Thursday, March 3, 2016

Storms: Two from Creedence Clearwater Revival

Purchase: Who'll Stop The Rain; Have You Ever Seen the Rain

A pair of weather-related tunes from the great Creedence Clearwater Revival: Have You Ever…and Who’ll Stop…The Rain.

One of the great rock bands of the 1960s, the defining term rock being used here to delineate music of that era that is unadulterated by the tripping trappings of psychedelic flower power, and paying homage back to blues and folks roots. Creedence’s output was backbone straight front porch swinging country-blues-folk tinged rock, a pure specimen in an experimental time. Troubled by forces from within and without, CCR didn’t last nearly as long as they should have, but what they put out stands as the litmus test for the pure and good in rock ‘n roll.

I struggle with this blog sometimes—should I be trying to unearth rare gems, from unknown and unsung bands, and give them some exposure, or is it OK to dwell in the past and give the sometimes all to familiar and taken for granted a fresh listen? I don’t have an answer for that quandary. I do love going back and really digging into a song though, even when it is one I've heard so often that it has become a comforting background soundtrack rather than a song that gives one pause.  

Who’ll Stop the Rain and Have You Ever Seen the Rain are songs that you know, that you can sing along to, that you’ve heard a million times or more as staples of classic rock radio. When I did a Spotify search for “Who’ll Stop the Rain”, it was amazing how many times it has been covered, and in so many different styles. So what is there to say about the songs we’ve heard over and over? The universality of songs like these two from CCR strikes me as something worth nothing and exploring. Even if you’ve heard a song it is worth taking another listen. Sometimes, it’s not about shedding new light so much as appreciating a song by rehearing it, giving it a bit of an investigatory listen with a finely conditioned ear.

Released exactly one year apart, let’s look first at Who’ll Stop the Rain. This is a classic rock/folk ballad, and it listens like alt-country before alt-country was really a thing. Lyrically, Who’ll Stop the Rain takes on the classic form of a lament. And while it doesn’t delve into the realm of intense grief or mourning, there is sadness to this song about answers that haven’t arrived or appeared, despite the nature of the search and the fact that the search has lasted for what might be a lifetime. Despite its lack of clarity, there is universality of optimism giving way to sadness that speaks to the era it was written in. One can’t help but hear the song as a reference to the broken optimism of the 1960’s flower power and peace movement. The ‘60s are great to look at as a sweeping social movement—the changes that were wrought from turbulent times were amazing and I think the power of the times reverberates to this day. But (and I am saying this as someone who wasn’t part of that generation, so I’m no expert), it seems that certain influences—drugs being the chief one—corrupted that movement and took from it a certain power that it had to make generation-spanning changes. But, that’s just my opinion. The '70s followed the '60s Followed by the '80s, to the '90s to now…times change, but the course of human events (wars, crime, poverty) follows the same sad course…maybe the world is just meant to be that way. Still, maybe I am looking too hard at the song, asking it to be something it’s not. It’s an imagistic little fable, and maybe it’s just talking about the weather?

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band traditionally open outdoor shows with the song when it is raining. I saw Bruce on the Wrecking Ball Tour in Munich, Germany a few years ago, and it was a frigid, rainy day in May.  I was milling around outside the stadium, thinking I had plenty of time to get into my seats, when I heard the opening chords of “Who’ll Stop the Rain” and realized—holy crap! Bruce is on stage! The rain did not stop that evening, and it was the coldest show I’ve ever been to. They did do Born In The USA from top to bottom as a thank you for coming out in the rain—pretty incredible.

1971’s Have You Ever Seen The Rain, from Pendulum, is yet another fittingly glum track that explores the melancholy that so often accompanies images of the rain. This track is a little more straightforward in terms of interpretation. It has been written that the song is a lament, again, but one directly related to the “fading idealism” of the 60s, that I talked about earlier. But, John Fogarty himself has said that the song is about the tension in CCR that led to Tom, his brother, leaving the band. Also central as a theme is the well-documented fact that despite their popularity and success in the charts, CCR were still miserable. The most revealing line is simple, and as a metaphor, it doesn’t have to work too hard to get the point across: “Have you ever seen the rain/ Coming down on a sunny day.” Not exactly TS Elliot, but then profundity need not be draped in mystery.

CCR were a troubled band, despite being famous and achieving their rock n roll dreams. It’s been sung about before—fame and riches do not guarantee happiness. The sentiment, that it is sometimes hard to be happy despite the obvious reason one should be, is a universal idea. Fans and critics tend to jump all over ‘whiny rock stars’ for complaining about finding the troubling side to the dream the rest of us would give up anything to achieve (think Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder). Yet, those most vocal about the sobering reality of a dream come true are the voices we tend to sing along with the most.

I think certain songs, because they give utterance to the feelings we all share, but don’t always admit to, are all the more popular because they can speak for us. And we can sing along, which means we don’t have to talk about it…

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


I suppose this should really be a learned discourse on the origins of this oft-covered stalwart of the idiom, but, hell, no, let's cut to the chase and forget the earnest original and celebrate Duane, Gregg and the boys. Is this live track not the most uplifting downbeat song ever? Tacked on with Statesboro' Blues on 'Live at the Fillmore' (1971!), this was my introduction to the Allman Brothers and it remains their pinnacle, something I can listen to for time eternal.

Of course, in their decades long history, 1969 - 2014, give or take the odd recess, they have produced a zillion live albums and a trillion live versions of this old warhorse, but it is this outing I always see as the template, even comparing other artists to it, as if it were truly the original. So, then, what of the song? Penned by T-Bone Walker, it was a hit as far back as 1948, although maybe a decade or so elapsed before Bobby 'Blue' Bland cut the version many see as definitive. Indeed, as I much later learnt, much of the phrasing and a lot of the licks were lifted wholesale by the Allmans.

The lyric is the age old simple lament of the working man, the grind of the week, trajecting through to payday and the celebration of the weekend, grounded with some sunday religion, before it all starts again. Whilst Bland seems more celebratory of the contrast between the highs and lows, poor old Gregg Allman sounds completely dragged down by the repetition of the cycle, his vocal as downbeat a lament as any sharecropper half a century his (then) senior. So the then contrast as his hammond kicks into an unexpected jaunty and jazzevocative statement is all the more pronounced. Has he ever produced a more inspired burst of soloing? (In truth I find it hard to recall any other piece of soloing by him at all, making it all the more remarkable.)

Anyone else come close? Well, any blues legend worth his salt, such as Kings, Freddie, B.B. and Albert, most of the white boys, like Clapton and Beck, as well as wild cards like Eva Cassidy and ? and the Mysterians have all given it space. But I guess my other favourite is the one by Jimmy Smith, maybe no surprise if it is the organ that so appeals to me in the Allmans, Smith being the jazz-blues maestro of the same. Here it is in all its instrumental glory:

Now is Tuesday really just the same after any of these? Hell, I hope not.

Get your Stormy Mondays here, not forgetting where the best one came from.