Creedence Clearwater Revival were unstoppable between 1969 and ’70, outselling The Beatles with five monster-selling albums and a seemingly endless run of chart singles. Leader John Fogerty’s songs recalled the golden age of rock’n’roll – ringing guitars, hooks, brusque solos – while also chiming with the urgency and discord of the countercultural era.
By the time of fourth album Cosmo’s Factory, however, released in July 1970, CCR were beginning to play against type; the seven-minute Ramble Tamble (an echo of previous long-form pieces like Graveyard Train and Keep On Chooglin’) is more experimental than anything Fogerty had hitherto attempted. What begins as roaring rockabilly soon settles into an explorative kind of bluesy psychedelia, before the band ramp up the pace again for the finale. Similarly, an epic I Heard It Through The Grapevine dilutes the sweetness of Marvin Gaye’s version by turning it into a free guitar jam over a steady funk groove.
Previous albums had seen Californian Fogerty fetishise the Deep South, chasing distant visions of bayous and riverboat queens. Here, however, he picks up the political theme of 1969’s Fortunate Son (a searing commentary on elitism, set against the Vietnam War) by addressing American gun control on Run Through The Jungle. Fogerty is appalled by the sheer ubiquity of firearms in the US, as well as the ease with which anyone can buy them. ‘Two hundred million guns are loaded,’ he sings in his trademark howl, anticipating mayhem. ‘Satan cries: “Take aim!”’
If Run Through The Jungle is classic CCR, a swampy rocker blowing intense heat, then so is Up Around The Bend. It’s a magnificent burst of energy, driven by a hairpin riff that mirrors the theme of open-road freedom.
Other songs take a different turn: Lookin’ Out My Back Door name-checks Buck Owens while copping the latter’s Bakersfield country licks; the socio-political Who’ll Stop The Rain, written after the band’s appearance at Woodstock, is a folk-rock meditation with Byrds-y harmonies; Long As I Can See The Light, with Fogerty’s electric piano ushering in a soulful study of homesickness that suggests he could easily have made it at Stax, might be the most underrated gem in CCR’s entire catalogue.
Topping the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, Cosmo’s Factory pulled off the enviable feat of being both an artistic and commercial success. More importantly, perhaps, it also dispelled the tired myth that Creedence Clearwater Revival were just a great singles band.