John Fogerty “Wrote a Song for Everyone”
Covering a classic song is risky business. Fans of the original often find the cover version lacking passion and find that the artist or band fails to understand the meaning of the lyrics and this new musical interpretation thus misses the mark completely. Fans of the cover version, and the artist or band giving the song a new hearing for a new audience, feel strongly that the cover gives fresh meaning to the original, elevating the music to a new level and infusing it with new life. Sometimes, of course, new fans of a song don’t recognize it as a cover of an older song.
John Fogerty’s done his share of covers. His first solo album, “The Blue Ridge Rangers” (1973), featured his takes on bluegrass gospel (“Workin’ on a Building”), gospel (“Have Thine Own Way, Lord”), and country (“Today I Started Loving You Again,” “Jambalaya”). In 2009, Fogerty mounted the same horse and Blue Ridge Rangers rode again on the album of the same name; this time he covered songs from John Prine’s “Paradise” and Rick Nelson’s “Garden Party” (helped by the Eagles’ Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmidt) to The Kendalls’ “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away” and, with Bruce Springsteen’s help, Phil Everly’s “When Will I Be Loved.”
As meaningful as those projects might have been for him, Fogerty eventually tired of working alone, singing other people’s songs (though he produced his share of his own material over these years as well), and as he’s said recently, “the real way is to make music with other people; sharing it by yourself really sucks; you need to share it with others.” Now, when John Fogerty decided to make music with others, he called on some of today’s, and yesterday’s , most recognizable names, let them select the songs of his on which they wanted to play, and sat down with them and produced a joyous, cantankerous, boisterous, and rollicking album.
Fogerty, whose music with and without Creedence Clearwater Revival provided the soundtrack for a generation, revisits some of his best-loved, most memorable tunes with a fresh set of strings, a gritty voice that’s lost none of its bite and passion, and compelling arrangements fashioned out of long talks with guests artists to re-create these classics for a new generation.
The album kicks out the jams with a rowdy, grab-you-by-the-throat-and-never-let-go rendition of “Fortunate Son,” which features the Foo Fighters. Fogerty and the band shout out the accusations of privilege with the same anger and fire of the original, and the blistering guitars toward the song’s end transport us to a different world to remind us just how little has changed since Fogerty first launched the choruses at a world gone awry.
“Almost Saturday Night” kicks off momentarily as a bluegrass tune, with lightning banjo and mandolin licks, but it quickly turns into a pop-inflected romp that, with Keith Urban’s tasty guitar licks and rousing backing chorus, recalls the musical style of The Hollies “Look Through Any Window.” With the banjos playing under the lead break, this song also recalls just about any song, but mainly “Take It Easy,” from the Eagles’ first eponymous album, which was released the same year CCR broke up.
Fogerty teams up with his sons, Shane and Tyler, for a rollicking, funky, swamp rock version of “Lodi” that recalls Emmylou Harris’s rapid-fire, let-me-get-the-hell-out-of-this place cover. The original captured more forcefully the mournful regret and wonder-what-I’m-doing-here-in-this-business than this take, though the aching guitars at the song’s end provoke some of that spirit. Apparently, his sons had a folkie version in mind, but their dad persuaded them to head down this funkier path.
“Mystic Highway,” one of the two new songs on the album, recalls the Poco of “A Good Feelin’ to Know” album, while the other new tune, “Train of Fools,” sounds as if it came out of Johnny Cash’s canon of songs; neither of the new songs, which Fogerty performs solo, is especially memorable, but “Mystic Highway” captivates and pulls listeners in right away, while “Train of Fools” leaves them standing at the station.
The title track features Miranda Lambert, and it starts out with a strumming acoustic guitar—not too different from the original—but when the strains of a pedal steel enter in the second bar, the song starts to take off in a different direction. This version still captures the aching sense of loss, disappointment, and missed opportunities of the original, but the song takes off during the lead break when Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine lifts the song heavenward with his soaring, cosmic Robyn Hitchcock-like solo; throughout the song the voices and instruments lift us to another plane even as the lyrics remind us of the impossibility of ever transcending our feelings of failure at having reached too far yet ignoring what’s closest to us.
The Zac Brown Band’s joins forces with Fogerty on “Bad Moon Rising,” providing a call-and-response gospel inflected chorus that shouts the apocalyptic tone of the song better than the original. On “Long as I Can See the Light,” My Morning Jacket teams up with Fogerty and captures the yearning, hunger, and pining of the original; Carl Broemel’s searing and plaintive guitar and the rousing vocals turn this version into an anthem about the nature of home and the long desire to get there.
“Born on the Bayou” features Kid Rock in a less than memorable take on the choogling original, but guitar slinger Brad Paisley and Fogerty battle it out in a searing, blistering duel of guitars in “Hot Rod Heart.” Bob Seger teams with Fogerty on “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” although the opening piano and Seger’s vocals turn the original into a tune so close to “Against the Wind” that it robs the Fogerty song of some of its own power. Still, the spare arrangement manages to capture some of that mournful power that we first head in the original; Alan Jackson’s countrified “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” hews close to the original while lending it a resigned voice of one who seen too much rain, capturing that downtrodden spirit of the original.
Dawes’ version of “Someday Never Comes” may be the most memorable song on the album; it hews close to the original, which is not in and of itself a virtue, but Dawes captures the forlorn spirit of the original both in the band’s splendid guitar work and its pure vocals. You can hear the ache in their voices as they sing about loss of innocence.
“Proud Mary” may be one of Fogerty’s best know songs, thanks to Ike and Tina Turner’s version. Jennifer Hudson imitates the Turner cover at the song’s start, but Allen Toussaint and the Rebirth Brass Band turn this version into a New Orleans-style stomp, led by Hudson’s soaring vocals.
It’s great to have Fogerty back performing these tunes, and the folks he’s selected to help him revisit these tunes provide some terrific support for him. Some songs disappoint; others more than satisfy, but that’s part of the deal you make when you do such an album. One thing’s sure: Fogerty is a brilliant songwriter who has the ability to look laser-like into personal and public matters and write a tune that takes us straight to the heart of these matters. He also demonstrates on this album that he’s a masterful guitar slinger as well as a gruff singer with an affecting voice.
This clip features Miranda Lambert and John Fogerty talking about the recording of their version of “Wrote a Song for Everyone”