Willy and the Poor Boys
Willy and the Poor Boys is the fourth studio album by American rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival, released by Fantasy Records in November 1969. It was the last of three studio albums the band released that year, arriving just three months after Green River.
|Willy and the Poor Boys|
|Studio album by|
|Released||November 2, 1969|
|Studio||Wally Heider Studios in San Francisco, California|
|Creedence Clearwater Revival chronology|
|Singles from Willy and the Poor Boys|
The album features the songs "Down on the Corner", from which the album got its name, and "Fortunate Son", which is a well-known protest song. Creedence also released its own version of "Cotton Fields" on this album, which reached the #1 position in Mexico.
The album was supposed to have a concept as "Down on the Corner", making Creedence Clearwater Revival into Willy and The Poor Boys. However, this was dropped rather quickly, except for the cover, where the band remains in character.
By the fall of 1969, Creedence Clearwater Revival was one of the hottest rock bands in the world, having scored three consecutive #2 singles and the #1 album Green River. In addition, the group had performed at the landmark Woodstock Festival in August and made several high-profile television appearances, including The Ed Sullivan Show. Bandleader and songwriter John Fogerty had assumed control of the band after several years of futility, but, despite their growing success, the other members – bassist Stu Cook, drummer Doug Clifford and guitarist Tom Fogerty, John's older brother – began to chafe under Fogerty's demanding, autocratic leadership. The band's output in 1969 alone – three full-length albums – was staggering considering that they were touring nonstop throughout. "That was a bit of overkill and I never did understand that," Clifford stated to Jeb Wright of Goldmine in 2013, "Fogerty told us that if we were ever off the charts, then we would be forgotten... To make it worse, it might sound funny, but we had double-sided hits, and that was kind of a curse, as we were burning through material twice as fast. If we'd spread it out, we would not have had to put out three albums in one year." The fiercely competitive Fogerty remained unapologetic, insisting to Guitar World's Harold Steinblatt in 1998, "Everyone advised me against putting out great B-sides. They'd tell me I was wasting potential hits. And I looked at them and said, 'Baloney. Look at the Beatles. Look at Elvis. It's the quickest way to show them all that good music."
In August, CCR released its third LP, Green River. Shortly after, it began recording songs for its next LP, Willy and the Poor Boys. Two months later the band released its eighth single, "Down on the Corner" b/w "Fortunate Son". The single's A-side reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and its B-side made it to #14. "Down on the Corner" chronicles the tale of the fictional band Willy and the Poor Boys, and how they play on street corners to cheer people up and ask for nickels. The song makes reference to a washboard, a kazoo, a Kalamazoo Guitar, and a gut bass. In a 1969 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, the boys performed the song as Willy and the Poor Boys. Stu Cook played a gut bass, Doug Clifford the washboard, and Tom Fogerty the Kalamazoo, which mimicked the appearance of the band as they appear on the album cover.
"Down on the Corner" b/w "Fortunate Son" peaked at #3 on 20 December 1969 on the Hot 100. "Fortunate Son" is a counterculture era anti-war anthem, criticizing militant patriotic behavior and those who support the use of military force without having to "pay the costs" themselves (either financially or by serving in a wartime military). The song, released during the Vietnam War, is not explicit in its criticism of that war in particular, but its attacks on the elite classes (the families that give birth to eponymous "fortunate sons") of the United States and their withdrawal from the costs of nationalistic imperialism are easy to contextualize to that conflict. The song was inspired by the wedding of David Eisenhower, the grandson of United States President Dwight David Eisenhower, to Julie Nixon, the daughter of President Richard Nixon, in 1968. The song's author told Rolling Stone:
Julie Nixon was hanging around with David Eisenhower, and you just had the feeling that none of these people were going to be involved with the war. In 1968, the majority of the country thought morale was great among the troops, and eighty percent of them were in favor of the war. But to some of us who were watching closely, we just knew we were headed for trouble.
In 1993, Fogerty confessed to Rolling Stone's Michael Goldberg, "It was written, of course, during the Nixon era, and well, let's say I was very non-supportive of Mr. Nixon." The song has been widely used to protest military actions and elitism in Western society, particularly in the United States; as an added consequence of its popularity, it has even been used in completely unrelated situations, such as to advertise blue jeans. It attracted criticism when Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, and Zac Brown performed the song together at the November 2014 Concert for Valor in Washington, D.C. Fogerty, a military veteran, defended their song choice.
Fogerty's revulsion with President Nixon can also be found on the album's closing track, "Effigy." In 2013 the singer-songwriter told David Cavanagh of Uncut that the tune was his response to Nixon emerging from the White House one afternoon and sneering at the anti-war demonstrators outside, with Fogerty remembering, "He said, 'Nothing you do here today will have any effect on me. I'm going back inside to watch the football game.'"
"Don't Look Now" displays Fogerty's concern for the working poor ("Who will take the coal from the mine? Who will take the salt from the earth?"). As recounted in the VH1 Legends episode on the band, John Fogerty once stated to Time magazine, "I see things through lower class eyes."
The Chuck Berry-guitar romp "It Came Out of the Sky" tells the tale of a farmer who finds a UFO in his field and unwittingly becomes the most famous man in America. The album also includes two instrumental tracks in "Poorboy Shuffle" and "Side o' the Road", the former of which segues directly into the song "Feelin' Blue."
The LP also contains two songs associated with blues and folk legend Lead Belly: "Cotton Fields" and "The Midnight Special". In 2012, Fogerty explained to Uncut, "Lead Belly was a big influence. I learned about him through Pete Seeger. When you listen to those guys, you're getting down to the root of the tree." In 1982 the band's rendition of Lead Belly's "Cotton Fields" made #50 on Billboard magazine's Country Singles chart.
When the band members were finalizing the album, they and photographer Basul Parik went over to the intersection of Peralta St. and Hollis St. in Oakland, California and shot the photograph of the cover at Duck Kee Market owned by Ruby Lee.
|Rolling Stone (original)||(favorable)|
|Rolling Stone (40th Ann.)|||
|The Village Voice||A+|
The album was released in November as Fantasy 8397, and in 1970 made the Top 50 in six countries, including France where it reached #1. On December 16, 1970, the Recording Industry Association of America certified the album gold (500,000 units sold). Almost 20 years later, on December 13, 1990, the album was certified platinum (1,000,000 units sold) and 2x platinum (2,000,000 units sold).
The album was well received, exemplified by the original review in Rolling Stone, which stated it was "the best one yet". In a contemporary review for The Village Voice, Robert Christgau also believed it was the group's best record while writing, "Fogerty's subtlety as a political songwriter (have you ever really dug the words of 'Fortunate Son'?) comes as no surprise." He later included it in his "Basic Record Library" of 1950s and 1960s recordings, published in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981).
In a retrospective review, AllMusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine contrasted Willy and the Poor Boys with the band's previous album, Green River, because the songs were softer and more upbeat, except for "Effigy", and stating that "Fortunate Son" is not as dated as most of the other protest songs of the era. However, he also feels the song is a little out of place on the album. He also compared "Poorboy Shuffle" to songs performed by jug bands and called the album "one of the greatest pure rock & roll albums ever cut". In the Blender magazine review of the album it was called the opposite of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and psychedelic rock, which the reviewer feels is because of the band's performance at the Woodstock Festival. For his Rolling Stone review of the 40th anniversary reissue of the album, Barry Walters called the album "relaxed" and gives credit to Fogerty for writing a protest song, "Fortunate Son", that has a good beat to it.
In 2003, the album was ranked number 392 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time; the list's 2012 edition had it ranked 309th. In the 2020 edition, the album reached number 193. On June 10, 2008, the album was remastered and released by Concord Music Group as a compact disc, with three bonus tracks. The album was remastered and reissued on 180-gram vinyl by Analogue Productions in 2006.
All tracks are written by John Fogerty, except where noted.
|1.||"Down on the Corner"||2:46|
|2.||"It Came Out of the Sky"||2:53|
|3.||"Cotton Fields"||Huddie Ledbetter||2:56|
|4.||"Poorboy Shuffle" (instrumental)||2:25|
|2.||"Don't Look Now (It Ain't You or Me)"||2:11|
|3.||"The Midnight Special"||Traditional, arr. John Fogerty||4:13|
|4.||"Side o' the Road" (instrumental)||3:24|
- Sides one and two were combined as tracks 1–10 on CD reissues.
|11.||"Fortunate Son" (Live in Manchester, September 1, 1971)||2:13|
|12.||"It Came Out of the Sky" (Live in Berlin, September 16, 1971, recorded for Live in Europe)||3:26|
|13.||"Down on the Corner" (Jam with Booker T. & the M.G.'s at Fantasy Studios, 1970)||2:49|
- Creedence Clearwater Revival
- John Fogerty – vocals, lead guitar, piano, maracas, cowbell, harmonica (4), producer, arranger
- Tom Fogerty – rhythm guitar, (all but 11,12), backing vocals
- Stu Cook – bass, washtub bass (4), backing vocals
- Doug Clifford – drums, washboard (4)
- Additional musicians
- Booker T. Jones – organ (13)
- Steve Cropper – guitar (13)
- Donald "Duck" Dunn – bass (13)
- Al Jackson, Jr. – drums (13)
|Canada RPM100 Albums||2|
|Netherlands (Top 100)||7|
|Norway (Top 40)||2|
|UK (The Official Charts Company)||10|
|US Billboard 200||3|
|US Billboard R&B Albums||28|
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- stated in our article "Cotton Fields" without further refs. But does it work there, it should do in this article as well
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