Two more sonic slices of heaven for you to revisit; or if you live in a cave, discover!
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmo’s Factory (1970)
I must admit that I was in college before I discovered the tremendous scope of work the Fogertys gave us under the CCR moniker. Don’t get me wrong, I was always a fan of these boys and their soulful, guitar-centric take on Bayou rock & roll, but my knowledge of their music consisted only of the epic (and ten times platinum, or diamond if you will) Greatest Hits album Chronicle. Those twenty songs are burned so deeply into my brain that they may as well be written into my DNA. Imagine my excitement and joy when I found out that there was so much more to offer than those twenty songs… If you are not familiar with every song on this Cosmo’s Factory, go listen to it right now! You will not be disappointed.
Cosmo’s Factory is an interesting name for a 1970s rock & roll album. Of course, the name has a story: In the band’s early days drummer Cosmo Clifford felt that John made them rehearse too much and starting referring to the Berkeley warehouse they used as “the factory”. John enjoyed this subtle dig back at him a few years later. This is the group’s fifth and ante-penultimate studio album and is my personal favorite of the seven they released. It is also their bestselling stand-alone album, having sold over four million copies. In a sign of the times, their first five records were released within a 24-month period. Truly this was lightning in a bottle, although it wouldn’t last much longer.
The hits from this album have become so ubiquitous in our culture that I will not waste too many words on them. Included here are “Travelin Band”, “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”, Run Through the Jungle”, “Up Around the Bend”, “Who’ll Stop the Rain”, “Long As I Can See the Light”, and their amazing 11-minute rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “I heard It Through the Grapevine”.
The festivities get started with John wailing out “Ewwww, down the road I go!”, as the guitars and drums kick it up a notch on “Ramble Tamble”. This really is a two-song sandwich that starts and ends with a fast and up-tempo jam straight out of CCR territory but devolves into a slower, more psychedelic suite that has more of a Jefferson Airplane vibe for four glorious minutes in between. This one is truly a classic track, and leads well into “Before You Accuse Me”, an R&B-tinged ditty where John says “before you ‘cuse me, take a look at yourself”.
The 50s-rock inspired “Ooby Dooby” is an ode to dancing with a beautiful lady. What is the ooby dooby, you ask? Well, apparently it means to “wiggle and shake like a big rattlesnake”, we are told. Safe to say that John is no Bob Dylan, but here he is the leader of a tremendously badass band, and that is more than enough.
I am a big fan of many of the movies made by the Coen brothers in their earlier days, and my favorite would have to be The Big Lebowski. No doubt part of what makes that movie so entertaining is the backstory of The Dude missing his stolen Creedence tapes, and the masterful use of the band’s songs throughout the film are true highlights. The country-tinged masterpiece that is “Lookin’ Out My Backdoor” is the perfect score to the infamous roach in the crotch scene in which His Dudeness manages to burn himself and crash his already beat up rig into a dumpster. Jeff Bridges banging his fist on the roof of the car as he blares this song is pure gold. Similarly, it is hard to imagine Walter royally fucking up the cash drop with the Nihilists without the menacing and eerie intro to “Run Through the Jungle” playing behind. Thank you, Fogertys, and thank you Coens.
Key Tracks: “Before You Accuse Me”, “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”, “Travelin Band”
Counting Crows – August and Everything After (1993)
This one is on the short list of albums that never gets old for me. I can go months without hearing it or listen to it every day for a week, and it makes me happy every time. Depressing in most of the subject matter and Adam Duritz’s pained vocals yet at times uplifting and even peppy (see “Rain King” or “Omaha”), this is a tour-de-force both musically and lyrically. While Adam Duritz and crew have recorded plenty of good music elsewhere, this album will always define their careers. If you were living in America in 1993, you couldn’t escape “Mr. Jones” or “Round Here”, and everyone you knew was listening to this record.
It is true that I have a bit of a love-hate appreciation for Adam Duritz and his music. To be honest, it is frequently a bit too preachy and self-important for my taste. Although some of these songs trek into that territory, they never stray too far that they can’t redeem themselves. Simply said: Adam absolutely nails it. The music is also fantastic and is probably what keeps me coming back, but I know every word on this album like the back of my hand, and if you told me I could never listen to this one again, I would tell you to go straight to Hell.
From the subdued electric guitar notes that start “Round Here”, followed by Adam’s starting salvo you can tell that shit is going to be heavy: “Step out the front door like a ghost into a fog where no one notices the contrast of white on white; and in between the moon and you, angels get a better view of the crumbling difference between wrong and right”. Goosebumps, people, goosebumps. It only builds from there, telling the tale of Maria – and it’s not a sunshine and lollipops story. Like much of this album, the drums steal the show as they propel us forward on this tale of sadness and self-destruction. “The girl in the car in the parking lot says ‘Man you should try to take a shot, can’t you see my walls are crumbling?’ She looks up at the building, says she’s thinking of jumping; she says she’s tired of life, she must be tired of something around here”.
Thankfully, there are a couple of more light-hearted songs mixed in to avoid a total bummer shutdown: one of which is the beautiful “Omaha”. With its Midwest-polka influence and powerful imagery of an old man walking on water, this one has a chorus that lifts us back up a bit: “Omaha, somewhere in middle America, getting right to the heart of matters, it’s the heart that matters more; I think you better turn your ticket in, and get your money back at the door”. In this age of streaming music and shuffling playlists, my brain literally shuts down if that song ends and “Mr. Jones” doesn’t follow it. The two were played together so many times in my adolescence that it feels wrong to hear one without the other. We all know the tale of Adam and his friend Mr. Jones – “they are gonna to be big stars”.
And now back to total bummer time, as we are treated to three perfectly sad songs: “Perfect Blue Buildings”, “Anna Begins”, and “Time And Time Again”, on the former of which we never know exactly what is wrong, but something clearly is: “It’s 4:30 A.M. on a Tuesday, and it doesn’t get much worse than this; in beds in little rooms in buildings in the middle of these lives which are completely meaningless”. One of my favorite lines on this album is found on “Anna Begins”, when Adam says “You try to tell yourself the things you try to tell yourself to make yourself forget, to make yourself forget; I am not worried, I am not worried if its love”. And how is this for pure beautiful sadness; the opening line of “Time And Time Again”: “I want it so badly, somebody other than me, staring back at me; but you were gone, gone, gone; I wanted to see you walking backwards, to get the sensation of you coming home; I wanted to see you, walking away from me, without the sensation that you’re leaving me alone”.
“Rain King” is far and away the most joyous and celebratory song on the album and comes at the right time, just as the listener is about ready to begin their suicide preparations or just go find something else to listen to. With its upbeat tempo and pretty melody, we are immediately lifted back up. Although he briefly mentions that he thinks of dying, this one is as happy as Adam gets on this recording and he even ends the song with a triumphant wail.
After the fine “Sullivan Street” and “Ghost Train”, we get to the goods: the closing two tracks, “Raining In Baltimore” and “Murder of One”. On the former, Adam is solo with a sad and slow piano riff, telling us of a dilapidated circus and his need for a phone call, plane ride, sunburn, or anything to cheer him up. He feels disconnected from anything human and is at the end of his rope, singing “These trained conversations are passing me by, and I don’t have nothing to say; you get what you pay for, but I just had no intention of living this way”. This shit gives me a literal physical reaction every time I hear it; it is as raw and real as it gets… and then, in comes the accordion. This is the epitome of beautiful sadness.
Key Tracks: “Round Here”, “Raining In Baltimore”, “Murder of One”