Classic songs, but do we really need another Creedence compilation?
On first impression, a collection of all the singles released by Creedence Clearwater Revival makes perfect sense, given the group's continued reputation as one of the great singles bands. From the instantly catchy riff of 1968's "Suzie Q" to the closing bars of 1972's "Someday Never Comes", Creedence kept the US charts stocked with rootsy, rocking, and occasionally wistful hit songs in a manner few others have replicated. This continued dominance of the charts, together with the concision and resonance the group's music, made Creedence's hits the ideal material for the "classic rock" radio that emerged in the 1970s, meaning that their music was destined to greatly outlive the group's brief incarnation. As bassist Stu Cook is quoted as saying in the liner notes of this collection, "When I turn on the radio, half of the songs I hear seem like they're Creedence songs".
The span of The Singles Collection exceeds the landmark recordings mentioned above, beginning with the group's first single, "Porterville", and its flipside, "Call It Pretending", and also including "I Heard It through the Grapevine" (a posthumous hit for the group in 1976) and the distinctly odd (and unnecessary) promo single, "45 Revolutions Per Minute". "Porterville", which would also show up on the group's eponymous debut album, is not as outstanding as subsequent work, but it ably demonstrates the songwriting and vocal work of John Fogerty -- and effectively signals his takeover of Creedence from his brother Tom, who had led previous incarnations of the group and handled vocal duties. "Call It Pretending" (which exists only as a B-side) is similarly light. But in its backwards nod to the vocal harmony music of the previous decade, it contains a reminder that while many of their California peers were exploring the outer realms of rock's experimental possibilities, Creedence were looking to rock's roots to find their way forward.
The collection kicks off, as did the group's career, with "Suzie Q", a still-infectious slice of swamp-rock riffing and impassioned vocals, based on Dale Hawkins' classic original from 1956 but containing enough invention and crackling electricity to stake a fresh claim on the song. Creedence's version was an eight-and-a-half-minute jam that stretched the song's possibilities out in an intriguing manner and made it the centerpiece of Creedence Clearwater Revival. It edits down to a radio- and chart-friendly four and a half minutes, but purchasers of the single would have had every reason to be nonplussed with the addition of the instrumental remainder of the album track as a B-side. Here, too, it seems unnecessary and serves to indicate the limitations of this fresh approach to marketing the Creedence archive. Four tracks into the compilation and only one truly great "single" delivered.
From here on it's good for a long time as A-side singles are followed by equally classic B-sides, some of which were themselves chart hits. "I Put a Spell on You" (another classic 1950s track, another great interpretation) leads to "Walk on the Water" (a reworked version of a pre-Creedence track, benefiting now from John Fogerty's vocal and the group's relentless stabbing guitar-and-drums attack), and the latter is only marginally weaker than the main feature. By the time we reach "Proud Mary" and its flip, "Born on the Bayou", it's impossible to decide which should really be the main song. As for "Bad Moon Rising" / "Lodi", it's no surprise to find the second song getting its own subsequent independent chart position. Presumably its relatively modest peak at number 52 on the Billboard was due to its having been available before, rather than a reflection of its quality or commercial appeal. Everyone who has time for Creedence Clearwater Revival's particular brand of soul has their favorite CCR moment; for this reviewer, everything that is great about the group is encapsulated in the three perfect (but still always too brief) minutes of "Lodi". That such a pinnacle of pop should be framed here by "Bad Moon Rising" and "Green River" only goes to show how on fire this group was at this time.
Disc one continues in a similar vein, bringing up classic hit after classic hit, with no reason to distinguish As and Bs. So, too, with the first half of disc two, which takes us into the 1970s with a soundtrack of more dependable roots rock hits. Its notable that the last two tracks on disc one and the first four on disc two make up 60% of songs of the band's fifth album, Cosmo's Factory, showing just how important singles were to Creedence's reputation. Ironically, Cosmo's Factory remains arguably the least compilation-like of these five albums, due to the addition of lengthy jams such as "Ramble Tamble" and "I Heard It through the Grapevine" (which, in its album version, stretched to 11 minutes).
"Have You Ever Seen the Rain?", from 1970 remains a classic single and is certainly better known than the album Pendulum, on which it appeared. While that album still retains much of the greatness of Creedence (while also showcasing a few new tricks), its followup, Mardi Gras (delivered by a Tom Fogerty-less trio), was a disappointing finale for the group. It yielded the hits "Sweet Hitch-Hiker" and "Someday Never Comes", included here along with the aforementioned "Grapevine" and its B-side, "Good Golly, Miss Molly". After that, posterity awaited in the form of endless airplay, film soundtracks, and the occasional revival of the Creedence magic in the solo careers of its former members (most notably John Fogerty).
Posterity also came in the form of numerous compilations, not least the 1976 classic Chronicle. It is for this reason, rather than any doubts over the importance of Creedence Clearwater Revival, that one has to question the necessity of this latest compilation. The really great songs have been assembled as well -- if not better --before. The liner notes, courtesy of Ben Fong-Torres, do not add an awful lot to what can already be quite easily gleaned from other sources. While chart positions and catalogue numbers are given, dates for each single and its entry into the chart are strangely omitted. The third disc -- a DVD -- presents four promotional videos, but it lacks anything more substantial -- a concert, perhaps, or a short documentary. And while the (smallish) fold-out wall chart containing pictures of rare Creedence singles is a nice touch, real singles fetishists will probably wish to focus their attention on the limited edition version of the collection that comes as a box set of replica singles, further proof that the aura of the recorded past has the potential to be endlessly mined.