Wrote a Song for Everyone — the title seems a little quaint at first glance, but when you really stop and think about it, its audacity becomes apparent. For John Fogerty to say that he’s written a song for everyone is no small thing. After all, how many living songwriters can rightly claim such influence?
Of course, Fogerty’s got every right to call his album whatever he wants, and he just so happens to have the songbook to back up the claim. More than Dylan, or even Springsteen, Fogerty is the great populist songwriter of the rock era. Songs like “Fortunate Son” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” (just two of the more prominent examples, each featured here) set the standard for a certain kind of rock ‘n’ roll — socially engaged in subtle, metaphorical ways, and unrelentingly egalitarian in its appeal. When he fronted Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fogerty was spinning off masterpieces of that form at an impossible — and, as it turned out, unsustainable — rate.
What’s perhaps less obvious is just how good those particular recordings were. Their ubiquitousness has blunted their impact somewhat. Doesn’t matter how great “Bad Moon Rising” sounds if you’ve heard it twice a day on your local classic rock station for the past 15 years — there comes a point where you just stop hearing it. In fact, one of the great and I suspect unintended triumphs of Wrote a Song for Everyone is how it recalls those classic performances and sends you running back to them. And that’s not a dismissal of anything here — it’s rather a testament to the continuing power of CCR’s and Fogerty’s work.
It’s a hell of a legacy for any artist to live up to and to live with, as Fogerty knows all too well (his attitude to his past with CCR can be described, over the course of his career, as ambivalent at best). This album is at least in part an attempt to reckon with and wrest control of that legacy, shining a light on the quality and durability of the songs themselves instead of the iconic original performances thereof forever enshrined in our collective cultural memory.
On this level, the album is something of a mixed bag. Make no mistake — because Fogerty, his band, and his guest performers are all skilled players committed to the work at hand, just about everything here is eminently listenable. Take the lead track, “Fortunate Son”, featuring the Foo Fighters. It kicks things off in stunning fashion, but it ultimately gets across on the sheer force of adrenaline. The arrangement and attitude don’t differ significantly from the iconic CCR interpretation, and it lacks that track’s swampy, ragged feel, which you come to miss on subsequent plays. The same could be said for “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”. The inclusion of Alan Jackson and the requisite country flourishes are both novel and tasteful, but the song itself isn’t taken to a much different place than Fogerty and CCR first took it some forty years ago.
More successful are the more deliberate reinterpretations. Where the original recording of “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” was strident, Fogerty and Bob Seger here imbue it with a sense of mourning. With Dawes, Fogerty reimagines “Someday Never Comes” as a father/son duet, lending a depth to the lyric that the original recording only suggested. But the record really takes off when Fogerty strikes out on his own and tackles new material. “Mystic Highway” is terrific, recalling and extending the promise of the rock ‘n’ roll totem “Mystery Train”. “Train of Fools” similarly finds him digging through the vaults of rock’s tropes and asserting their continued relevance.
These two tracks are so strong that one can’t help but wish Fogerty had foregone the duets altogether and recorded a solo album of original material. While those numbers are always enjoyable and occasionally revelatory, they remain at the end of the day reinterpretations. With a songwriter of Fogerty’s calibre, you want him to keep going. Wrote a Song for Everyone certainly convinced me that he has, but more than that, it made me eager to hear him continue to do the same.