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

Music | July 6, 2018

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'

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.

Like Many People In 1969, John Fogerty Was Bothered By Current Events

As with much popular music in the late '60s, "Bad Moon Rising" was a radio hit that also addressed current events. The language got a little heavy, Fogerty admits. “I don’t think I was actually saying the world was coming to an end,” he said, “but the song was a metaphor. I wasn’t just writing about the weather."

And there was intense stuff on his mind: “The times seemed to be in turmoil. Martin Luther King and [US senator] Robert F Kennedy had been assassinated. I knew it was a tumultuous time.”

'Bad Moon Rising' Sounds Prophetic -- Because It Was

Whether or not Fogerty felt it at the time, the song was prophetic: Things were about to get worse. The hippies would catch a glimpse of their hoped-for better world -- achieved through peace, love, drugs, and really good music -- at the Woodstock festival in mid-August 1969. But just days earlier, the Manson Family cult followers, on orders from their leader Charles Manson, had committed the horrific Tate-La Bianca murders in Los Angeles. The tail end of 1969 and into 1970, the bad moon and bad news kept rising: the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, the draft, the chaos of Altamont. In 1970, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin would die, and the Kent State massacre would shock a nation.

'Bad Moon Rising' Took On A Life Of Its Own

“Bad Moon Rising” actually became the theme song of young demonstrators in the Berkeley, California, People’s Park riots in 1969.

Fogerty willingly admitted that he was aware of the contradiction between the damning song lyrics and the happy sounding music. On a lighter note, often the lyrics, “There’s a bad moon on the rise,” has been misheard and misunderstood to be, “There’s a bathroom on the right.”  Fogerty even sang these lyrics in fun on more than one occasion to the delight of his fans.

“Bad Moon Rising” has been used in science fiction films including “An American Werewolf in London” and the Twilight Zone: The Movie.

The Song Has Been Covered Endlessly

The famous song has also been covered by many other music greats. The list includes Nirvana, Bruce Springsteen, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Emmylou Harris, The Reels, The Meteors, Thea Gilmore, Ann Wilson with Gretchen Wilson, Type O Negative, 16 Horsepower, Reels, Spitballs, Blue Aeroplanes, Lagwagon, Battlefield Band, Ducky Boys, Acoustic Shack, Ventures, Meteors, and Rasputina.

CCR’s music is still widely played on U.S. radio stations. Despite the fact that they never had a number 1 song on the charts, the iconic group has sold over 26 million albums in the U.S. alone. They have been ranked as number 82 by Rolling Stone magazine on its “Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.”

Tags: 1969 | Bad Moon Rising | Credence Clearwater Revival | Music In The 1960s | Song Meanings, Lyrics, And Facts | The 1960s | The Devil And Daniel Webster

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.