Tuesday, July 20, 2010

392. Willy the Poor Boys- Fortunate Son and some other tracks.

Album: Willy and the Poor boys.
Artist: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Genre: Rock
Year: 1969

  1. Down on the Corner
  2. It Came Out of the Sky
  3. Cotton Fields
  4. Poorboy Shuffle
  5. Feelin' Blue
  6. Fortunate Son
  7. Don't Look Now
  8. The Midnight Special
  9. Side o' the Road
  10. Effigy

I need to share a quick story here before I go on. When I was kid in Primary school we had these music books that we'd use to sing in music classes. They had a mixture of traditional Australian hits along with some of the more kid-friendly rock and roll (Yellow Submarine, Octopuses Garden etc). One of the songs (and possibly my music teacher's favourite) was Down on the Corner which we used to sing a lot. When I was somewhere in the middle of my formative years I actually heard this song on the radio and was stunned that someone had recorded a song from my primary school music book. I assumed they must have been hanging around outside listening to Grade 2 belting out our sensational version of Down on the Corner and thought they could make money with it. I was, it must be pointed out, an exceptionally stupid child. And it's appropriate that I begin this review with a tale about my childhood because I'm going to refer to this album as Willy from now on and you know it's making me giggle in an extremely immature way.

Willy is the first Creedence album to appear on this list and, I have to confess, the first CCR album that I've heard all the way through. I've owned one of their best-ofs for a while and play it occasionally but it's never inspired me to seek out their releases. Willy and the Poor Boys hasn't inspired me to hunt out any of their other albums and it's basically affirmed what I already knew- they're catalogue makes for a great single-disc best-of.

It seems that by the time they came to record this album the CCR's inspiration had pretty much dried up. While their earlier album's contain lots of strong originals the Fogerty-written tracks on this release are fairly thin on the ground. Two of the ten tracks are disposable instrumentals that sound more like the sort of lifeless studio jams added to anniversary edition CD's to pad out running times than anything that belongs on an official release. Two more tracks are covers which CCR don't really kick out of the park, in fact they barely boot to the other end of the field. It's all sounding a bit weary but Creedence do have a magnificent excuse: Willy and the Poor Boys was the third studio album they released in 1969. Today bands are more likely to have three years in between albums than three releases in the same 12 months. But back in the sixties bands cranked out the LP's and so CCR found themselves back in the studio trying to put together another set of ten tracks almost as soon as their previous release hit the shops. Under that kind of pressure you couldn't blame them for hanging around Primary schools trying to overhear music lessons for inspiration. They can definitely be forgiven for throwing in a cover and an instrumental or two.

The good news is that the original tracks on Willy make up for the lack of spark provided by the filler. Fortunate Son has so much damn spark it's a Hadron Collider sized light show all of it's own. It's justifiably held up as one of the greatest songs of the sixties and has managed to maintain it's edge despite major overuse in pretty much every sound track going. Lyrically it was a scathing condemnation of the Vietnam war before such sentiments were popular along with a damning indictment of George W Bush before anyone had ever heard of him. There are a few moments in Rock and Roll that make you leap towards the volume in order to crank it up loud enough to wake Garcia. The opening to Fortunate Son is definitely one of them. If that bass and drum doesn't get you the guitar chords will and combined they give you just enough warning to make the song loud before the song kicks up a gear. Sing along people, it doesn't matter who your parents are you're fortunate indeed if you can sing this gem at the top of your voice.

The rest of the originals on Willy aren't up to the standard set by Fortunate Son but then the same can be said of a lot of music recorded in the subsequent decades. It overshadows everything on the album and not much tries to get out from underneath it. The title track is cute, It Came out of the Sky and Feelin Blue are okay but the final song tends to plod along with a weary tread. You can almost imagine the band in the studio yawning with the fatigue of three albums and constant touring.

Willy and the Poor Boys is definitely a good listen but it's lowlights are disposable lightweights and it's highlights are available on a Creedence best of. It's a shame to think what the band might have been capable of if they'd been allowed to take a few months off and regroup with fresher heads and less frayed nerves.

Highlight: It aint me, It aint me- yes it is. Fortunate son by a long way.
Lowlight: Either Poorboy Shuffle or Side O the road. They're both so forgettable I honestly can't recall which is worse.

Influenced by:
The swamp. Apparently this is swamp music. How a marshland can influence anyone I'm not sure but it has.
Influenced: Pearl Jam.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "The CCR catalogue has finally received the remaster (and bonus live tracks or alternate takes)! When you download this, make sure it's the version released Sept. 30, 2008. The sound quality is great. The album, without having to go into detail, is just flat-out a classic. I bought it as a teenager on vinyl when it came out and I was spending some time with my aging great-grandmother in Tennessee. She came to the door when I was playing Cotton Fields and ended up listening to the album with me -- and she was 80 years old at the time and LOVED IT! So do I, and I think I've had it in 8-track, cassette, and first-generation (muddy sound) versions. Now I have it in 256 kbs mp3!"

-I've said it before: I love it when people are so dedicated to albums they obtain them in multiple formats. But I love it even more when people have fond memories of listening to vinyl albums with their great-grandmothers. Very cool indeed.

So are you a fortunate son for having heard this or a poor boy for having to endure it? Let me know below.

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