While I was watching American Idol with my family the other night, I was delighted to hear one of the early favorites, Crystal Bowersox, perform the beautiful Creedence Clearwater Revival song "Long As I Can See The Light." Creedence songs are not unknown on the Idol stage, though typically consist of poor covers of “Proud Mary” done in Tina Turner’s style. Hearing this latest performance, I was drawn to listening again to Creedence’s solid late 1960s albums. During the course of just over two years, CCR put together a string of six outstanding albums before dissolving in acrimony with a final clunker, Mardi Gras (1972).
Though originally from California, CCR’s great success was capturing a Southern style, feel-good, roots rock sound. John Fogerty, a tremendous songwriter, wrote several great socially conscious songs, although often not as directly as his San Francisco region counterparts. “Run Through The Jungle, which many associate with Vietnam, was actually a comment on gun culture. “Fortunate Son” dealt with jingoist attitudes toward the war.
One of his earliest protest songs was the bleak album closer on the generally upbeat 1969 album Willy and The Poor Boys. I’m not sure if Fogerty has ever provided a clear meaning of the cryptic lyrics. Certainly, given the era, the song title and descriptions of burning lawns brings to mind the civil rights era. Drummer Doug Clifford in a late 2009 interview for Goldmine provides a broader perspective:
“It’s so powerful, and it’s taking a shot at the powers who were running the whole mess at the time. It sort of set the tone for the following albums, I think.”
Regardless of the true meaning, the song itself sounds eerie and, despite limited lyrics, is able to stretch out its themes over six minutes. The minor key blues, the sparse twang of the bass, and Fogerty’s blistering guitar solos all contribute to an atmosphere that is haunting, probably more so than any other Fogerty song. Though “Effigy” is quite a departure from the rest of the album (which also contains “Down on the Corner,” “Fortunate Son,” and “The Midnight Special”), it is a rich piece that reflects that turbulent time and yet still unsettles listeners today.