Creedence Clearwater Revival, as befits their increasingly storied history (and John Fogerty’s ever-growing solo career), has been the subject of more than a few reissues, but there is no more enlightening cross-section of their recordings than The Ultimate Collection: Greatest Hits and All-Time Classics.
The three-CD compilation lives up to its title in spite of illogical sequencing of tracks. Opting for a non-chronological order, the seemingly scattershot approach is nevertheless enlightening as it leaves the crisp latter-day cut “Up Around the Bend” juxtaposed with the near-seven minute long rendering of Dale Hawkins’ “Suzie Q,” a cut off their debut album.
CCR returned to an approach on the final sessions they had used on earlier albums, such as “Born on the Bayou,” where the original quartet went for a moody eleven minutes plus workout on “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” But in general, the band kept itself in tight rein on and off stage. A vivid depiction of this comes through on the third disc comprised solely of live recordings from various times in Creedence’s career. Taking less than three minutes to fully render “Proud Mary” remains a marvel of precision. Their economy is no less remarkable when the group digs into “Keep On Chooglin’” for just under ten minutes.
There’s not a wasted note to be found anywhere on these tracks regardless of length, even in the later days of their existence, when, as on “Molina,” arrangements expanded to include more prominent use of keyboards and saxophone (played by the brilliant bandleader John Fogerty). As producer of the band as well as its chief source of original material, Fogerty’s admiration for the Sun Studios sound helped him inject Creedence Clearwater recordings with an earthy quality that lent them an undeniable authenticity.
His own lead guitar, in solos or fills around the vocals, exhibited the simplicity of the blues with an ever-so-slightly tart country flavor. Brother Tom Fogerty’s rhythm guitar work is mesmerizing, while Stu Cook’s bass is (appropriately) more felt than heard. And drummer Doug Clifford always remained an insistent timekeeper by changing up his patterns in unpredictable fashion. The swing in CCR’s musicianship was no more a studio concoction than Fogerty’s singing: his voice is one of the most distinctive the rock world has ever known.
In his liner essay, Alec Palao’s frequent hyperbole is the antithesis of the understated stylish graphics of Greatest Hits and All Time Classics, not to mention the music itself. CCR made its name largely for pithy tracks like “Bad Moon Rising,” rather than being ambitious improvisationalists. Even when original material contains a topical slant, as does “Fortunate Son” or “It Came Out of the Sky,” (an unsung highlight of the band’s canon) the point was clear, albeit artfully concealed.
CCR’s songs continue to speak resoundingly more than four decades after their original release, and the best passages in the accompanying prose are those that mirror the material’s clarity, intelligence and passion.