Wednesday, May 25, 2011

May 25: Creedence Clearwater Revival, "Born On The Bayou"

Artist: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Song: "Born On The Bayou"
Album: Bayou Country
Year: 1969

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While it was without question one of the most pivotal and creative points in all of music history, the tail-end of the 1960's also saw the rock-based genres of music moving further and further away from the sounds upon which they were founded.  That is to say, when one inspects a majority of the rock music being made during this period, the rhythm and blues and soul which led to its creation are largely missing.  This is not to take anything away from the amazing music created during that era, but it is also a reality that is often overlooked.  However, it is due to these circumstances that one can find a greater appreciation for the handful of bands that remained true to the spirit of rock and roll, though even in these cases, the fact seems secondary, if even recognized at all.  When it comes to bands that carried the torch for the almost roots-based rock and roll in the late 1960's, few did so with as much soul and energy than one finds in the music of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and their long list of hit songs serves as a testament to the impact and influence they had.  Bringing a unique fusion of soul, country, blues, and rock, their music is often referred to as "swamp pop," and the moods that the band conveys makes this term quite fitting.  Though they would find greater commercial success with later singles, there is no song that better defines the musical aim of Creedence Clearwater Revival than one can experience in their magnificent 1969 single, "Born On The Bayou."

Even from the opening notes of the song, it is clear that "Born On The Bayou" is far from anything else that was being released at the time,  as the misty feedback gives way to a guitar progression that sounds like one that could have been recorded a decade earlier.  It is the swing within John Fogerty's guitar that makes the song so distinctive, and even within this single element, one is quickly transported to a dusty road in the southern United States.  As the rest of the band joins into the musical arrangement, the feeling and mood of the song become even more vivid, and no other band in history has been able to convey such a clear sense of "place" than one can experience here.  There is a mesmerizing, almost primitive feel to the percussion of Doug Clifford, and it manages to perfectly match the "New Orleans mood" whilst also staying firmly rooted in the rock style.  Bassist Stu Cook furthers this combination, and the groove he injects into the song gives "Born On The Bayou" as much funk and soul as one can find anywhere.  It is the way in which the musicians manage to come together as a single unit and make the song teem with life and sets it aside from other songs of the era, as there is a gritty looseness that enables "Born On The Bayou" to remain just as fresh and exciting today as it was more than forty years ago.

Adding the ideal final element to the song, John Fogerty's vocals on "Born On The Bayou" remain some of the most inspired and unforgettable in all of music history.  Though he almost always borders on what sounds like screaming, there is a captivating attitude and growl within his voice, and it is without question one of the easiest voices to recognize.  It is in the vocals of "Born On The Bayou" that one can hear the country influences, and it is much the reason that Creedence Clearwater Revival were able to find crossover success in ways that which no other band was capable of achieving.  There is also a unique sense of defiance within Fogerty's vocals, and while many might argue, one can connect this element directly to the punk movement that was beginning to build.  Regardless of the more finite elements of his singing, it is this attitude and unrestrained energy that makes Fogerty's vocals so unforgettable, and yet they are supported by the wonderfully vivid and captivating lyrics which he sings.  Though many writers have put together songs of life in the South, few have done so in a manner that even comes close to what one can experience on "Born On The Bayou," and there is a sense of authenticity found here that is lacking elsewhere.  Strangely enough, Fogerty was born and raised in Northern California, and the song is written from the perspective of a town he had imagined.  Even without this knowledge, "Born On The Bayou" remains one of the most definitive songs of the decade, and it displays the power and presence of the fantastic voice of John Fogerty.

Leading up to the release of "Born On The Bayou," Creedence Clearwater Revival has released a handful of singles, yet all of them to that point had been cover songs.  The fact that this was the bands' first original song to gain any sort of recognition is one of the reasons it remains the most accurate definition of the band, as their later hits do not show the same balance in style and sound that one finds here.  The fact that one can so easily "feel" the heat coming off of the track is a testament to the combined talents of the musicians, and this mood is completely unlike anything else in recorded history.  The way in which they fuse together the deep, almost dark groove with the contrasting voice of John Fogerty is nothing short of brilliant, and yet there is also a clear connection to the "classic" sounds of rock and roll.  This is largely due to the reverb on Fogerty's guitar, and it would become a tone and approach that countless artists would copy in the years that followed.  Yet it is the flow that one can feel throughout the song that enables it to become so much greater than the sum of its parts, as it is this element that transports the listener, and even after countless listenings, one cannot help but be swept up in the imagery and mood.  The fact that it retains this element, as well as the purposeful presence of the more roots-based rock sound largely define the core of Creedence Clearwater Revival's musical approach, and they were rarely more true to this sound or in better form that what one can hear on their phenomenal 1969 single, "Born On The Bayou."


Randy said...

Great review of a great song. Very thoughtful. I think Bayou is their best song because it so well captures a mood or feel of the deep south

Anonymous said...

Nice review, great song, makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck today as much as it did decades ago. Just a couple of facts you might check or consider as you add facts in future posts. You say that before "Bayou" CCR had only released cover songs as singles, but I'm pretty sure Proud Mary was a huge hit off the first album, and of course original. Also, I was there at the beginning of punk and it had no discernible roots in the late 60s -- at least not in the greater NYC area that later teemed with punk. Thanks!