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Early 1969: Creedence, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles

by David Soulsby, author of the novel "Somewhere in the Distance"


Just a matter of days after his 20th birthday in August 1968, Czech student Jan Palach witnessed the brutal invasion of his country by the Soviet army. It was a shattering blow that would leave him angry and disillusioned over the following five months as he saw his fellow countrymen, who had basked in the glow of the liberating Prague Spring, slip into a trough of desperation and defeat, their wills crushed beneath the savage jackboot. Such was his resolve to highlight the plight of the Czech downtrodden that he made a suicide pact to draw the world’s attention to the situation. So it was, on a wintry January day in 1969 that the politics student set fire to himself in the centre of Prague, suffering horrendous burns that led to his agonising demise three days later.

It was an event that shocked people in the West and undoubtedly led to the eventual breakdown of rigid communism in Eastern Europe, although it obviously didn’t happen overnight. Such change is more often than not slow and painful but there has to be catalyst from which the sparks ignite. Palach’s sacrifice was such a catalyst. I remember seeing the newspaper and newsreel images showing the spot where Palach chose to carry out his heroic deed and the graphic descriptions of his horrific injuries. I recall being moved and inspired at the same time, and humbled too.

It was around the time of Palach’s death that I bought my first Creedence Clearwater Revival album, the classic Bayou Country, and recall being totally enthralled by the mesmerising pounding beats and growling bluesy voice of lead singer John Fogerty. It was a revelation. I’d bought the album after reading a favourable review. I hadn’t heard the group’s debut album, so it was a pleasant surprise to be introduced to such a raw, uncompromising rock recording. It sounded like it had been brought to life deep in the swamps of Louisiana, such was the album’s oozing ambience and hypnotic tone.  It just sounded so southern, so swampy, so primeval. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that Creedence weren’t at all from that part of the world but hailed from the San Francisco area. It was a geographical leap that at first sight didn’t seem to make sense, but as soon as you heard the album and connected with its power you knew that it DID make perfect sense.

Right from the opening bars of the first track, Born On The Bayou, right through to the final chugging electric charge of Keep On Chooglin’ you knew you were listening to something special. The group’s rendition of the classic Little Richard belter Good Golly Miss Molly was an added bonus, making it a worthy edition to the great albums that defined the Sixties.

It came out around the same time as the debut album by Led Zeppelin, a heavy concoction that heralded the birth of one of rock’s greatest exponents of bombast and showmanship. The album boasted Good Times Bad Times, Dazed And Confused and Communication Breakdown, a triumphant trio indeed. The album was as different from Bayou Country as chalk from cheese but strange as it might sound, the two weren’t a millions miles apart. Both, in their own way, shouted out to be noticed on their own terms. Comparisons didn’t matter. Rock music had moved on in new and challenging directions and like the seismic changes that followed in the wake of Beatlemania, the final year of the Sixties onwards would see music yet again reinvented and reinvigorated. Not necessarily for better or worse but just different and as diverse as you could imagine. It seemed that there was room for everybody.

It was perhaps not surprising that this should be the case. The Beatles were close to calling it a day, splitting to go their own ways, and leaving the stage for newer musicians to make their mark. Perhaps as a sign of this change, it was in the same month that the Liverpool giants gave what was to be last public performance together, an impromptu concert on the roof of the Apple offices in central London. The group enthralled the curious, neck-craning crowds in the streets below and on the opposite rooftops. John, Paul, George and Ringo were going out in rapturous style, not that they probably realised it at the time. I don’t think anyone did, certainly not the adoring onlookers braving the chill air. For them it was a surprise present to be treasured. What else could you call a free concert, albeit short and frantic, by the greatest rock group of its time, if not of all time?


David Soulsby lives in Romford, Essex,David Soulsby England, and is now retired after 46 years as a journalist. During his career, he worked on local and national newspapers and magazines, and in the Sixties met many of his musical heroes, including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Sonny Boy Williamson, James Brown and Mel Torme. He’s now freelancing as a writer and proof-reader, working from home. He’s the author of Somewhere In The Distance, a novel about four friends growing up in the Sixties.


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