276. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Bad Moon Rising (1969)

Early autumn 1969 in the UK was surprisingly mild, reaching 20C in London in early October. Following the sci-fi apocalyptic worldview of In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus) at number 1, US rock act Creedence Clearwater Revival brought further warnings of the planet’s destruction with Bad Moon Rising.

And there was tension in the air on the warm streets of the capital, with police evicting squatters of the London Street Commune from 144 Piccadilly on 21 September, the day after it went to number 1. A week later on 28 September, the National Trust acquired ownership of the island of Lundy.

1 October saw the Post Office become a statutory corporation. Four days later, the first episode of classic surreal comedy series Monty Python’s Flying Circus was broadcast on BBC Two. Breaking new ground in comedy meant baffled audiences at first, but John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam would become comedy legends in time. And on Bad Moon Rising‘s 21st and last day at number 1, the Labour government accepted the recommendations of Lord Hunt’s report on policing in Northern Ireland, including the abolition of the Ulster Special Constabulary.

But back to Bad Moon Rising. Despite being one of the biggest American acts of the period, Creedence Clearwater Revival never scored a number 1 single in the US, and this was their sole chart-topper in the UK.

CCR’s main man, John Fogerty, was born in Berkeley, California in May 1945. His childhood was tough – in his memoir Fortunate Son he revealed that the Catholic School he attended would let him wet himself rather than take a trip to the toilet. His parents were alcoholics and divorced while he and his older brother Tom were still young.

In junior high school in 1959 he met Doug Clifford and Stu Cook. They formed a group called the Blue Velvets, who would play jukebox standards. They would also perform as Tom’s backing band, and before long he joined the Blue Velvets too. In 1964 they signed with the jazz label Fantasy Records. Before their first release under their ill-advised name change to the Golliwogs, the band switched roles. Clifford remained on drums, with Cook changing from piano to bass and most importantly, Tom was demoted from vocals to lead guitar, and John became the frontman and songwriter.

After two years, the Golliwogs’ existence was threatened (can’t believe I’ve just typed that) when John and Clifford chose to enlist in the army to avoid conscription, an experience which John hated. In 1967 Fantasy Records was bought by Saul Zaentz, who offered the Golliwogs the chance to record an album, providing they came up with a new name. Desperate for the group to avoid any accusations of racism, he accepted their first idea. ‘Creedence’ came from Tom, who had a friend, Credence Newball. ‘Clearwater’ was inspired by a commercial for Olympia Brewing Company, and ‘Revival’ represented their newfound commitment to the band.

Creedence Clearwater Revival were born in January 1968, with John and Clifford discharged from service, all four concentrated solely on their band. Debut single Porterville didn’t chart but their follow-up, a cover of 1956 rockabilly tune Susie Q did. Their eponymous debut LP was released that year too, featuring a mix of covers and original material from John.

It was while working on the follow-up, 1969’s Bayou Country, that they came up with one of their best-known songs. Proud Mary peaked at number two on the Billboard charts, and went to number eight here. It became their most-covered song, with the 1971 version by Ike and Tina Turner the best-known version.

CCR were working fast, and while Proud Mary was in the charts they were already at work on their third album Green River. Bad Moon Rising became the lead single. John Fogerty was inspired to write it after witnessing a scene with a hurricane while watching 1941 fantasy The Devil and Daniel Webster.

Following the hokum of Zager and Evans’ number 1, Bad Moon Rising is a song about the end of the world done right. Set to an uptempo, almost skiffle-style strum, the lyrics, telling of freakish weather that’s going to destroy us all, have only become more meaningful over the years. If what we read is true, and I’d put money on it being so, we’re not far off a bad moon rising at all.

There’s a whole other layer to the lyrics though, in which the danger isn’t from nature, but politics. It was once put to John that ‘I see a bad moon on the rise’ was misheard as ‘I see a bad moon on the right’, and he said he was glad, because that’s what he meant anyway. With Richard Nixon in the White House, Bad Moon Rising can also be interpreted as a protest song. And with Donald Trump and Boris Johnson now in a ‘special relationship’, things are worse than ever. On a lighter note, the line is also often misheard as ‘I see a bathroom on the right’, and John Fogerty often sings this instead in concert.

If it is too late for us, I suggest we adopt the CCR approach, which seems to be to have a bloody good time before we’re wiped off the face of the Earth. Southern-style country roots rock is a genre I’m not too knowledgeable of, and it’s hard for me to realise in 2019 just how influential and popular CCR were in the late-60s, early-70s, but if Proud Mary, Bad Moon Rising and Lookin’ Out My Back Door (courtesy of 1998 cult comedy The Big Lebowski) are anything to go by, I should perhaps do further investigating. Catchy as this single is, it’s still hard to picture it as a UK number 1 single, but it is a great tune.

Soon after the single’s release, but before hitting number 1, CCR performed at Woodstock Festival. The band blamed the Grateful Dead for leaving the audience half asleep before they came on, and they refused for their performance to be included in Michael Wadleigh’s documentary movie.

CCR released Willy and the Poor Boys that November, meaning an incredible three top ten albums in one year. It contained more hits, Fortunate Son and Down on the Corner, and in July 1970 they released yet another. Cosmo’s Factory became their bestselling LP and featured Lookin’ Out My Back Door and a lengthy jam session version of I Heard It Through the Grapevine.

However, their speedy work rate and arguments over the younger Fogerty’s creative control came to a head, and shortly after recording their next album Pendulum, released December 1970, Tom Fogerty left the group.

They soldiered on as a trio, but further ructions ensued when John Fogerty did an about-face and told Cook and Clifford that the only way they could continue would be for them to contribute to the songwriting, and if they did, he would only contribute rhythm guitar to their tracks. This resulted in their final album, Mardi Gras in 1972, being critically panned. If John was trying to make a point, it worked. He later claimed he was behind most of the recording of all their material before that point, not just the songwriting. The others were little more than a backing band. Rolling Stone said that Mardi Gras may one day be known as Fogerty’s Revenge. In October 1972, it was announced that Creedence Clearwater Revival no longer existed.

John Fogerty sporadically released solo material through the rest of the 70s. Tom did too, but to less success. Clifford and Cook remained close and worked together as session musicians. Apart from jamming together at Tom’s wedding in 1980, they never worked as a foursome again, becoming mired in legal battles over the years. John did briefly work with Cook and Clifford at their high-school reunion in 1983 though, but in their Blue Velvets incarnation.

Sadly, Tom died of AIDS in 1990 due to a tainted blood transfusion while undergoing back surgery. He and John were barely reconciled at the time of his death, and in his eulogy, John said ‘We wanted to grow up and be musicians. I guess we achieved half of that, becoming rock’n’roll stars. We didn’t necessarily grow up.’ He didn’t exactly cover himself in glory in 1993 when CCR were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Fogerty refused to perform with his former rhythm section and arranged an all-star band instead. Tom’s widow was devastated. She’d even brought his funeral urn to the ceremony.

That, and the fact Fogerty took them to court over forming a new group, Creedence Clearwater Revisited, meant that Clifford and Cook were done with Fogerty. In recent years he has publicly mulled over the possibility of a reunion, but they always respond by saying that ship has sailed.

Fogerty seems more at peace with the past now. For a long time he refused to perform any of his old band’s material but now he’s rightfully proud of CCR’s accomplishments. They and the Band helped turn roots rock mainstream, yet held on to their rebellious streaks. And Bad Moon Rising has proven to be one of their most enduring songs, used time and time again in films and TV, most memorably in 1981 horror comedy An American Werewolf in London.

I briefly saw him at the ultra-soggy Glastonbury Festival 2007. I was in a very bad mood, the rain and mud had finally beaten me. I heard Bad Moon Rising, knew how he felt, sighed and wandered off. I wish I’d stuck around now.

Written & produced by: John Fogerty

Weeks at number 1: 3 (20 September-10 October)

Births:

High jumper Jo Jennings – 20 September
Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones – 25 September
Footballer Paul Warhurst – 26 September
Singer/songwriter PJ Harvey – 9 October
Director Steve McQueen – 9 October

47. Pat Boone – I’ll Be Home (1956)

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In December 1952 when the singles chart was in its infancy, London was gripped by the worst smog outbreak it had ever known. The Great Smog of London lasted five days and is believed to have killed approximately 12,000 people. Such a shocking number of deaths caused Parliament to get their act together (eventually), and on 5 July the Clean Air Act was passed. 9 July saw toy manufacturers Mettoy introduce Corgi Toys model cars, remembered fondly by boys and girls for years to come. And in the music world, Elvis-mania was finally in full effect on these shores – Heartbreak Hotel, Blue Suede Shoes and I Want You I Need You I Love You had all bothered the charts, but surprisingly not one hit the top. Record buyers chose the safer option instead, and on 15 June, Pat Boone toppled Ronnie Hilton and I’ll Be Home began five weeks at number 1.

Pat Boone was, according to Billboard, the second-biggest charting artist of the latter half of the 50s, only beaten by Elvis. Early Elvis was considered raunchy, suggestive and dangerous. Pat Boone was not, but he sounded very similar and, like Elvis, was fond of taking songs by black artists and tailoring them to a white audience. He had already enjoyed number ones in the US and was about to begin a film career too when I’ll Be Home hit the big time. The song, written by Ferdinand Washington and Stan Lewis, had originally been a hit for doo-wop group The Flamingos. Boone picked Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti as its B-side.

I’ll Be Home is, predictably enough, Elvis-lite, and very similar to Love Me Tender, but written from the point of view of a soldier away on duty, it seems. It features a sappy spoken-word interlude, and is mediocre to my ears. But Boone was and is overtly Christian, which would have pleased the older record buyers back then. As far as I know he didn’t shake his hips either, so Presley had to wait even longer to top the charts. Sometimes there really is no accounting for sense and taste in the UK singles chart.

Nonetheless, Boone was incredibly successful, and could afford to turn down films and songs that didn’t hold up to his strong conservative views – he even turned down the opportunity to work with Marilyn Monroe. DC Comics even turned him into a comic strip. I can’t imagine it would have been very exciting, and I wouldn’t expect a Hollywood adaptation any time soon. The British Invasion ended his peak years and he moved into a more natural genre for him, namely gospel. I may sound rather disparaging of Boone, but it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm for a man who was very vocal in supporting both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. He believed that people should ‘respect their elders’ and blindly follow their Presidents into any folly they may choose. In recent years he has also tried to draw links between gay rights protests and terrorist attacks, claimed Barack Obama was ineligible to serve as President, and compared liberalism to cancer. If I was forced to go see an Elvis impersonator, Pat Boone would be at the bottom of my list.

Written by: Ferdinand Washington & Stan Lewis

Producer: Randy Wood

Weeks at number 1: 5 (15 June – 19 July) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Joy Division singer Ian Curtis – 15 July 

Deaths:

Writer Walter de la Mare – 22 June 

21. Kitty Kallen with Orchestra directed by Jack Pleis – Little Things Mean a Lot (1954)

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David Whitfield and Mantovani’s Cara Mia took up the number 1 spot for virtually the whole summer in 1954, somehow. As the nights started to grow darker, US singer Kitty Kallen finally got a look in with Little Things Mean a Lot. It had been written a year earlier, with lyrics by Edith Lindeman, a newspaper editor, and disc jockey Carl Stutz, both residing in Richmond, Virginia.

Kitty Kallen, born Katie Kallen to Russian Jewish immigrants on 25 May 1921 in Philadelphia, New Jersey, would impersonate famous singers as a child. She had her own local radio show before she became a teenager.

She joined the Jimmy Dorsey Band at 21 and sang the vocals for his US number 1 Besame Mucho, later covered by the Beatles on Beatles For Sale. Her recording of Little Things Mean a Lot saw her career go up a notch, hitting the top of the Billboard charts before doing the same in the UK.

It’s a rather sweet little number, and a move away from Kallen’s big-band stylings to something approaching pop. She sings a list of ways in which her lover can make her happy, and luckily for him, they’re all easily enough done. She’s a very low-maintenance partner. Beating Lennon and McCartney by 10 years, she points out expensive jewellery isn’t important to her. Money can’t buy her love. Was this their inspiration? Possibly.

By the end of 1954 the song had sold over two million copies, and with her beautiful voice and striking looks, she found herself topping polls to be the most famous female singer around. It all went wrong from there.

In 1955, her throat began to seize up, but only affected her when performing live. This convinced her the problem was psychological, and she spent five years with psychotherapists, none of which helped matters. Instead she found relief in religion, and returned to performing for a few years before retiring in the mid-60s.

Bizarrely, after she retired, several other women tried to pass themselves off as Kitty Kallen. In 1978, she and her family were baffled by reports of her death. It transpired one of her impersonators had died. Frank Sinatra wasn’t having it though. ‘Ol’ Blue Eyes’ (whose Three Coins in the Fountain took over at number 1 the week after Little Things Mean a Lot) called the family to offer his condolences, but wouldn’t take no for an answer when Kitty’s husband explained and said she was just sleeping (perhaps a bad choice of words, in retrospect). He refused to hang up until he could hear her voice. Kallen actually lived until 7 January 2016, dying at the ripe old age of 94.

Written by: Edith Lindeman & Carl Stutz

Producer: Milt Gabler

Weeks at number 1: 1 (10-16 September)