The band’s second album Bayou Country (1969) spawned many popular and successful singles, reaching the top five on both sides of the Atlantic. The band enjoyed a monumentally successful year, releasing three more albums in 1969, however, all was not well behind the scenes, with John Fogerty’s control of the group’s artistic direction and business affairs causing tension with his bandmates.
After the release of 1970’s Pendulum, Tom decided to leave the band, feeling he could no longer work with his brother. The next year, John announced he wanted the band to be more democratic, with each member writing and performing their own material. This led to the band’s final album Mardi Gras, released in spring 1972. The album did not sell as well as its predecessors and this, along with tensions between each other and their record label, led to the band splitting up in October 1972.
Each member of the band went on to do their own thing, though none reached the heights of their success as a group. Tragically, Tom Fogerty passed away in 1990, not having properly made up with his brother. Cook and Clifford formed Creedence Clearwater Revisited in ’95 but have recently ruled out ever reuniting with John Fogerty.
Over the years the band recorded some genre-defining tracks which are still listened to and loved today. This list will examine ten of the best Creedence Clearwater Revival songs released by the band across their short and tumultuous career.
# 10 – Lookin’ Out My Backdoor
Released in 1970 from Cosmo’s Factory, Lookin’ Out My Back Door is a relaxed romp of a Southern rock track. CCR hold the record for having the most number of singles reach number two on the Billboard Hot 100 without ever scoring a number one, and this track became the last of the band’s songs to reach this impressive peak.
The track features a gorgeous interplay between Tom Fogerty’s rhythm guitar and John’s lead instrument. Tom’s strumming forms the bulk of the song’s instrumental whilst John’s guitar magnificently creaks and strains in the background.
The lyrics of the song tell a bizarre story, which seems to be about a circus – complete with elephants and other creatures parading across John’s backyard. You might assume, as is so often the way with rock stars, that the song was about – or inspired by – drugs, but this could not be further from the truth. In fact, Fogerty wrote the song to please his three-year-old son, thinking that he would enjoy hearing his dad singing about animals and other fun things on the radio.
Sonically, the track seems to be a tribute to the “Bakersfield sound” a sub-genre of country music, utilized by bands like Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, and the Grateful Dead, which strips the genre back to basics. As such, Lookin’ Out My Back Door is free of complicated and slick production effects and is simply one of those good, old-fashioned sounding Creedence Clearwater Revival songs.
# 9 – Green River
Taken from the album of the same name, Green River was released in 1969 and is one of those wonderfully evocative Creedence Clearwater Revival songs that manages to take the listener to another place and time. Like a lot of the band’s oeuvre, the track makes reference to iconic parts of Southern American culture, and you can really imagine yourself chilling alongside the bayou in New Orleans when listening to the track. In fact, the song was inspired by Putah Creek in California, a place where the Fogerty family visited many times during John’s childhood. Humorously, the title itself is thought to come from the name of a lime flavored soft drink.
The lyrics of the song describe the scene of John’s idyllic childhood memory, referencing specific memories such as a rope hanging from a tree and girls dancing barefoot in the moonlight. Green River is a rousing roots rock track which is overflowing with jangling guitar. This sound has a raw edge which exquisitely compliments the harshness of John’s vocals. The pulsing riffs at the heart of the piece help give the track a vigor which stops it from becoming just another Southern Rock song about a river in Louisiana.
It’s obvious that the titular green river made a profound impression on young John Fogerty, and, thankfully, this sumptuous song allowed him to share it with the world.
# 8 – Up Around The Bend
Whilst a lot of the output of CCR features lyrics suited to their blues-inspired sound, this 1970 single from Cosmo’s Factory is undeniably upbeat. The track begins with a high-pitched and jangling riff played by John, which sets the scene for the rest of this vibrant and positive song.
The lyrics discuss a gathering or event which the band are attending, which is just around the corner. Of course, song lyrics are often not intended to be taken literally, so it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that what John is singing about is a more general belief in hope for the future and that things will get better soon.
In his autobiography, John stated that the inspiration for this song struck whilst he was riding his motorcycle through the hills of California. This sense of freedom and possibility really comes through in the track, and, even on first listen, it’s next to impossible not to feel some sense of empowerment. The joyfully incessant and churning sound of the song’s clap-drum percussion and rolling guitar riffs further help to create the track’s cheerful and heartening atmosphere. This is perfect road trip music, making the listener feel like a world of opportunity is at their fingertips.
The song was covered by Elton John, but his version cannot compete with the bright and brilliant original. Up Around the Bend is one of those transcendent Creedence Clearwater Revival songs which is impossible to feel down whilst listening too.
# 7 – Suzie Q.
Originally recorded by Dale Hawkins, and previously covered by the Rolling Stones, it is the CCR version of the song which has become the most popular version of the track. The band’s version of the song was released in 1968, from their debut album, and it peaked at number 11. It was the only one of the band’s songs (to chart) which was not written by John Fogerty.
The original version of the track features liberal amounts of cowbell and is noticeably more upbeat than the CCR cover. However, the band’s version is infinitely cooler and edgier than the original, as well as being almost four times longer. The track’s long running time is thought to have been an extended jam which also allowed the band to fill time in their sets. To account for its length the original release was split into two halves
This updated version of the track also means the band could take advantage of (then) cutting-edge studio techniques, the most noticeable of which is the vocal distortion used in the second part of the song’s verse. The vast majority of the eight-minute long track is taken up by some joyful jamming, which includes several brilliantly screeched guitar solos, one of which is a great version of Howlin’ Wolf’s seminal Smokestack Lightning.
Given that John Fogerty was clearly quite a control freak it must have been hard for him to agree to release a cover version (one imagines he wouldn’t have allowed it later into the band’s career). But we should be thankful that he did; the CCR version of Suzie Q took an already great song and turned it into something extraordinary.
# 6 – Run Through the Jungle
Released alongside Up Around the Bend in 1970, this track from Cosmo’s Factory is a brilliant mix of blues rock, psychedelic rock and traditional rock. The track begins with some distorted jungle-like effects (created by backmasking) and fuzzy guitar, immediately making it stand out from some of the softer and lighter tracks on the rest of the album.
The Vietnam War was a hot topic throughout the band’s tenure, so many assumed that Run Through the Jungle was addressing related issues. In fact, in 2016 John explained that the track was actually about gun ownership in the USA. This makes sense when applied to the song’s lyrics which, minimal as they are, fit very well into this explanation.
After the group had split up, John released a track called The Old Man Down The Road as part of his solo project. The boss of CCR’s record label believed this track was too similar to Run Through the Jungle and took John to court. Humorously, the judge ruled that artists cannot plagiarise themselves, so John won the case.
Tom Fogerty listed this track as his favorite Creedence Clearwater Revival song, and it’s easy to see why. This is a very cinematic track, with the sumptuous guitar sounding somehow threatening alongside John’s gravelly vocals and the smooth guitar sound. This is truly an essential Creedence Clearwater Revival track.
# 5 – Have You Ever Seen the Rain
This popular track has been covered by everyone from Rise Against to R.E.M. and Rod Stewart. Just like Run Through the Jungle, this 1971 single from Pendulum is one of those Creedence Clearwater Revival songs which has been mistakenly labeled as being about the Vietnam War. Listeners assumed that the titular rain referred to bombs being dropped from the sky, but John later explained that the track was a reflection upon the fact that, despite being rich and successful the group were still deeply unhappy and on the verge of splitting up; hence the chorus’ line about there being rain on a sunny day. “Sunshowers” are very common in Southern states, making the track fit perfectly into the group’s Southern, roots rock aesthetic.
The song’s instrumental is perfectly suited to its intended theme, with vaguely mournful guitar riffs being accompanied by bittersweet piano notes and tender, thoughtful keyboard chords. The interplay between these instruments and John’s strained vocals really give the listener the sense of an underlying, barely concealed sadness beneath the band’s exterior.
The track was originally written about a dark time in his life, but, heartwarmingly, its meaning has changed for Fogerty. When intruding the song at a show in 2012, he stated that he now associates the song with his rainbow-loving daughter. It’s really nice that he no longer has to relive a stressful time while performing such an iconic song.
# 4 – Born on the Bayou
Famously, John Fogerty had never been to a bayou when he wrote this 1969 classic, yet he managed to capture the spirit of the place quite effortlessly. Indeed, Fogerty would go on to popularize “swamp-rock,” a mixture of country with rhythm and blues and Cajun music, associated with parts of the deep south.
John absolutely belts his heart out on the vocals of the track, his audible conviction no doubt adding heaps of authenticity to his fictionalized account of a Louisiana childhood. Many believe this to be the peak of John’s vocal talents, and they certainly are something to behold. The guitar chords chosen are somehow intrinsically linked to the Southern blues genre, being deep, earthy and layered. Similarly, the cowbell of the second verse not only adds some pep to proceedings but calls to mind the type of swampy and Southern country soundscape the song is aiming for.
Though some of the lyrical content borders on stereotypes, (references to hoodoo, Cajun queens and hound dogs) it’s important to remember that this type of thing was much less of a concern when the song was written. Born on the Bayou became one of the most popular Creedence Clearwater Revival songs, and was arguably their signature track. It was often used to open CCR concerts, and you can imagine screaming fans going wild to that rousing introductory riff and John’s broad and bellowed vocals. No CCR list would be complete without this track, which thoroughly deserves it’s revered place in the band’s history.
# 3 – Proud Mary
Despite often erroneously being credited to Tina and Ike Turner (who covered the song in 1970), Proud Mary is every inch a CCR classic. Released in early 1969, this track is a roots rock staple, with a churning and rolling guitar riff which echoes the lyrics of the chorus.
Along with several of the other tracks on Bayou County, Fogerty wrote Proud Mary very shortly after being released from military service, having had the ideas for the songs in his head for some time. There has always been some confusion about whether or not the titular character is a woman or a boat. It is believed that Fogerty originally conceived it to be a woman but, after a conversation with Stu Cook, realized that a boat would be even better. Of course, all songs are open to interpretation, and some of the best tracks still cause fierce debate about their intended meaning decades after release.
The song is a good example of John Fogerty’s intense perfectionism, as he went back and overdubbed instruments and vocals after the band had finished recording. Needless to say, they were less than impressed. Despite causing tension within the band, no one can deny the genius of Proud Mary, which contains one of CCR’s most memorable vocal hooks.
This track was the first of the band’s infamous streak of records to peak at number two and, impressive as this is, a song like this absolutely deserved the top spot.
# 2 – Bad Moon Rising
Despite its upbeat and chirpy instrumental, this 1969 single from Green River is actually one of the band’s most dark and bleak songs, discussing an impending apocalyptic scenario. It is thought that John Fogerty was inspired by a film called The Devil and Daniel Webster, which features a scene containing a destructive hurricane. The contrast between the jolly instrumental, with its bouncy rhythm guitar and danceable country riffs, and the foreboding, ominous lyrics is a wonderful (and slightly disturbing way) to add further uneasiness to the track.
You won’t be surprised to learn that many assumed the song was referring to political events, such as the Vietnam War. In fact, although he has stated that the song is chiefly about an unstoppable natural phenomenon, Fogerty has admitted that he was likely influenced by wider events on a subconscious level. John has stated that the band were on very good terms during the recording session for this track, and this positive attitude really manages to shine through the song’s instrumental, even if the lyrics do somewhat ironically foreshadow the band’s tumultuous future.
A certain lyric which recurs throughout the song is often misheard as being “There’s a bathroom on the right…” and John would often make reference to this in live shows, humorously gesturing towards the nearest bathroom or purposely performing the incorrect lyrics.
Quite simply Bad Moon Rising is one of those Creedence Clearwater Revival songs which will go down in history, a phenomenal track which effortlessly captures the spirit of the age.
# 1 – Fortunate Son
We close out our top 10 Creedence Clearwater Revival Songs list with the legendary track Fortunate Son. This track from the band’s fourth album Willy and the Poor Boys (1969) has become a mainstay of “greatest songs” lists, even being included on the National Recording Registry for being culturally and historically important to the history of the US.
The track was allegedly written in less than 20 minutes, displaying Fogerty’s uncanny knack for songwriting. Similar to Springsteen’s Born in the USA, the track is often mistakenly thought to be a patriotic anthem, but paying even the slightest attention to the lyrics will tell a different story.
Despite never once mentioning the Vietnam War, Fortunate Son came to be a defining anti-war song. The chief theme of the track is, perhaps, class rather than war, as it discusses how unfair it is that the elite might make decisions about war but that it is the poor working class who will be most affected. This is because one percent are potentially able to use their influence to excuse themselves from direct involvement.
As well as having an admirable message, this track’s musical elements are absolutely brilliant. Fogerty’s growled vocals perfectly capture his anger about the situation, and the memorable and crunchy guitar riffs manage to encapsulate the song’s political tensions. Doug Clifford deserves particular mention for his intense drumming, which flirts just the right amount with a military sound.
There are many Creedence Clearwater Revival songs which are worthy of being at the top of this list, but the intelligence and elegance of this track, not to mention its cultural importance, mean that Fortunate Son must take the top spot.
Over their short but successful career, CCR created some historic tracks which are still very popular today. That they were able to have such an impact on the music industry in such a small amount of time speaks volumes to their irrepressible talent. All of the Creedence Clearwater Revival songs on this list are bonafide classics which have undoubtedly earned their place in rock history.
Updated Nov 7, 2020