MGF Reviews John Fogerty – Reunion

John Fogerty – Revival
Concord/Fantasy (10/2/07)

A great many of the younger contingent are currently foaming at the mouth at the actions of the RIAA in court. That recent six-figure judgment stirred up the bile even more. However, you’re not seeing such dramatic reaction from the older set like me. There’s a simple reason for that: we’ve already seen weirdness from the music industry in regard to court cases in an even purer and more mind-boggling form. We lived through George Harrison being declared guilty of “unconscious plagiarism” for turning “He’s So Fine” into “My Sweet Lord”. And we lived through one of the weirdest court cases in the history of music, Fantasy Records v Fogerty.

Yes, it’s history lesson time. Just scroll down if you don’t like it.

So, it’s 1985. Professor Eric is still in college at that point, dealing with the ramifications of quantum mechanics. John Fogerty hadn’t released an album in nearly a decade thanks to David Geffen rejecting one of his works and Fogerty retrenching in response. Then, out of nowhere came Centerfield, one of the greatest comeback albums in history. For those pundits and consumers who were wondering where the righteous blasts of pure energy exhibited by Bruce Springsteen on his three previous albums had come from, Centerfield was the perfect reminder that, long as I (and everyone else who was around) remember, there was this group from California called Creedence Clearwater Revival, and “Born in the USA” was just a rewrite of “Fortunate Son” for the Reaganista Years and that The River was a motif long since drained by Fogerty in his stories of Americana. With one album, Fogerty restored his proper place as past influence and modern recording artist. People were now watching him again.

Unfortunately, one of those people was Saul Zaentz. As head of Fantasy Records (before he became a movie mogul), he signed an unknown CCR in the mid-’60s and watched as they became one of the biggest bands in America. But signing as an unknown group in those days had a very specific and traditional string attached to it—a contract that was one step from indentured servitude. Just after CCR’s messy break-up in the early ’70s, Fogerty had to get out of that contract with Fantasy, and to do so, he had to sign everything away. Fantasy owned the rights to his recordings, and there was nothing Fogerty could do about it. The negotiations for the divorce were as messy as CCR’s break-up. It turned Fogerty and Zaentz into enemies for life. And on Centerfield, the feud was revived.

If you look at your copy of Centerfield (and if you don’t have one, go out and get it), you’ll see that the final track is called “Vanz Kant Danz”. Not on the first pressings. Then, it was called “Zanz Kant Danz”. Saul Zaentz didn’t really like that, especially since the chorus began with the words, “Zanz Kant Danz, but he’ll steal your money”. Zaentz threatened to sue Fogerty for defamation, so Fogerty redid the vocal for subsequent pressings and renamed the song. But Zaentz wasn’t through.

The lead song from the album, and the lead single from it, was “The Old Man Down the Road”, now a standard of classic rock radio. Zaentz filed a case claiming that “The Old Man Down the Road” was stolen from a song owned by Fantasy Records called “Run Through The Jungle”. The latter song was written and performed by… John Fogerty.

John Fogerty was being sued for plagiarizing himself. Get that one through your heads.

It took until 1993 to settle the suits and countersuits, but Fogerty finally won. He didn’t get the rights to his songs back, but now he was free, with the imprimatur of the law, to write the way he always had and record those songs. He has always said that he was going to record an entire album of songs that sounded exactly like Creedence in its prime. Now, he’s finally done it.

Revival is a loaded title to give such an album. It’s a statement of fact here, with religious overtones that match the way classic rock lovers feel about Creedence. The reverence is deserved. Fogerty has synthesized his traditional swamp rock with a commercial force that he was a key inspiration for, modern country rock, producing a very appealing hybrid, a sound that you could easily see Creedence settling into had they survived their internal tumults.

“Don’t You Wish It Was True” is the lead track and lead single, and it sets up things nicely. This is a song that Kenny Chesney or Alan Jackson would kill to perform (and they likely will include it in their sets within the next few years). It’s also a song that you can hear Glenn Frey doing lead vocals on circa On the Border; it’d fit in perfectly with “Already Gone” or “James Dean”. The Eagles have never really admitted to CCR as an influence, but it wasn’t that obvious at the time. Now that it is, “Don’t You Wish It Was True” is the sound of a circle being closed, and all the better for it; the vein is continued in “Broken Down Cowboy”, which sounds like a lost demo for Desperado, something made all the possible by the fact that Fogerty was signed to Asylum after his escape from Fantasy. I’m not a fan of country music, but Fogerty shows that modern country has its merits, and why it’s become acceptable for rock fans to listen to it.

“Gunslinger” and “River Is Waiting” display a second thread of influence, one that I’ve already cited. They’re songs that most fans unclear on the history of rock will call “Springsteen rip-offs”. It’s more a convergence than a rip-off. Springsteen has never sounded more like Fogerty than he does on Magic, so there’s a modus vivendi at work here, the sight of two legends at the summit of Rock Parnassus coming to grips with each other and acknowledging that each has given and taken to the other, a potlach in rock’s best tradition. No, it’s no rip-off. It’s something much sweeter and more innocent, in a time where innocence is a true rarity and something to be prized.

Another quantity that’s a true rarity in music these days is irony. Real irony, not Alanis irony. Fogerty’s always been one of the best at writing material that expresses that tricky concept, and “Creedence Song” is the latest example of it. He takes on his own legacy and is able to both celebrate and dismiss it at the same time, displaying all the contradictions of the human god that he’s become. It’s a funny song to boot, which makes it all the better. It’s the direct heir to “Lodi”, answering the question of what happens after that struggling singer makes it big and enters music history and vocabulary.

Of course, Fogerty doesn’t ignore swamp rock. “Long Dark Night” is like a harder version of “Bad Moon Rising”, albeit without the apocalyptic implied imagery of that overplayed classic. It’s got everything that made Creedence so great, only missing a reference to Cody Junior for a full transport back to 1969. It points out the fact behind the humor in “Creedence Song”: you really can’t go wrong playing a little bit of that Creedence song. “Natural Thing” continues this trend; it sounds like a deep track from Cosmo’s Factory. Fogerty goes further back on the short but incredibly sweet “It Ain’t Right” and “I Can’t Take It No More”, showing the roots of swamp rock in both rockabilly and Little Richard. Reverend Penniman would have definitely been in favor of the rave-ups that Fogerty’s done here. In fact, I’d love to see what Little Richard could do today with “I Can’t Take It No More”. They’re perfect lead-ins to the blues rave-up of “Somebody Help Me”.

“Summer of Love”, by comparison, comes as a shock. It not only sounds like a Neil Young song, it sounds as if Young was doing the vocal. This is not a condemnation, by the way. There are tons of artists out there who’d kill to be compared positively to Neil Young. It does make me wonder, though, how much of a percolation there was between the Bay Area and Los Angeles during the time period “celebrated” in this song. Most rock histories have dismissed this, considering SF- and LA-distinct entities. But Fogerty and Young were always ones for cross-pollination.

“Longshot” closes the disk in style. It’s probably the song that will be playing on classic rock stations in twenty years. Its politics are subtle compared to, say, “Fortunate Son”, delving into the personal as well as the world-view. Dubbaya has admitted being a Fogerty fan, and this song shows Fogerty’s disgust with that. It’s a personal statement couched in a hard-driving love song, something he’s a master at.

Revival lives up to its name. It shows a legend in full control of his music and his image. He fuses the old and new with the skill of a true master, creating something that looks back on the past while still maintaining a foothold in the present. Between this album and Springsteen’s Magic, it’s a good time for members of the Hall of Fame. Let’s just hope that he doesn’t have to go to court about this one too.