Friday, July 24, 2020

McQ's Best Of 1969 Vol 13 - Creedence & Friends

If one emerging genre captured the full attention of North American artists in 1969, it was country rock.

It seemed near every artist, even those who had already established big reputations in folk-rock and psychedelia, was ready to put that all aside for a chance to get down-home and rootsy.

And leading the way that year, just as on our Vol 12 - Conventioneers mix, were a pair of relative newcomers; The Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

So as on Conventioneers, we're surrounding a Chronicle-sized portion of songs from these two artists with representative cuts from many of the other pioneering alt-country releases that made 1969 such a rich, inventive, and definitive year in the development of the genre.

Here's the Spotify link. Enjoy!

Set 1 (Road House Revelers)

1. Born On The Bayou - Creedence Clearwater Revival
2. Rag Mama Rag - The Band
3. Country Honk - The Rolling Stones
4. You Don't Have To Cry - Crosby, Stills & Nash
5. Down On The Corner - Creedence Clearwater Revival
6. Christine's Tune - The Flying Burrito Brothers
7. Fare The Well, Miss Carousel - Townes Van Zandt
8. Ballad Of Easy Rider - The Byrds
9. Little Hands - Alexander 'Skip' Spence
10. To Be Alone With You - Bob Dylan
11. Sugar Mountain - Neil Young
12. Green River - Creedence Clearwater Revival
13. Can't Find My Way Home - Blind Faith
14. Wanted Man - Johnny Cash
15. Fancy - Bobby Gentry
16. My Uncle - The Flying Burrito Brothers
17. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down - The Band
18. Wrote A Song For Everyone - Creedence Clearwater Revival

Set 2 (Backwoods Warblers)

19. Roosevelt and Ira Lee - Tony Joe White
20. Jesus Is Just Alright - The Byrds
21. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere - Neil Young & Crazy Horse
22. I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City - Harry Nilsson
23. Be Here To Love Me - Townes Van Zandt
24. It Came Out Of The Sky - Creedence Clearwater Revival
25. Long Time Gone - Crosby, Stills & Nash
26. Let It Bleed - The Rolling Stones
27. Look Out Cleveland - The Band
28. San Francisco Mable Joy - Mickey Newbury
29. Tombstone Shadow - Creedence Clearwater Revival
30. Polly - Dillard & Clark
31. Do You Know How It Feels - The Flying Burrito Brothers
32. At The Crossroads - Sir Douglas Quintet
33. Lay, Lady, Lay - Bob Dylan
34. Lodi - Creedence Clearwater Revival
35. The Unfaithful Servant - The Band
36. The Real Thing - Russell Morris
37. For The Sake Of The Song - Townes Van Zandt
38. A Boy Named Sue - Johnny Cash
39. Down By The River - Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Encore (Honky Tonk Men)

40. Midnight Special - Creedence Clearwater Revival
41. Honky Tonk Women - The Rolling Stones
42. Helplessly Hoping - Crosby, Stills & Nash
43. Up On Cripple Creek - The Band
44. Proud Mary - Creedence Clearwater Revival

All About These Country-Rock Swamp Rats:

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Like a sudden Cajun fog seeping low over a Bayou swamp, Creedence Clearwater Revival came seemingly out of nowhere (actually San Fran) and before long, had permeated everything. Outside of The Beatles, Michael Jackson with Thriller, and Fleetwood Mac with Rumours, few rock and roll act had a single calendar year where they so dominated the radio airwaves. And it started in 1969 for Creedence with the January release of their sophomore effort Bayou Country (Solid Recommend).  The albums would just keep on getting better and more refined through the rest of 1969, but Bayou Country is an outstanding record itself, loaded with jammy numbers like Bootleg, Good Golly Miss Molly, Penthouse Pauper, and Keep On Chooglin', and the record where Creedence really codified their sound and backwoods mystique, perfectly encapsulated in the two selections here that open and conclude this mix, insistent myth-maker Born On The Bayou (for my money, Fogerty's best vocal ever), and the song Dylan himself famously proclaimed as his favorite of 1969, the one-of-a-kind Proud Mary

With their sound and persona now firmly established and their popularity surging, Creedence tightened things way up in August 1969 and went dark and apocalyptic with Green River (Strong Recommend). Though the album rarely addresses the war or the social chaos of 1969 specifically, a brooding sense of turmoil and impending doom lies in lurk everywhere. A Bad Moon Rising gives light to a Tombstone Shadow revealing Sinister Purpose, Commotion is all around, and whether its his present romantic life (Wrote A Song For Everyone) or the future of his career (Lodi), Fogerty envisions only abject failure. Even the bucolic environ of the hit title track is viewed in the context of modern angst, rather than something to celebrate in itself. Only a lively, last-minute cover of Ray Charles The Night Time Is The Right Time lightens the mood. and yet, despite all that bad mojo, Green River remains one of the best listens of the late 60s.

Landing in November, '69, Willy And The Poor Boys (Highest Recommend) was a much more upbeat, feisty affair. Song for song, with multiple instrumental tracks, maybe not quite as strong as Green River, but on an intangible level, even better, and arguably the band's high point vocally, best exemplified by the group harmonies on its pair of Leadbelly covers Cotton Fields and The Midnight Special, and Fogerty's beyond fierce, Julie Nixon/David Eisenhower-wedding-inspired rant on Fortunate Son. Elsewhere, the resilience, importance, and craftiness of America's working poor played paramount, whether they were performing those essential tasks the upperclass disdains (Don't Look Now), shilling their tunes for a nickel (Down On The Corner), or taking full advantage of a very unusual, fortuitous discovery (the laugh-out-loud funny It Came Out The Sky). Even the album's bleak closer, second Nixon putdown Effigy, didn't pack enough dark energy to bring down the album's prevailing optimistic, gritty charm, which is why I rate Willy as 1969's fourth best album, behind only The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed, and the remarkable album that follows next in this write up. 

The Band: As definitely stated in our write up for Vol 2 - Best Of The Best, we here at mcqsbestof consider The Band (Highest Recommend) the best album of 1969 and arguably the greatest alt-country release of all-time. On this mix we plunge deep into the album's musically and narrative riches, highlighting its two most iconic tracks, trucker anthem Up On Cripple Creek and Civil War epic The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, as well as the heartbreaking, mysterious ballad The Unfaithful Servant, rousing open southern plains tornado warning (at least that's the most literal interpretation) Look Out Cleveland, and the utterly irrepressible Levon Helm-led frontier jaunt Rag Mama Rag.

The Rolling Stones: Having already profiled Let It Bleed's bluesiest numbers on Vol 3 - B.B. Badass Bluesdown, here we lock in on Let It Bleed's country-side with the album's swampy title cut and the irresistible, down-home Honky Tonk Woman repackaging Country Honk, as well as Honky Tonk Woman itself, which was only released as a Fourth Of July single preceding the album in 1969.

Crosby, Stills & Nash: With our final look at Crosby, Stills & Nash's influential debut, after having already taken in Suite: Judy Blue Eyes on Vol 1 - Nancy's Favorites, Wooden Ships on Vol 6 - Psychedelic Fade, and Marrakesh Express on Vol 10 - Poptimists & Operatics, we tackle the core of the album with three of its most prominent country-folk-inspired numbers, Crosby's Robert Kennedy assassination rumination Long Time Gone, and two of Still's standout compositions, You Won't Have To Cry, and Helplessly Hoping.

The Flying Burrito Brothers: Oft considered one of the landmark country rockalbums of the 1960s, the Chris Hillman and Gram Parson fronted Flying Burrito Brother's debut 
The Gilded Palace Of Sin (Solid Recommend) had a significant hand in shaping the emerging country-rock genre.  But for all the praise heaped on the album over the years and its clear impact on the musical landscape at the time, I have to admit to being a touch underwhelmed by the album today. It's unquestionably a better than solid album, but to my ears, its status as an all-time classic needs to be reassessed (though in all fairness, I've never been a huge Gram Parsons fan). Still, given its historic impact, it's an album everyone should hear at least once, with a number of excellent tunes. The fine Sin City is usually the highest ranking tune with the critics, but opener Christine's Tune is the clear standout for me, with the ballad Hot Burrito #1, the draft-dodging-oriented My Uncle, and nifty harmonic ditty Do You Know How It Feels trailing close behind.

Townes Van Zandt: Such a troubled life, so many great songs. Amongst the many tragic ironies of songwriter's songwriter Townes Van Zandt's life, one of the most brutal is that his musical eureka moment came early in his teens when he saw Elvis Presley on television and assessed that one could gain everything - wealth, excitement, girls, girls, girls - with minimal effort simply by singing and playing guitar a little. But it would never pan out that way for Van Zandt, who spent the bulk of his life battling manic depression and addiction, and never graduating beyond playing (and often living in) dive bars throughout the south and west, but through it all he put down some indelible albums, and two of his very best came in 1969. First up was sophomore full-length Our Mother The Mountain (Solid Recommend), which featuring the likes of Why She's Acting This Way, KathleenSt. John The Gambler, Like A Summer Thursday, a sparer re-recording of Tecumseh Valley and Be Here To Love Me included on this mix here, is considered by many his finest collection of songs.

Third effort Townes Van Zandt (Solid Recommend) was more of the same, maybe even better, with a slightly more varied production that gives the album a touch more dynamism than Our Mother The Mountain.  We're highlighting two classics from this one, the superior harpsichord or accordian-accented re-recording of For The Sake Of The Song, and the relatively lush (by Van Zandt standards) kiss-off number Fare The Well, Miss Carousel.

The Byrds: Following the departure of Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons to form their own Flying Burrito Brothers, Roger McGuinn reformed the act around the talents of guitarist Clarence White, drummer Gene Parsons (no relation to Graham), and bassist John York. This lineup would release two albums in 1969, the uneven and schizophrenic Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde (Not Recommended), and the much more relaxed The Ballad Of Easy Rider (Mild Recommend). Neither album is close to top tier material compared to the many elite albums in the band's discography, and though perfectly pleasant, should be considered fodder for hardcore fans and completists only (even though given the tie in to the hit movie, Easy Rider did become the band's top overall seller for a couple years until the superior critical reputation of the band's earlier works pushed them back to the top of the heap in the years after the act disbanded), but we are profiling the two minor hit songs from the latter, starting with the title track, co-written with Bob Dylan, and their minor hit cover of Jesus Is Just Alright.

Alexander 'Skip' Spence: Much has already been said about former Jefferson Airplane/Moby Grape member Alexander 'Skip' Spence's bizarre solo debut Oar (Strong Recommend) in our write up for Vol 6 - Psychedelic Fade, but here we embrace the sluggish yet somehow engrossing country-rock flavor of most of the album with the album's most accessible song Little Hands

Bob Dylan: Coming on the heels of the could've been recorded before Elvis John Wesley Harding, Dylan's ninth album Nashville Skyline (Solid Recommend) took his rustic pursuits even further with a headfirst dive into unabashedly upbeat, simple country. A major stylistic shift from the epic lyrical surrealism of Highway 61 and Blonde on Blonde just a few years earlier, it was nonetheless widely accepted by fans, and fueled by the likes of Lay, Lady, Lay, jaunty upbeat ditties like To Be Alone With You and that killer Johnny Cash-duet remake of The Girl From North Country, remains one of the touchstone albums in the late 60s country-rock movement.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse: As loose, ragged, and instrumentally simplistic as album's come, Neil Young's second solo effort Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Highest Recommend) was a direct repudiation of the polished sound he had established on his self-titled debut released just four months earlier, and with standards like the title track and Down By The River featured here, established the spare, jammy, "feeling-over-precision" template for much of his work to come, not to mention the countless future artists Nowhere the album inspired.

But Everybody Knows This Nowhere wasn't Young's only offering in 1969. He also finally released one of his very first and most iconic folk songs, fan-favorite lost youth lament On Sugar Mountain, which he had written in 1965 soon after turning 21 while despairing over no longer being able to enter the under-21 music club where his girlfriend and best friends all continued to hang.  Another friend, Joni Mitchell found the song so sad, she wrote her hit The Circle Game in an effort to cheer him up, to let him know there were still things worth living for after the age of 21. 

Blind Faith: Though a disappointment given the elite fire power collected in the Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Stevie Winwood supergroup, and more of jam-rock exercise overall, Blind Faith's eponymous debut (Mild Recommend) did produce one classic rock standard with the stunning acoustic folk ballad Can't Find My Way Home, which fits perfectly with the rest of the material collected here. 

Johnny Cash: For all the deserving praise directed at Johnny Cash's landmark At Fulsom Prison, I would argue, and I'm not alone, that Cash's second album in his live prison show series, 1969's At San Quentin (Highest Recommend), is even better - not nearly the complete statement that Fulsom is, but tighter, rawer, meaner, and almost unhinged as Cash is clearly coked-up-out-of-his-mind during the show. His between-song repartee with the prisoner's is priceless (peak highlight: when the band decides to just replay San Quentin back-to-back a the behest of the crowd), and the songs and performances are simply great. We're featuring two of At San Quentin's best known numbers here, lively opener Wanted Man and the original recording of infamous fan favorite A Boy Named Sue, but this is without question an album you want to seek out and hear in full. 

Bobbie Gentry: A bit controversial at the time its release, Bobbie Gentry's Fancy, the unapologetic tale of orphaned girl who with her dying mother's encouragement turns to prostitution to dig herself out of poverty, is now most often cited to point out the parallel's to Gentry's own life, with her having grown up dirt poor and married casino magnate Bill Harrah just a year prior to the song's release.

Tony Joe White: My favorite discovery on this mix, I must admit to having being completely oblivious to the joys of swamp rock pioneer Tony Joe White prior this year.  For this mix here, we use the so funky, so endearing bullfrog-leg quest Roosevelt And Ira Lee to kick off Set 2. Unfortunately, we do not highlight his wonderful Rainy Night In Georgia, because Brook Benton's more successful (and yes, slightly better) cover of the song was also released in 1969.

Harry Nilsson: Brooklyn-born singer-songwriter Nilsson's fourth studio album Harry! was the artist's first to crack the Billboard charts, powered in part by I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City, a song written specifically at the request of director John Schlesinger to replace Nilsson's cover of Fred Neil's Everybody's Talkin on the Midnight Cowboy temp soundtrack, but which Schlesinger ultimately abandoned to stick with Everybody's Talkin instead.

Mickey Newbury: After becoming the first and only songwriter in history to score four top-5 hits in four different genre charts in a single year in 1968, Newbury won the right to record a debut album with RCA, Harlequin Melodies, but ended up hating the effort, feeling it had been horrifically overproduced.  So he broke ranks with RCA and set out to record what he would later call his "proper debut" Looks Like Rain. Sparely arranged, with atmospheric precipitation sound effects pepper throughout, it would come to be seen as a progenitor in the outlaw country movement that would soon be picked up by the likes of Waylon Jennings and David Allen Coe, and contains a number of Newbury's most cherished songs, like San Francisco Mabel Joy included here.

Dillard & Clark: Just had to include Polly, the wonderfully atmospheric, downcast, south-of-the-border ballad that comes to us from Byrd's offshoot Dillard & Clark's final album as a country-rock duo, Through The Morning, Through The Night

Sir Douglas Quintet: We're going with At The Crossroads, the highest charting 1969 single for Doug Sahm's original Tex-Mex outfit, The Sir Douglas Quintet, to represent the band, even though it means excluding an even more potent 1969 cover of the song off of Mott The Hoople's self-titled debut. Ideally, listeners will check both versions out. 

Russell Morris: The final Americana artist profiled on this mix wasn't
 a North American at all, but an Australian, one of that nation's most celebrated singer/songwriters of the late 60s/early 70s, Russell Morris, who adds his talents here with his debut hit single, The Real Thing.

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