If a song is instantly recognizable from the very first guitar chord, it usually means that it's a rock n' roll classic. And Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son" most certainly fits into this category. The song starts out with Doug Clifford's simple, understated drum line, which almost resembles the sound of a military drummer boy. But this drumbeat propels the song forward. Then comes the guitar intro, setting things up perfectly for John Fogerty's angry, impassioned vocals.
Through the full two minutes, twenty seconds of "Fortunate Son," John Fogerty shows a complete unwillingness to enunciate his words. His vocals are raspy and strangled. Apparently he sounds like this because he strained his vocals while recording "Down on the Corner," which was the first A-side single from Willy and the Poor Boys. That's right, "Fortunate Son" was only a B-side. Even if Fogerty's voice is strained on this recording, though, it's hard to imagine hearing the song any other way. Fogerty's vocals have an impassioned, defiant quality that really fits in with the message he tries to put forward.
What's interesting about the guitar part in this song is that following the strong, twangy, high-pitched intro, the guitar mostly takes a back seat, allowing Fogerty's vocals to come to the fore. The guitar part is distorted and played in aggressive lower notes, providing a contrast to the vocal melody. Only during the breakdown in the middle of the track does the guitar reassume center stage, returning to the high-pitched, twangy sound from the intro. The guitar breakdown itself sounds just as angry and defiant as Fogerty's vocals. If you ever wondered what a pissed off guitar sounded like, just listen to this breakdown.
"Yeeeaahhhhhh!" yells Fogerty as his vocals come back in, reassuming the spotlight. Fogerty sings one more verse, then continues with to wail "it ain't me, it ain't me…." And just like that, the song ends. This is a concise and powerful protest anthem, as tight a song as you'll ever hear.