CD Review: Creedence Clearwater Revival – Ultimate: Greatest Hits and All-Time Favorites (Fantasy, 2012)
As a band whose albums, singles and live performances were equally exciting, it can be argued that Creedence Clearwater Revival remains the greatest group in American rock ‘n’ roll history. Whether stretching out a psychedelic jam of “Suzie Q” or “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” or packing everything they had into the 2:21 of “Bad Moon Rising,” their synthesis of rock, country, blues, and southern soul was riveting. Their hit singles still leave listeners reaching to turn up the volume, and their albums harbor dozens of lesser-known, but no less terrific covers and Fogerty originals. In a six-album stretch from 1968’s eponymous Creedence Clearwater Revival through 1970’s Pendulum, the quartet never faltered – dropping dozens of hit singles and revitalizing well-selected covers with iconic guitar riffs and vocal turns that hook your ear as readily today as they did forty years ago.
The CCR catalog has seen its fair share of reissues, with a box set in 2001, individual album remasters in 2008, and in 2009 a mono singles collection, vintage live concert and a covers collection. And then there are numerous tributes and an endless array of karaoke discs. Fantasy’s latest reiteration of the core catalog is a three-disc set that goes beyond the hit singles, but not as far as the box set. It’s a better introduction than a single disc, and with the inclusion of album and live tracks, a broader look than the two volume Chronicle set. The set is delivered in a tri-fold cardboard sleeve with extensive liner notes by Bay Area music historian, Alec Palao. Among his insights is the astonishing fact that CCR never scored a chart-topping U.S. single; Green River and Cosmo’s Factory each topped the album chart, but their peak singles, “Proud Mary,” “Green River” and “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” topped out at #2.
Perhaps it’s fitting that the longevity of the group’s legacy is broader than hit singles. The set’s first two discs sample from the group’s seven original studio albums, including four Fogerty-piloted tracks from the swansong, Mardi Gras. Disc three collects live performances from 1970-71, recorded in the Bay Area and across Europe; all were previously issued on either The Concert or as bonus tracks to the 2008 album reissues. The live mixes are necessarily rawer than the studio recordings, but they’re full and punchy, show off the band’s tight ensemble playing and demonstrate how well CCR’s material translated to the stage. This is a great set for listeners who haven’t upgraded their Chronicle LPs to CDs, those not ready for the box or album reissues, or younger listeners that need to have the waxy buildup of contemporary pop removed from their ears.