Graded on a Curve:
A Song for Everyone:
The Story of Creedence Clearwater Revival

When listening to band members John and Tom Fogerty, Stu Cook, and Doug Clifford on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s cover of “Good Golly Miss Molly,” from their career-making second studio album Bayou Country (1969), one becomes immediately aware of several factors: the driving beat that begins and sustains the song through its conclusion, which never slows down for one moment complete with hand claps—and that wild guitar.

The recording never takes a breath, almost as though the whole track is sustained by one long inhale and exhale. And at the moment of transition before every “Good Golly” chorus—when Fogerty issues out the same set of lyrics—it’s almost as though he will run out of musical notes on which to detail the song’s thoughts and he’s rushing to squeeze them all in. This kind of intense energy, the exercising of which can only lead to total exhaustion, is what true rock ’n’ roll is made of.

The story of Creedence Clearwater Revival in the 1960s and ’70s, of John Fogerty’s drive and determination to become a true artist and performer, songwriter, and lush compositional mythmaker, is a fascinating one. CCR was a band who in part defined the sound of the late 1960s in American rock, who had its share of issues and squabbles, who was ultimately run by John and the vision he had for himself and his music which led to immense commercial success and a fair share of legal battles and artistic frustration in the decades following.

A Song for Everyone: the Story of Creedence Clearwater Revival (Hachette Books) by journalist John Lingan, seeks to tell the real tale of CCR, from its earliest incarnations under monikers the Blue Velvets in the 1950s, then the Golliwogs, and finally Creedence Clearwater Revival, to its dissolution in 1972. Well-researched and drawing from new interviews with Clifford and Cook and from John Fogerty’s 2015 memoir Fortunate Son, Lingan’s biography is straightforward and historically focused. He does a fine job of weaving the CCR story through American cultural history of the their era, helping to bring the tale to life for the reader and widen its scope.

He details concurrent histories which helps to amplify the story of CCR, while admirably choosing to sidestep most of the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll stories. Sometimes the details seem a bit out of place next to Creedence’s aesthetics, like corresponding anecdotes of the Velvet Underground who were around at the same time as Creedence. But Lingan’s love and respect for the group is palpable, and his book primarily seeks to present an accurate articulation of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ascent, and collapse, and to highlight the weighty power of the role the band’s music played in the story and collective memory of the 1960s and ’70s, which include but are not limited to the Woodstock Festival in ‘69, and the Vietnam War years.

Like other famous musical acts, Creedence had a gradual ascent to chart-topping success, maintained a high-speed trajectory of one hit single after another for a while, and was ultimately bound to run out of steam. But unlike others, Creedence had John Fogerty, one of rock history’s most complex and artistically brilliant frontmen and primary songwriters. A Song for Everyone however gives band members Cook and Clifford their musical due and explains matters from their points of view, as well as those of Tom Fogerty, who sadly passed away in 1990.

So much of CCR’s story is textbook rock group history fare: falling head over heels in love with rock ‘n’ roll as young boys in the 1950s, John becoming the dominant creative force of Creedence over time—something his brother and bandmates alternately thrived upon and resented—and the band’s hunger to “make it,” particularly John’s hunger, to write his own success story far beyond his family’s humble origins, signing rigged deals with Saul Zaentz of Fantasy Records, a band member (Tom) quitting in dissatisfaction, John finally relinquishing some creative control to his bandmates, and the band breaking up.

One of the strongest elements of A Song for Everyone is writer Lingan’s reminding the reader of CCR’s immense commercial and critical achievements during their era of output, and how the band’s catalogue and story came to personify the cultural moment of their time, contributing to the soundtrack of a generation. Lingan describes how many American soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War took Creedence records with them when they shipped out. And how one of cinema’s most beloved characters, Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, a paragon of zen-colored 1960s philosophical ideals long past their hipness (who “…hate(s) the fuckin’ Eagles, man!”), aligns himself with Creedence’s music in the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski (1998).

John and the band created a musical myth of southern-steeped, rural Americana, articulating it in their songs and building upon the musical cornerstones of the blues tradition and ’50s rock. Creedence had a kind of mass appeal during their years of success in the late ’60s, putting forth truly, songs for everyone, when so many groups were more polarizing. The band came out of northern California at a time when San Francisco was a popular music capital of the world, and a frequently drugged-up one at that. But CCR did not quite fit in with the hippie scene—they were too straight edge. They were always about the music.

As complicated as John Fogerty’s character is through the lens of the band’s history (Lingan opens his book with John’s refusal to do an encore at the band’s legendary Royal Albert Hall performance in April 1970), he is ultimately fascinating, enigmatic, and the real article, full of emotional and musical ardor tangible in so many of CCR’s songs and ringing true to millions of listeners. He does stand apart from his bandmates, partly in the intensity of his ambition, and also in the undeniable clarity of his songwriting talent, and his ability to channel and convincingly concoct a characteristic myth for his band, a spooky swamp vibe so evident in the massive bluesy, eight-minutes-plus “Graveyard Train” on Bayou Country.

As Lingan points out in his book, the sonic persona of Creedence was so strong that much like that of Robbie Robertson and the Band, it placed its music outside of the present moment, outside of trend, and into the timeless aural pool of the American character. And as A Song for Everyone articulates, even though John Fogerty perhaps is the initial figure one thinks of when contemplating Creedence Clearwater Revival, the roles of band members Stu Cook, Doug Clifford, and Tom Fogerty were essential.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
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