John Fogerty can be called many things. Prolific, though, isn’t one of them. Fogerty’s 1985 Centerfield, originally issued on Warner Bros. Records, marked the former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman’s return to a prominent place in the rock pantheon after a near decade-long absence. After acrimoniously parting ways with his famous band, Fogerty recorded a collection of rootsy country covers (1973’s The Blue Ridge Rangers) for CCR’s longtime label, Fantasy Records. Yet Fogerty was locked in battle with Fantasy’s larger-than-life owner Saul Zaentz, whom he blamed for a number of bad business deals. Adding insult to injury was Fantasy’s ownership of the publishing rights to Fogerty’s famed compositions for Creedence. Yet the fact remained that Fogerty owed the label more albums on his contract, which he found himself unable or unwilling to produce. To extricate himself from this deal and sever all ties with Fantasy, Fogerty signed over an even larger portion of his royalties to Zaentz, and decamped for David Geffen’s artists’ haven, Asylum. His self-titled Asylum debut arrived in 1975, a mixture of originals (including “Rockin’ All Over the World,” later popularized by Status Quo) and covers (“Sea Cruise,” “Lonely Teardrops”). But a 1976 follow-up, Hoodoo, was deemed by both Asylum and Fogerty as unfit for release, and to this day remains fodder for underground music traders only. Fogerty would remain silent until 1985, refusing to play his Creedence hits and generate any more money for Zaentz.
Centerfield‘s title had a double meaning, not only referring to baseball but to the position of prominence in the music biz Fogerty so clearly hoped to reattain. And did he ever. Geffen Records celebrates the 25th anniversary of this chart-topping classic with an expanded CD reissue, arriving in stores today. Fogerty sang, wrote, arranged, produced and played all of the instruments on Centerfield, making an honest, definitive artistic statement. Run the bases after the jump!
Twenty-five years later, I’m pleased to report that Centerfield still holds up, even divorced from the drama that surrounded it. (More on that in the next paragraph!) Top Ten single “The Old Man Down the Road” recalls Fogerty at his chooglin’ Creedence best, while “Big Train (From Memphis)” lovingly recalls the Sun Records era that so influenced him as a young musician. “I Saw It on T.V.” proved that the social commentator behind “Fortunate Son” hadn’t dulled his edge, while “Rock and Roll Girls” was a hook-laden ode that didn’t remind one of the swamp, but rather of a sunnier, more carefree place. Best of all was the upbeat title track, with then-modern production (electronic drums, synthesized handclaps) that placed it squarely in 1985 but bore a universal, timeless lyric. Fogerty struck a chord with his energetic, joyous and nostalgic “Put me in Coach, I’m ready to play today!” But he also had some demons to exorcise on this comeback effort. Two tracks on Centerfield were as angry as “Centerfield” was uplifting. “Mr. Greed” told of “a devil of consumption,” adding “I hope you choke, Mr. Greed” with sincerity. If the target of “Mr. Greed” was hardly a secret, the closing track, “Zanz Kant Danz,” made it explicit: “Zanz can’t dance, but he’ll steal your money/Watch him or he’ll rob you blind” went the sing-along chorus.
Saul Zaentz didn’t take kindly to these affronts, especially as Centerfield stormed the charts. Legal action was quickly taken. In a precedent-setting lawsuit, he accused Fogerty of plagiarizing his own Creedence composition, “Run Through the Jungle,” to write “The Old Man Down the Road.” Fogerty famously won the court battle over “The Old Man,” and even took Zaentz to the Supreme Court to pay for his attorneys’ fees. He prevailed there, too. He did, however, modify “Zanz Kant Danz” into “Vanz Kant Danz,” to avoid further legal complications.
All of this brings us to Centerfield: 25th Anniversary. Housed in a handsome digipak, it contains a 20-page booklet with full lyrics, numerous photographs, images of Fogerty’s original handwritten lyrics, and most interestingly, a collage of newspaper clippings related to the lawsuits. Jim Bessman contributes a fine five-page essay that doesn’t gloss over the controversies surrounding the album’s initial release. Only chart positions and discographical information are sadly missing. Bob Ludwig does a crisp job of remastering, and two additional tracks have been appended. The rollicking “My Toot Toot” and doo wop-styled “I Confess” are both B-sides associated with Centerfield‘s follow-up album, Eye of the Zombie, which was released in 1986 but failed to match its predecessor’s success. (Unlike the other tracks on the CD, these two songs were recorded with a backing band.) It’s easy to wish that Fogerty had opted to include demos, alternate takes or outtakes instead of these singles, but they’re such terrific fun that they’re welcome, anyway. (There goes the bonus material for that expanded Eye of the Zombie, I guess…) For obvious reasons, “Zanz Kant Danz” hasn’t been reinstated, with “Vanz” remaining in its place. While one’s enjoyment of Centerfield may somewhat depend on an affinity for its slick 1980s style of production, its songwriting remains top-notch, and a more organic sound is indeed present on many of its tracks.
In the ensuing years, Fogerty has upped his productivity, and in 2005, famously reunited with Fantasy Records after Zaentz sold the company to Norman Lear’s Concord Music Group. In a most magnanimous act, Concord returned to the artist the portion of the publishing rights he relinquished to Zaentz some 30 years earlier. This led to a number of new releases, and an artist who now embraces his legacy more fully. But among “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising” and the rest, Fogerty will sing “Centerfield” at each one of his concerts, and that sparkling anthem has never sounded better than it does on Centerfield: 25th Anniversary.