Johnny Cougar. What a stupid name. John Cougar Mellencamp. Still a stupid name. Finally, Mellencamp had enough clout to insist on dropping “Cougar” from any version of his name.
Mellencamp’s music was always difficult to categorize. The record company wanted another Bruce Springsteen-type pop-rocker. Instead of The Boss, you had Cougar. Just kidding. But not really.
Mellencamp came from Indiana, a working class, get your hands dirty, part of the country. Bob Seger came from Detroit, Springsteen from Jersey. Indiana was farming and manufacturing, areas that would suffer great economic stress in coming years. Farm Aid would be a response.
By the time Mellencamp set out to make Scarecrow in 1985, he was ready to make an album that had both widespread appeal and delivered a message. Scarecrow has been rereleased and in the liner notes, Mellencamp talks about the underlying themes on the album: living a life of integrity, values passed through families, perseverance, disappearance of small towns, the struggle to connect on a personal level in a modern world, etc.
Prior to Scarecrow, Mellencamp had placed a few impactful songs on the charts, but lacked an album that connected on a massive level. “Ain’t Even Done With the Night,” “Hurts So Good,” Jack and Diane,” “Crumblin’ Down,” “The Authority Song” and “Pink Houses were very popular songs, so Mellencamp had a growing audience. Scarecrow had a unifying theme, the strength and struggles of rural America.
The remixed and remastered version came out in 2022 and it’s worth a listen. The slickness of the original release is replaced by a grittier feel. Sonically, this is a very different album – I was blown away. The guitars on this album steal the show, but musically, but album is a 10 out of 10. No filler included. Mellencamp does a neat trick, blending genres without diluting them.
“Rain on the Scarecrow” sounds angrier than the original version, with the snare drum front and center, along with the grit of the electric guitar.
“Small Town” features Mellencamp’s vocals clearer, with more separation from the instruments, which have a vibrancy that jumps from the speakers.
“Minutes to Memories” The guitars jangle and the other string instruments ring out. Credit Mellencamp’s tremendous backing band on his rockers.
“Lonely Ol’ Night” This song was played to death back in the day. With the sonic clarity it takes on a grander life as the listener gets something fresh and not worn-out by popularity.
“The Face of the Nation” Give it to the bass player on this one, and the rhythm guitarist who lead the way on this pulsating number.
“Justice and Independence ‘85” Rocking guitars and clanging cymbal set the beat on this high-stepper. Resist tapping your foot as the drummer beats the hell out of his Tom-Tom’s.
“Between a Laugh and a Tear” Just a nice song with lovely guitar work and great harmony vocals.
“Rumbleseat” Another rocker that might have been a throwaway, but is features som tremendously entertaining guitar playing.
“You’ve Got to Stand for Somethin’” The first thing I noticed was the power of the vocals riding the hot, ringing guitars.
“R.O.C.K. In the U.S.A.” Still a meaty rocker, but it has a garage band vibe to it. This is a mean version with banging drums, smoking guitars and pulsating bass guitar.
“The Kind of Fella I Am” Bluesy rocker, with squealing slide guitar, almost a swampy feel to it.
Bonus Tracks – Some standouts on the bonus disc of b-sides, demos and alternate versions.
“Small Town” (acoustic version) On the reissue version. Just acoustic guitars and a fiddle to accompany Mellencamp’s vocals. Relaxed, but still powerful.
“Under the Boardwalk” Released as a b-side to a single, it is a nice slice of rock and roll, and shows Mellencamp’s versatility.
“Carolina Shag” Unreleased, not sure why. Pulsating electric guitar rocker.
“Cold Sweat” A James Brown funk tune. Cool version.
“Smart Guys” Better than average rocker, great guitars.
3 thoughts on “John Mellencamp’s Scarecrow: Rural Electrification (a look back)”
“Scarecrow” was my intro to John Mellencamp who remains one of my favorite artists. I think it was “R.O.C.K. in the USA” that made me get the CD at the time back in Germany. Great album! I didn’t know there’s a 2022 reissue. Nowadays, I tend to prefer the rootsy Mellencamp over his earlier more straight rock period, though I still like the latter as well.
He’s touring this year, including several shows within reach from my house. As much as I’m tempted, I’ve seen him twice – both great shows! I also just relented and got a relatively affordable ticket to see Springsteen in September (literally the cheapest I could find!). Going forward, I’d like to focus more an artists or bands I haven’t seen yet.
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He’s playing two nights here next month. I was tempted, but the tickets are pricey. The remix of Scarecrow is quite impressive.
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Thanks, will check it out!
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