Released in the summer of 1968, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s self-titled debut album featured a solid set of blues and R&B styled material which was well received by the record buying public. While the throaty John Fogerty provided the band with an interesting vocalist, much of the material didn’t always hint at the greatness their next few albums would achieve. Following that debut, the band went into recording overdrive. Over the course of their next three releases – the almost faultless ‘Bayou Country’, ‘Green River’ and ‘Willy and the Poor Boys’, all released in 1969 – CCR perfected their blend of blues, country and rock ‘n’ roll, creating a sound which was very distinctly theirs.
The band entered the new decade in a typically prolific fashion, with 1970 yielding another two releases. Both ‘Cosmo’s Factory’ and ‘Pendulum’ are a little more hit and miss than the band’s three releases from ’69, although Fogerty’s gift for writing almost timeless melodies and hooks is still very much in evidence. The first of the year’s releases, ‘Cosmo’s Factory’ dropped in the middle of summer 1970. At the time, it was just another album in the Creedence catalogue, but as the years passed, it would eventually become a cornerstone of the band’s recorded output.
The album opens full throttle with ‘Ramble Tamble’ capturing Creedence showing more aggression in their playing than during a lot of the blues and southern rock grooves which filled some of their earlier discs. The intro takes on a great blues tone, before the band takes blues based material and cranks the speed dial. The guitars have a strong presence and Stu Cook’s (almost) two note bass line remains solid, but it’s Fogerty’s voice which truly shakes the listener. His ‘oooh’s are more raggedy than ever before and to compensate for this, the band clearly pushes themselves to the limit. After a couple of minutes, this subsides. Where Creedence would’ve often decided previously this would be the right time to move on to a new number, ‘Ramble Tamble’ is aptly named. What follows is a lengthy, slow instrumental passage which indeed rambles, highlighting one of the reasons why Creedence stood alongside the likes of The Grateful Dead as one of the great live bands of their time – readily accepted by the psych crowd as well as the bluesy rockers. A simple, ringing riff leads the way over the next four or so minutes, rarely breaking from its original pattern. There’s a sense of tension building within, and by the time things start to obviously shift, Tom Fogerty adds a slide guitar lead which constantly threatens to do more than it ever actually does. Underneath the slide, the band gradually quicken their pace, winding things up in a very clockwork fashion, before returning to the original riff which began the seven minute journey. It’s an interesting opener – the extended jam band feels seemingly more suited to closing one side of the LP – but it certainly shows the band in good form. It may appear to be an epic way to begin a new disc, but in terms of rambling jams, ‘Cosmo’s Factory’ still has a bigger one up its sleeve…
A faithful run-through of the blues standard ‘Before You Accuse Me’ isn’t essential listening by any means, but while it’s musically pedestrian for Creedence, Fogerty’s vocal is still fantastic, as his distinctive style is well suited to this well-worn number. Creedence originally recorded a version of the number as far back as 1968 for inclusion on their debut, but this was shelved. While this second attempt is the first of a few filler tracks on ‘Cosmo’s Factory’, Creedence’s version of this number is, naturally, very professional – and a hundred times better than Clapton’s take on it nearly two decades later. It even manages to outdo Bo Diddley’s rather wobbly original cut (released as a b-side in 1957), so the fact that it could rank as filler is a great testament to the high quality of CCR’s previous output. Run-throughs of rock ‘n’ roll standards ‘Ooby Dooby’ and ‘My Baby Left Me’ are fun, yet just as inessential, with both numbers showcasing plenty of old school guitar twang and some great, naturalistic drumming from Doug Clifford. While these numbers probably geed up the crowds during live shows, as part of this album they just feel a little too lightweight.
The John Fogerty penned ‘Looking Out My Back Door’ is loaded with naive charm. Its pre-rock ‘n’ roll, country-ish sound is a throwback to times already gone by 1970; musical times which were concurrently being explored by The Band on their early albums [albums which, several decades later – just like Creedence’s – sound so much more timeless than those recorded by other late 60s-early 70s acts]. Most of ‘Back Door’s structure comes from Stu Cook’s simple basslines and Clifford’s equally unfussy drumming, laying down the roots of a backporch groove, while the muted guitar strings provide a great choppy rhythm. There’s an unobtrusive twangy guitar solo en route and some incredibly understated bar-room piano, but essentially, those strings and that drum are all that’s really important. Fogerty’s lyrics compliment the upbeat musical nature with bizarre takes of things dancing on his lawn: “a giant wearing cartwheels, a statue wearing high heels”… “tambourines and elephants playing in the band”. Over the years, the idea of seeing such hallucinations while relaxing on a back porch have led to allegations that ‘Back Door’ is a drug song. Film-makers The Coen Brothers’ added more fuel to the argument when their movie ‘The Big Lebowski’ showed Jeff Bridges listening to the song in his car whilst smoking a joint. Fogerty, meanwhile, refutes such theories, instead claiming this was a song he wrote for his young son, “in a Dr. Seuss style”. Since he also asks if you’ll “take a ride on the flying spoon”, it’s all rather questionable. The line between Suess and soft drugs is a fine line indeed.
For maximum uptempo grooves, ‘Travelin’ Band’ really hits the spot. Fogerty’s throaty style is fantastic during this tale of a band on the road. Musically, it doesn’t push any new boundaries, but the band is in good shape and Stu Cook’s fairly eventful bassline really helps carry the number. Fogerty’s first guitar solo is mixed at the back, underneath the horn section, while his second is much more upfront – where it should be. He fills the musical spaces in a succinct and somewhat unfussy manner, capturing the kind of energy this feel-good number deserves. This may be just bread and butter music for Creedence – a band capable of so many more intricate styles – but they’re on fire throughout these two minutes. In terms of pure rock ‘n’ roll, this is a track they would rarely equal.
Recognisable right from the bat with its shrill lead guitar riff, ‘Up Around The Bend’ represents the mix of country, rock and blues which remained CCR’s staple sound. The music works around a mid-paced, driving beat which never fails to push that feel-good button. Stu Cook’s basslines are high in the mix and incredibly solid, providing something more interesting from the rhythm section since Doug Clifford does seldom more than mark time with his drums. Fogerty’s vocal combines just the right levels of rasp, and the hook is instantly memorable. In all, it’s such a good tune, it’s even possible to forgive Forgerty’s fudging of the lyrics to rhyme “wind” with “bend”. Going one step further, Fogerty even throws in some well-placed “doo doo doo’s” during the fade out, just to ensure you’ll be singing this one for days. ‘Up Around The Bend’ has earned a rightful place alongside ‘Bad Moon Rising’ and ‘Proud Mary’ as a piece of Creedence gold. ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’ is much softer, a semi-acoustic piece with strong sixties folk-rock leanings and fantastic harmony vocal. From the ringing guitar leads which open the piece, through the soft but solid backbeat, right down to the passionate lead voice, it’s a small slice of musical perfection. Whether Creedence’s intentions or not, it looks forward to more the easy-listening hippie sounds from those singer-songwriters who would make their names over the following couple of years.
‘Run Through The Jungle’ is the album’s angry political statement. A rocking blues, this number is often thought to be another rallying cry against the Viet Nam war (to be placed alongside ‘Fortunate Son’), but Fogerty says the song’s anger isn’t quite so specifically directed. He actually wrote it with regard to his dislike of guns in general, and the increasing popularity of firearms (licensed or otherwise) across the US by the end of the sixties. His biting, angry lyric is given a suitable musical backdrop as the pumping bass adds a sense of aggression. The lead guitars take a backseat once more since the solos are provided by a crying harmonica, also played by Fogerty. It doesn’t quite live up to the levels of paranoia Love bought the world on their ‘Forever Changes’ LP a couple of years earlier (tales of blood in the water and more besides), but you can still sense the feeling of America’s unrest within these three minutes. And, as if that anger wasn’t quite obvious enough, CCR dress this tune with an unsettling intro and coda as the sounds of guitar feedback and backwards tape loops provide a screaming effect, once heard never forgotten.
One of the most soulful numbers within the Creedence cannon, ‘Long As I Can See The Light’ captures Fogerty in a more restrained mood, showcasing the whole of his vocal range: beginning with softer soul-edged notes, gradually building, then eventually hitting his trademark rasp on the last verse and fade. The music is even better, however, featuring relatively little guitar. A retro sounding electric piano takes the reins (always welcome) while the solo is provided by a soft sax break. With regard to the more reflective sounds of CCR, this is not just an album highlight, but an absolute career highlight not to be missed.
Although it’s the number which makes ‘Cosmo’s Factory’ a fondly remembered record for some people, an eleven minute take on ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ is overlong – and so obviously the work of a band desperately trying to flesh out the album’s second side. The first five or so minutes are a faithful retread of the soul classic, with the addition of a slightly harder guitar and a featured guitar solo. Fogerty’s vocal is fine, although not a patch on some of his performances elsewhere on the album. The other six and a half minutes present the band in jam mode: Stu Cook appears unwavering from his chosen bassline, Tom Fogerty’s rhythm guitar constantly reminds the listener of the original ‘Grapevine’ riff, while John Fogerty fills the spaces with an extended guitar solo until the fade out. Never as interesting as The Grateful Dead’s meandering jams, or perhaps even Hendrix’s more aggressive moments, even a four minute cut of this track could be considered possible filler; to give over half of the album’s second side to such a bloated jam just further highlights the relative lack of original material Fogerty wrote during the first half of 1970. The only real interest comes nearing the track’s end, once Cook offers more of a lead bass – it’s obvious his playing style is a match for any of the other great rock bassists of the period (except for perhaps Jack Bruce, whose overtly aggressive style is in a league all of it’s own).
‘Cosmo’s Factory’ was extremely well received upon release, reaching number one in the US, UK, Australia, Norway, France and Canada, and remains a strong fan favourite. If any obvious criticism could be levelled at the album, it would be that no matter how good CCR are musically, four cover tunes on an album is at least two too many. However, the good moments of the album rank among Creedence’s best ever recorded works: the presence of Fogerty originals ‘Up Around The Bend’, ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain?’, ‘Looking Out My Back Door’, ‘Run Through The Jungle’ and ‘Long As I Can See The Light’ combine to make ‘Cosmo’s Factory’ an indispensable disc.
May 2010/October 2011