27 March 2008
Rock epic of the month: "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" (Creedence Clearwater Revival) 1970
Rock epics of the month is a series of posts where I'll look back on classic examples of what I think is the greatest excess of rock and roll - the rock epic.
I've just been to Bluesfest in Byron Bay and the closing act of this five day extravaganza was John Fogerty. And rather than review this particular set - which was excellent, by the way - I'll just cover this particular song. If I get the time, I'll do a review of Bluesfest itself.
This song was originally written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong for Motown Records. By the time it got recorded, it ended up getting done twice by both Gladys Knight and the Pips in 1967 and by Marvin Gaye in 1968. Both of which are pretty good versions.
The tune was covered by two other acts from the Motown roster - The Temptations in 1968 and by The Undisputed Truth in 1971. Which pretty much goes to show that songs being covered to death isn't just a 1990s phenomenon.
But when Creedence covered it in 1970 for their album Cosmo's Factory, it was turned into an all round great big monster of a tune which they managed to stretch out to 11:07.
Where Knight and Gaye merely alluded to the impending doom of the relationship in their versions, it was clear from the outset that Creedence's version was to be a different kettle of fish. Slightly faster, the dual guitar attack of Fogerty and his brother Tom and bassist Stu Cook set the pace from the outset.
Hirsute drummer Doug "Cosmo" Clifford comes in to set the thing ablaze after the 8 bar intro and it's off chooglin' away down the track, possibly down to New Orleans. "Chooglin'" was a unique Creedence word which probably means something in the neck of the world where they came from - California, funnily enough, and not the deep south - but it appears to me that chooglin' as applied by the band, refers to the part where they nestle into a groove and milk it until the cows come home. Oh that was a clumsy mix of metaphor and cliché.
The main riffs in 'Grapevine' would appear to be perfect examples of chooglin'.
It's often said that white folks have no soul. Whoever dreamed up this stupid saying was one racist fuck, because it's clear from Fogerty's howling vocals that this ain't no ordinary tale of love gone wrong. Fogerty's not only screaming blue murder, but lashing away with his axe during the extended solos like the offending partner in this tale is on the receiving end.
Clifford is obviously in tune with this theme as he slashes away at the crash cymbal at the perfect moment all the way through the chorus ("I hoid it through the grape*smash*vine") and the rest of the tune throughout. Even the fills seem murderously well placed during the solos.
Yes folks, Fogerty had soul. Still does, in fact, but I'll come to that in a future post.
Tom Fogerty left the band the following year after the release of their Pendulum album and they recorded one final album as a three-piece before breaking up in 1972. Tom released some solo stuff before dying in the early nineties of an AIDS related infection contracted from a blood transfusion.
John Fogerty went on to have a weird solo career where, amongst other things, he was sued for plagiarising himself and he became known for his expertise on bottleneck slide guitar. He released an album called Revival last year.
Cook and Clifford played with a number of different bands, and Clifford released his own solo release, before reuniting in the 90s to form Creedence Clearwater Revisited.
Anyway, here's a snippet of this classic track. Do enjoy, but please check out the full eleven minute version. It's just wrong without the extended soloing.