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
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, 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