After a busy week, something a little lighter to launch the weekend.
As regular readers know, I’m a fan of National Review’s Political Beats podcast, on which co-hosts Scot Bertram and Jeff Blehar bring in guests from politics/journalism to talk about their favorite bands. This week’s edition (with the Washington Examiner‘s Philip Wegmann) discussed the catalog of Creedence Clearwater Revival.
One of the great appeals of the series is that it generally is a refuge from politics. That’s basically impossible when discussing CCR, which the gents acknowledge in mentioning the band’s work is the unofficial soundtrack for movies and documentaries about Vietnam. The show wisely avoids having a political discussion about CCR’s political songs, but some of the discussion lends itself to some observations about the relationship of culture and politics, both then and now. And I get to make them explicitly, whereas the podcast for reasons of format leaves them as subtext.
For example, Blehar correctly observes that John Fogerty’s most trenchant “political” songs, like “Fortunate Son” and “Don’t Look Now,” are as much about the politics of class as they are specifically about Vietnam. This is (imho) related to another of the observations on the show, that CCR was from the Bay Area, but was never taken seriously by the San Francisco scene (despite having improved over the years at uncorking the occasional long jam live).
As Blehar notes, the psychedelic crowd, in their caftans and love beads, reeking of patchouli oil, had no time for the poorly-coiffed Fogerty and his flannel-wearing bandmates pretending to be from the South (and magnificently so on tracks like “Born on the Bayou” and especially “Proud Mary,” properly described as a song that sounds like a 100-year-old blues-folk tune).
I think this says something about the culture and politics of the late Sixties and the eruption of a schism between the class based politics of the Old Left, and the more culture/lifestyle-based politics of the New Left — an argument that continues on the left, even as that schism has contributed to the decades-long erosion of working class whites from the Democrats to the Republicans.
Moreover, I’d argue that this schism contributes to another phenomenon mentioned on the podcast — that CCR is generally perceived as a “singles” act, rather than an “albums” act (the latter carrying more prestige, among the sort of cultural cognoscenti, most of whom are drawn from the cultural left).
As the gents note, of Rolling Stone‘s Top 500 Albums of All-Time, only Willy and the Poor Boys makes the cut as an original LP, checking in at No. 309 (they are also correct that this is insane and that even if you were crazy enough to only rate one CCR album, it should be Cosmo’s Factory). I don’t think they note that Chronicle — the main CCR singles compilation clocks in at No. 59, in a bit of a cheat, but a revealing one.
The conventional wisdom is slightly ironic, insofar as CCR remains (afaik) the band with the most No. 2 hits that never had a No. 1 single. It’s also wrong because, as noted on the ‘cast, the fact that CCR’s albums are packed with potential hit songs really doesn’t distinguish them from, say, The Beatles.
The persistence of this off-base conventional wisdom is an artifact of the dominance of the cultural left in rock criticism among the pop culture, in the sense that the Jann Wenner aesthetic of Rolling Stone ultimately seized dominance over its competitors. It’s something small in the grand scheme of things, but you can get meaning out of the small things, as anyone who has ever heard CCR can attest.
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