label career of four years. Their skill for putting together strong records is usually overlooked. Don't make that mistake. If you love "Fortunate Son" or "Down on the Corner" I guarantee you will love this album. All of CCR's albums are very strong and this one can be singled out as one of their best. That is why it can be recognized as one of the greatest albums of all time with a 5/5 rating.