CCR's 'Bad Moon Rising' And The 1941 Movie That Inspired It

By | July 6, 2018

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Walter Huston as 'Mr. Scratch' -- the Devil -- in 'The Devil And Daniel Webster.' Source: IMDB

In March 1969, John Fogerty had just written a song he wasn't too sure about -- nevertheless, he went into the studio to record it with his band, Creedence Clearwater Revival. "Bad Moon Rising" was greeted favorably by his bandmates, to Fogerty's surprise.

“It’s a funny thing,” Fogerty recalled, “but I didn’t feel ['Bad Moon Rising'] was up to the standard of 'Proud Mary.' I was worried that maybe I was already on my way down. It was a lot more rock’n’roll, whereas Proud Mary had connections to early American standards.”

"Bad Moon Rising" was released the following month on CCR's label, Fantasy Records, and became the lead single off their third album, Green River, which came out in August. The single went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, matching the peak position of "Proud Mary," and was a #1 hit in the UK.

'Bad Moon Rising' Was Inspired By 'The Devil And Daniel Webster'

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Poster for 'The Devil And Daniel Webster' under its original title, 'All That Money Can Buy.' Source: IMDB

"Bad Moon Rising" is a simple song, which might have thrown Fogerty. He wrote it while thinking about the 1941 film The Devil And Daniel Webster (originally titled All That Money Can Buy), which was based on a story by Stephen Vincent Benet and directed by William Dieterle. The movie, Fogerty recalled was "shot in that spooky, film noir way they did back then. It’s a classic tale where the main character, who’s down on his luck, meets the Devil and sells his soul to him. The scene I liked is where there’s a devastating hurricane; furniture, trees, houses, everything’s blowing around. That story and that look really stuck in my mind and they were the germ for the song."

And that is, quite simply, the song's concept right there: There's something bad coming. The lyrics mention earthquakes, floods, lightning, and hurricanes. The symbol for all this "nasty weather" on its way is a "bad moon" that will rise.

Interestingly, the the lyrics offer one circumstance, then another that is more severe. In the first two verses, Fogerty describes an impending disaster that can be avoided -- his advice is "don't go 'round tonight, it's bound to take your life."

In the third verse, the scenario changes: "I hope you got your things together / I hope you are quite prepared to die." The way the impending tumult changes -- from something you can avoid to something you might not -- is subtle, but mirrors the effect of many natural disasters. People think they can ride it out, then find that it's much more intense than they thought, and that they're in real trouble -- but by then, it may be too late.