In 1969 alone, Creedence Clearwater Revival released not one or two but three classic albums, the last of which, Willy and the Poor Boys, was released 45 years ago today, Nov. 2. To celebrate the anniversary of this incredible album, here are its 10 songs ranked from weakest to best.
10. Side o' the Road
During his peak, John Fogerty could deliver a memorable vocal melody like it was nobody's business, which is why it seems so unsatisfying to hear an instrumental CCR track. Though Fogerty's guitar solos in "Side o' the Road" are just as twangy and crunchy as you would expect, the rest of the song is not interesting enough to warrant the absence of vocals.
9. Poorboy Shuffle
Yes, I am putting the two instrumental tracks at the bottom of the list, but even though "Side o' the Road" could have easily been excised from the tracklist, "Poorboy Shuffle" is an integral part of the album's fabric. For one thing, it serves as a sort of two-minute intro to "Feelin' Blue," but even more importantly is its scrappy, upbeat nature, which is what sets Willy and the Poor Boys apart from CCR's other albums. Still, it comes off a bit too slight and simplistic to be ranked any higher than this.
8. Midnight Special
One of two cover songs on the album, "Midnight Special" was a traditional folk song originally sung by prisoners down South, most famously Lead Belly, who recorded a version while in prison for murder in 1934. Creedence's version amps up the song's gospel elements while still retaining their signature swamp rock groove, and though they nail it — particularly the harmonies — it runs a little bit too long to remain totally captivating.
7. Feelin' Blue
My favorite part of CCR is their unmistakable and undeniable groove, which can carry just about any song no matter how underwritten. Though I wouldn't ever say "Feelin' Blue" is underwritten — the chorus in particular is stellar in its simplicity — the groove is what keeps me coming back, the sort of rhythm that will force you to bob your head while listening to it.
6. Don't Look Now
As he proves on "Don't Look Now," all John Fogerty ever needed for a great song was a simple 4/4 drum beat and three chords on an acoustic guitar. Sure, this is not a song that was ever going to get played on the radio, but it is a testament to how easy Fogerty made it all sound, coming off like something he just whipped up in the studio on the spot.
5. Cotton Fields
The second cover song on Willy and the Poor Boys — first, actually, since it is earlier in the tracklist — is a version of Lead Belly's "Cotton Fields," which CCR infuses with a breezy country rock sound that the Eagles would emulate a few years later with "Take It Easy." Helping the Eagles comparisons are the song's rich vocal harmonies, something CCR rarely indulged in but were clearly good at.
4. It Came Out of the Sky
"It Came Out of the Sky" is the album's most straightforward rock 'n' roll tune, almost sounding as if it was a cover of some lost Little Richard song. The actual songwriting is almost irrelevant when you have such a raw electric guitar crunch to back it up, which is truly one of the most underrated guitar tones in rock history.
Willy and the Poor Boys closes out with its darkest and longest song "Effigy," and even though it is basically the same chord progression over and over again for six minutes, it totally works. It boasts the album's biggest and fieriest guitar solo about halfway through, but the best part of the whole track is the way in which Fogerty demonically plucks his low E string in each measure, as if he was purposely trying to make it snap.
2. Fortunate Son
"Fortunate Son" was the first CCR song I ever heard — why yes, it was when Forrest Gump went to Vietnam — so it has become the band's definitive song for me. It is the best and most effective anti-war song of its era largely because of the simplicity of its message, which brings pacifism down from the elites to the attention of the common man, who otherwise might not have thought it acceptable to protest a war.
1. Down on the Corner
Now that "Down on the Corner" is used in Walgreens commercials, I get to hear it all the time when I'm watching TV, but this also puts the song in serious danger of being overexposed and unlistenable. Despite this, I simply cannot get sick of the song, because everything about it works: the lead guitar riff, the shuffling rhythm, the melody and that chorus, by far the best on the album and one of CCR's best overall. If "Lookin' Out My Back Door" didn't exist, I would say this is CCR's greatest pop song.
What is your favorite song from Willy and the Poor Boys? What did I get wrong? Let us know down in the comments section.