Written By Phillip Mottaz
Dedicated to those songs that I can't stop playing, humming, or thinking about; the 4+ minutes you fall head-over-heels in love with. Past instances have included The Cure's "Untitled," Radiohead's "Optimistic," and M.I.A's "Paper Planes."
Creedence Clearwater Revival is the most underrated band of the 60s. Not held to the holy heights of the Beatles, not any kind of legends in decadence like the Stones or Zeppelin, and not even enjoying the kind of retroactive credibility the Kinks currently are, CCR has received no love from the 21st century. Despite having a slew of ambitious yet straight-forward hits in their time, the southern-rock quartet had the misfortune of a) having their biggest (and arguably best) song done better by someone else, b) aligning themselves so sturdily with country music as to not be cool at all, but c) doing this before it actually became cool, a la Wilco. They're a perfect punch line to boost a character like The Dude, and despite setting some weird precedent for controlling band leaders like Rivers Cuomo and Billy Corgan, their influence has been small. This may be the biggest explanation for how a band so popular in their time could have their true greatness obscured: nobody's ripping them off today.
Yet I always think of them fondly thanks to a random radio commercial I heard in high school. The premise -- as described by the late Phil Hartman -- was that this commercial was designed to catch you up on the events of the past 25 years if you had been in a coma all that time. Then he rapid fired a list of the major events that had happened since 1970(ish), naming incredible sports accomplishments and trips to space. Midway through, Hartman listed the major groups which had broken up and among them he named The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and CCR. Before that moment I had never heard Creedence held in this kind of regard. Somehow this feeling of respect for the band has stayed with me to this day and every time I uncover another unabashedly country-fied nugget of Fogerty, half of me legitimately enjoys it in the moment while the other half recalls "These guys were as big as Zeppelin!" A positive attitude helps you enjoy things more, and my attitude has allowed me to openly enjoy "Ramble Tamble".
When "Ramble Tamble" took command of my life recently, I was excited because it's morphing style made for some easy GSATM-type discussion. But subsequent listens unlocked yet another slight against CCR: this obviously cinematic and emotional song has never been used in a movie. It's as epic and beautiful and sprawling as "Layla," yet Scorsese's never used it to underscore the downfall of a drug-dealing gangster, and at the risk of making sweeping generalizations, the lack of filmed "Ramble Tamble" is a mistake on the part of everyone involved in the moviemaking business. Can nobody else see it/hear it? If you, the young directors who read this column religiously, have a scene where a young starlett has just realized she's sold her soul for money to get ahead in a cuthroat industry, and she's contemplating throwing herself on the train tracks, play this song and you will be showered with praise and an Oscar 25 years after you should have.
I haven't done much research into film-land's lack of "Ramble". Possibly Fogerty (or more likely, the label) won't release the song for film use. If this were true, that would make "Ramble Tamble" the Southern Rock "Stairway", wrestling away that title from "Freebird". Perhaps the lack of filmed "Ramble Tamble" is a blessing; if it was as historically overplayed and hyped as "Layla" I might have to share it with others. We should count our blessings, enjoy this song as its own artistic entity and rest assured that we'll always have "Fortunate Son" played in every Vietnam Film to keep us company.
Most of my ire toward this slight against "Ramble Tamble" comes from my love of the bridge in the middle. It makes up 78% of the song. I think and write about musical bridges a lot. I bet a list of my favorite musical bridges would ultimately lead me to a list of my favorite songs (give or take a few). The bridge gives a music lover like me the best dose of a great song: it's the same, only different. If you enjoy the opening, then you'll love this sequel, which is actually just an expanding of the opening before returning back to the opening.
Not only do I hold a torch for musical bridges, but I've also enjoyed my share of tripped-out-morphing 70s rock. "Ramble" rewards repeated listening like none of the other tripped-out-morphing 70s rocks for the simple reason that it repeats its opening riff. Tracks like "Layla" and "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" (released the same year as "Ramble Tamble") depart from their opening bits to take long strange sonic journeys, never looking back. These songs are sonic versions of 2001: A Space Odyssey. We were apes, then we went to the moon, then who the hell knows what happened. "Ramble Tamble" starts where we're all country apes, then we travel to swamp space, fly around, get real intense, then return to the country again, making it the sonic version of Cast Away. This benefits me, the repeating listener, because it makes a natural bookend for each play. But more importantly (and more high-falutently) the reprise benefits the song itself because we return to it wiser than before. The subject of the song is supposedly a soldier in dire straights (imagine that -- from Creedence?), and to simply leave him in Vietnam would deny the full emotional impact of his return. It only makes sense to eventually return that soldier home, carrying all the baggage he's gained through his hellish journey only to find things at home have not improved a bit.
The ability to pack that kind of emotional crunch proves that "Ramble Tamble" makes "Layla" look like horse shit. "Layla" is a love song (presumably to a girl named Layla and how she's got the guy on his knees), and then the big musical detour at the end represents... I don't know, them doing it maybe? And then it ends with birds chirping. So they do it and birds chirp. If I said you can't simply do great music, then I'd make myself a hypocrite. Well, I am saying that, so I am a hypocrite, but I'm also right. "Layla" sounds great, but there's ultimately "only" music there, and not a big idea. Comparing the two songs shows the strengths of the musicians. Clapton is a musician and a guitar player first, whereas Fogerty is a songwriter. Clapton deals (dealt? Does he still deal?) with moods and sounds and that kind of stuff and that's all fine and good, but Fogerty dealt with ideas, and ideas trump mood every time because for mood to be effective, the ideas must be precise. Title to the contrary, "Ramble Tamble" does surprisingly little rambling and even less tambling. It's all very specifically chosen musical rambling.
In the end, the song is one long remount. The character in the song, the music itself, the singing style, everything. Even from the opening verse, with Fogerty giving that kick-ass hold of "Down the ro-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ad... I Go!," we get the feeling of "here we go again." This theme, both uplifting and heartbreaking, gives us the truth of the song. You can never give up. You can't. The world won't let you. Even when things get bad, yet you can Never. Give. Up. And despite everything you try, every challenge you accept, you can't seem to get any further with your life. Tell me that's not cinematic.