Ask anyone to name his or her favorite Creedence Clearwater Revival song, and chances are the ensuing conversation could last a long time. From the late 1960s to the early 1970s, CCR amassed an impressive number of hits without compromising their sound or message. Led by John Fogerty, arguably one of the best blues vocalists in rock, the band indulged in their love of folk, country, and blues, while adding touches of pop to make the tracks even more accessible. At the same time, they often delivered powerful messages about the common man's struggles, most notably the still-arresting song “Fortunate Son.” Listeners now have another opportunity to reevaluate their catalog, as CCR's original label Fantasy (now a division of Concord Music Group) has just issued Ultimate Creedence Clearwater Revival, a three-CD set encompassing their many hits and noteworthy live performances. Anyone who does not already possess the group's albums should run, not walk to purchase this special and thorough collection.
Listening to very familiar tracks such as “Up Around the Bend,” “Who'll Stop the Rain,” “Sweet Hitch-Hiker,” and “Down on the Corner,” it's evident how these rockers haven't aged at all. Give credit to Fogerty, brother Tom Fogerty, Stu Cook, and Doug Clifford for their passionate playing and timeless lyrics. Their words can be intensely personal (hear their tales of life on the road in “Travelin' Band”) or political (“Fortunate Son,” “Run Through the Jungle”). John Fogerty's voice snarls while telling tales about poverty and hardship, such as on the defiant “Born on the Bayou.” Paying tribute to their blues and country roots, CCR convincingly covers such classics as “Before You Accuse Me,” “The Night Time Is the Right Time,” “The Midnight Special,” and “I Put A Spell on You.” Clearly the band dearly loved R&B as well, putting their spin on “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” the latter possessing a grittier sound than the Marvin Gaye or Gladys Knight and the Pips versions. Despite these influences, CCR proved they were not immune to 1960s psychedelia, as evidenced by the swirling, droning “Suzie-Q.”
As with any “greatest hits” collection, fans will dispute which songs should have been included on Ultimate CCR. My selections would be the Cosmo's Factory tracks “Ramble Tamble” and “Ooby Dooby,” although I'm sure many other deep album songs could be added. Nevertheless, this collection contains an impressive number of lesser-known hits rarely heard on the radio, such as “Bootleg” or “Lodi.”
The third disc contains live recordings spanning 1969-1971, many previously issued on remasters or the album The Concert. Hardcore fans presumably already own many of these songs, but casual listeners who never saw CCR live will appreciate this supplementary material. Not surprisingly, the band sounded just as good in person as in the studio, since the original recordings lacked special effects. Clearly the quartet enjoyed lengthy jamming, which is on prominent display during “Keep on Chooglin'” and “Suzie-Q.” John Fogerty sounds in particularly good spirits on “Up Around the Bend,” which derives from a 1971 Amsterdam show. He actually laughs in between the lyrics, joyfully encouraging the band to play harder. Unfortunately crowd noise is mostly subdued on these recordings, robbing the listener of the full concert experience—in other words, the give-and-take between artist and audience. However, the disc offers a rare opportunity to hear what the band sounded like in their prime.
Complete with a booklet featuring a new critique and rare photos, Ultimate Creedence Clearwater Revival largely delivers on its title. Indeed, Ultimate CCR presents an intensive overview of the band at a very reasonable price—in other words, a box set without the box or high cost.