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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Creedence Clearwater Revival -- Willy and the Poor Boys

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9/10

Willy and the Poor Boys is the third full-length album Creedence Clearwater Revival released in 1969.  Plenty of bands are lucky to get out three albums in a decade, but Creedence put out three very good ones in eleven months.  Willy and the Poor Boys is the sliest and best of the trio.
The album softens the listener up from the get go with, "Down on the Corner," a nostalgic number about an old street band, but Willy and the Poor Boys has far darker intentions in store. The next song is a fun story about a farmer who has something from space land in his field.  The subversive lyrics coyly hint that every type of power that be will do anything to take it from him. This is followed by the breezy Lead Belly cover "Cotton Fields," though the third chorus is:
Oh, when them cotton bolls get rotten
You can't pick very much cotton,
In them old cotton fields back home.
Side two kicks off with the ubiquitous, hard-rocking "Fortunate Son," which brings the lurking subtext of societal rot to the surface.  It's usually taken as an anti-war song, but on a deeper level, it's really a song for all of the downtrodden and oppressed who find themselves under the powerful's thumb.
"Don't Look Now," returns to the more laid-back sound of the majority of the album, but its lyrics take the seething ideas of "Fortunate Son" to a whole new level.
Don't look now, someone's done your starvin' 
Don't look now, someone's done your prayin' too 
Who will make the shoes for your feet? 
Who will make the clothes that you wear? 
Who'll take the promise that you don't have to keep? 
Don't look now, it ain't you or me
A second Lead Belly cover, "The Midnight Special" furthers the same themes
Well, you wake up in the mornin', you hear the work bell ring
And they march you to the table to see the same old thing
Ain't no food upon the table, and no pork up in the pan
But you better not complain, boy, you get in trouble with the man
Of course, if you aren't listening to the lyrics, you think you are just getting a good, old-fashioned rock song. "Side O' the Road" follows, and it is a great late-60's rock instrumental.
"Side O' the Road" leads the way to the final track, "Effigy," and its lyrics and emotions match its music, "Effigy" throws any pretense of going easy on the listener out the window.

I love "Effigy," and no one ever talks about it, so I will end this review with a breakdown of the song.
"Effigy" begins with a haunting lead guitar line, then the rhythm guitar, bass, and drums come in with a slow, steady, hard-bottomed groove.
Last night I saw a fire burning on 
The palace lawn 
O'er the land 
The humble subjects watched in mixed 
Emotion
[Chorus:]
Who is burnin'? 
Who is burnin'? 
Effigy
Someone has finally had enough and taken things to the powers that be.  Maybe.  Maybe that person is the one burning on the palace lawn.  Tom Fogerty's usually comforting voice sounds more ominous than ever.
Last night
I saw the fire spreadin' to
The palace door
Silent majority
Weren't keepin' quiet
Anymore
Who is burnin' 
Who is burnin' 
Effigy
Obviously, the people are angry to the point that they are taking it to their "masters."  Chaos ensues.  The band follows this verse and chorus by seriously rocking out.
Last night I saw the fire spreadin' to 
The country side 
In the mornin' 
Few were left to watch 
The ashes die 
Who is burnin'? 
Who is burnin'? 
Effigy.
The powers that be put those who would stand against them back in their place as brutally as possible. The common people, who live in the countryside, are the ones who pay the heaviest price.
Why? 
Why? 
Why? 
Effigy.
It all ends up being senseless.  Almost everyone ends up burning, even though some other type of resolution had to have been possible.  The band now rocks out as hard as possible.  Such a rocking out can never truly end, thus the song slowly fades into aural darkness.  End of a great song.  End of a great album.

1969 Fantasy
1. Down on the Corner 2:47
2. It Came Out of the Sky 2:56
3. Cotton Fields 2:54
4. Poorboy Shuffle 2:27
5. Feelin' Blue 5:05
6. Fortunate Son 2:21
7. Don't Look Now 2:12
8. The Midnight Special 4:14
9. Side O' the Road 3:26
10. Effigy 6:31

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