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Sunday morning coming down

I found an excuse in a post a few years back to refer to John Fogerty and his Creedence Clearwater Revival song “Proud Mary,” which I asserted was “great.” This was too much for John Hinderaker. He entered a brief dissent:

Familiar, yes. Beloved by bands who play at wedding receptions, yes. Less annoying in CCR’s original version than in Tina Turner’s cover, true. But “great”? Uh-uh.

The issue raised here is important, but of course there’s no arguing with taste. Ike and Tina Turner may in fact have ruined the song, or at least made it so familiar in a lame version that it’s difficult to hear with fresh ears.

CCR was a blue-collar Bay area band anchored by brothers Tom and John Fogerty. They paid their dues touring for nine years in various incarnations of the band that became Creedence before “Proud Mary” hit paydirt for them in January 1969. (“Proud Mary” was backed with “Born on the Bayou,” another great song sounding like it had been retrieved from an archive somewhere in the Louisiana swampland.) In the heyday of the hippie ethos and radical chic, Fogerty ingeniously formulated a downriver story of freedom and benevolence at the heart of America.

“Proud Mary” helped to open the door for the remarkable string of beautifully crafted hit singles Creedence then reeled off, all written by Fogerty: “Bad Moon Rising” b/w “Lodi,” “Green River” b/w “Commotion,” “Down on the Corner” b/w “Fortunate Son,” “Travelin’ Band” b/w “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Up Around the Bend” b/w “Run Through the Jungle,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” b/w “Long As I Can See the Light,” “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” b/w “Hey Tonight,” and “Sweet Hitchiker.” At the end of the road, appropriately enough, was “Someday Never Comes.”

The striking thing about this string of hits is how they are permeated with metaphorical expressions of foreboding and populist, chip-on-the shoulder bitterness punctuated by the occasional idyll, but with hardly a girl in sight. That’s a tough act to pull off in pop music. I find myself sympathetic to Fogerty’s forebodings, his resentments, and his daydreams.

Leading off CCR’s first, self-titled album of 1968 is the band’s cover of the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic, “I Put A Spell On You.” While the original is something of a drunken romp, Fogerty brings all the song’s anger right to the surface. When the band appeared at Woodstock the following year, it turned in a terrific performance. Though Fogerty deemed the band’s appearance subpar and kept it under wraps, it is now available on high-definition video that includes the band’s spooky version of “I Put a Spell On You” (below) — perfect for the time of the season.

NOTE: This post is adapted from one I wrote in 2006.

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