Fortunate Son is an example of artists using their art to communicate a political message.
Some protesters take to the streets to fight against a specific cause. However, singers and songwriters often use their artistic skills to their advantage. Carefully chosen words can often communicate more effectively than the screams and shouts of an angry mob.
So were the artists trying to promote an anti-war agenda when they wrote and recorded Fortunate Son?
Let’s find out!
Who Originally Wrote Fortunate Son?
Fortunate Son was just one of the many hits written by John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Fogerty wrote the hit in 1969 during the height of the United State’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
The band released the track on their fourth studio album Willy and the Poor Boys. Despite being 50+ years since Fogerty penned the lyrics, the song continues to communicate a specific message and motivate groups opposing war.
Before John Fogerty was a member of Creedence Clearwater Revival, he grew up in El Cerrito, California. He was born May 28, 1945, and attended a Catholic school during his formative years while his mom taught second grade and his dad worked as a Linotype operator for the Berkeley Gazette.
Fogerty doesn’t have fond memories of his experience at Catholic school. And his parents later divorced while he was in elementary school.
In 1959, Fogerty created a trio called The Blue Velvets with Stu Cook and Doug Clifford. The group would eventually welcome John’s brother, Tom. Half a decade later, the band signed with Fantasy Records.
The record label changed the band’s name to The Golliwogs without their permission. However, they didn’t experience much commercial success under either name.
Like many during the Vietnam War, Fogerty received his draft notice in 1966. He immediately rushed to the local United States Army Reserve upon receiving it. Fogerty believes the local recruiter did him a favor by backdating the paperwork to take effect before Fogerty would have received his draft notice.
John entered the Army Reserves as a supply clerk. He completed training in 1967, served part-time as a reservist, and was discharged in 1968. The Golliwogs picked up their instruments and began performing again upon Fogerty completing his service.
Fogerty and The Golliwogs agreed to change their name to Creedence Clearwater Revival. However, they would do more than just change their name. John Fogerty would replace his brother, Tom, as the group’s lead singer.
However, John’s title as the lead songwriter, lead singer, and lead guitarist caused significant riffs in the band. Resentment grew, and in 1971 Tom Fogerty left. The original members of The Blue Velvets struggled for the next year and hesitantly released their final album Mardis Gras.
While the album was a success commercially, it wasn’t as successful as previous albums from the group. Mardis Gras took quite a hit from critics and received some rather negative reviews. They disbanded shortly after its release.
What Was John Fogerty’s Creative Process for Fortunate Son?
John Fogerty’s position and opinions on the Vietnam War are no secret when you listen to Fortunate Son. The song was Fogerty’s response to watching upper-class citizens, many with political power, find ways to dodge the draft.
Like many at the time, Fogerty had very strong opinions on the war. Those strong ideas made it easy for Fogerty to write the lyrics to Fortunate Son. The band worked together on the title and the music. However, Fogerty was responsible for penning the words.
Fogerty described the writing process. “I went into my bedroom, sat on the edge of the bed with one of those yellow tablets, and it just sorta poured out in about 20 minutes.” You can feel Fogerty’s feelings and emotions when listening to the song. He said, “It was pretty intense, how I felt, and it went right there onto the paper and into the song.”
Was Fortunate Son Played at Woodstock?
While Fortunate Son would have been the perfect statement at the original Woodstock in 1969, it was a little late. Woodstock ‘69 was from August 15 to August 18, and Fortunate Son was released in November of the same year.
However, despite not playing Fortunate Son at Woodstock, Creedence Clearwater Revival did perform on stage. They followed the wickedly popular Grateful Dead on the Saturday night of the festival. However, John Fogarty said the group’s performance “wasn’t remarkable.”
The group’s position following the Grateful Dead likely didn’t help their set. Fogerty said, “Creedence famously had issues because we were on so late and the audience was asleep, mostly caused by hippie dysfunction and the fact that we followed the Grateful Dead.”
At the time, Fogerty decided to exclude the group’s performance from the festival’s original movie or soundtrack album. However, the lack of CCR didn’t affect sales, and the album immediately went to the top of the charts.
Fans would have to wait until 2009, 40 years later, to relive CCR’s Woodstock performance when the box set Woodstock 40 Years On: Back to Yasgur’s Farm was released.
Who Has Covered Fortunate Son?
John Fogerty and the rest of CCR aren’t the first, nor the last, group of artists to oppose wars. A few other artists with similar opinions have covered Fortunate Son. Let’s look at some of the most popular covers of this popular song.
The lead singer for U2, Bono, isn’t one to shy away from sharing his political stance on issues and covering Fortunate Son simply made sense. The group covered the song in 1992 on their single Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses. U2 put its unique spin on the piece, but it didn’t sit well with some music lovers. One listener described it as one of the worst covers they’d ever heard.
Bob Seger, famous for Old Time Rock & Roll and Against The Wind, is another artist who covered Fortunate Son. Seger covered the song in 1983 and stuck relatively close to the original. However, Seger’s gritty voice, similar to Fogerty’s in the original, communicates much of the frustrations of the times. Having lived through the times and being able to experience them for himself may have helped.
Pearl Jam is another group of artists that covered Fortunate Son. The band released its cover in 2003, amid The Iraq War, and performed it live multiple times. Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam mimicked the original sound in their cover, but Vedder’s distinct style shines.
The group continues to perform the song live from time to time during their sets. You can find plenty of videos circulating the Internet of them performing Fortunate Son.
What is John Fogerty Doing Now?
Music is more than a hobby for someone like John Fogerty. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Fogerty is still heavily involved in the music industry. He and his family spent 2020 together making music. He and his family recorded some of their favorite Fogerty classics and eventually released a seven-song EP they called Fogerty’s Factory.
Fogerty continues to fight the good fight regarding equality and justice. However, now he has decades of life experience to help him in his efforts. He told the Los Angeles Daily News, “I’ve been lucky in my personal situation, you realize you are just that; you’re lucky. But there are a lot of folks out there that aren’t and we need to make this American dream true for everybody.”
Fogerty continues to perform live and make music that inspires others. His message of equality for all and hope rings well with many in society.
Fortunate Son Speaks to the Past and the Present
Fogerty expressed many other people’s feelings through his lyrics for Fortunate Son. The obvious inequality across the board was unacceptable to him and many others. The hit is the result of using his creativity and emotions positively.
It’s not uncommon to hear this anti-war song on the radio, in film, and video games 50+ years later. The message of equality for all is just as valid today as it was decades ago. We can only hope it doesn’t need to speak so strongly in the future.