Creedence Clearwater Revival: “Effigy”
John Fogerty’s Creedence Clearwater Revival was one of the most commercially and artistically successful American bands of the late ’60s. Album after album, hit after hit, they were one of the most dominant forces on the radio in their day. In the 3-year period of 1968 to 1970, they had no fewer than 17 Top 40 hits, with 11 of those going to the Top 10, and 9 of those making it to the Top 3. In 1969, they even outsold the Beatles. But the incredible thing in retrospect isn’t so much the fact that they had so many hits; rather, it’s the fact that those hits were also great music (as I’m sure you’re all aware, hits don’t always equate to quality) and that each album was also so consistently great. For every hit you could hear on the radio, there were at least two more from the album that were equally good (although this statement isn’t quite true on 1970’s Cosmo’s Factory, where more than half the songs were hits, not leaving many non-hits on the album). It wouldn’t be hard to make a solid argument for CCR being the greatest American band of the ’60s.
Fogerty loved Americana, and fashioned CCR’s brand of rock ‘n’ roll from the roots of American popular music: blues, country, rockabilly, folk, and R&B. It was a sound that was on the one hand out of step with the music scene of the time, but on the other hand helping to shape it. And it continues to get played day in and day out on classic rock stations, to the point of being taken for granted — it’s hard to imagine a time before “Proud Mary” (in fact, I’m willing to bet there are a lot of people out there who think it’s a cover of an old blues song, rather than the Fogerty original that it is). So if you like their sound but their hits have become overplayed for you, there are loads more great songs you may not have heard among the other album tracks. And I’m featuring one of those today: “Effigy,” from their incredible 1969 album, Willy And The Poor Boys — an album that Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic.com calls “one of the greatest pure rock & roll records ever cut.” “Effigy” is a dark, swampy Fogerty original that sounds like a song channeled from the blues greats of the early twentieth century. CCR could be just as powerful at a slower tempo as they were in their faster songs, such as “Fortunate Son,” and “Effigy” defines that power with its unnerving intensity and lyrics of revolutionary uprising. Even musically it suggests revolution: the piano-like guitar introduction hints at classical music being played in a palace ballroom, but quickly fades out and is replaced with the creeping blues that slowly build to the song’s climax, much as the “palace” is set fire to in the lyrics:
I saw the fire spreadin’ to
The palace door
Weren’t keepin’ quiet
Fogerty may have drawn from the past in writing CCR’s music, but that never meant that he was out of touch with the social upheaval of the ’60s. He simply knew that some things in life and music were timeless, and zeroed in on those elements to create songs that will live on for many years to come.