NEW YORK (Associated Press) — The urgency of the tinkling guitar and thunderous drums that opened the 1985 album “Scarecrow” was the first hint that this was something different for the artist then calling it John “Cougar” Mellencamp.
The disc, which is being re-released this week, is a rare reputation-altering feat. She elevated Mellencamp from generic rocker to a serious artist who has something to say, helping launch Farm Aid, a movement that is still alive.
In that first song, “Rain on the Scarecrow,” Mellencamp described the financial crisis that was engulfing family farms in the Midwest. The Indiana-born singer embraced his roots in the “small town” anthem. At the age of 34, his writing in “Minutes to Memories” showed a new maturity in life.
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A high standard is maintained by the closest “ROCK in the USA,” which neatly summed up the musical approach – even if Mellencamp had to be spoken for to put it on the album.
Ask him now, at age 71, if “the scarecrow” is a high standard, and you’ll discover the chip that’s left on his shoulder. It will remind you of the hit songs that preceded the album.
“I didn’t know, because I didn’t know I had to change my game,” he said.
However, the singer who was dubbed “Johnny Cougar” professionally against his will at the age of 21 admits that he made five albums before he made a good song. The Scarecrow was seventh, save for one shelf when his first record label dropped him.
“I think John really found his voice on this album,” said veteran music writer Anthony De Curtis, who contributed to the re-release.
He said, “There were definitely signs of that before, like ‘Jack and Diane’ and ‘Pink Houses’.” But his sense of looking at the world, considering his personality as someone who grew up in Seymour, Indiana, and making a broader statement about it, was a huge problem for him. I elevated him to the level of someone who was an important musical voice in the culture.”
As someone who didn’t think much about songwriting until making a record deal, Mellencamp saw others around him setting a high standard and thought, “I’d better step up my game.” He mentioned Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Joni Mitchell.
As two chart-topping rock stars familiar with their comparisons, Springsteen and Mellencamp cautiously housed each other in the 1980s but are good friends today.
You can see, in “Scarecrow,” Mellencamp creates a musical world from what he knew growing up in the Midwest, much like Springsteen did on Jersey Shore. Mellencamp’s “Lonely Ol’ Night” is an objective cousin to the Springsteen 1984 song “Dancing in the Dark” in late-night narrators’ search for connection.
“What I learned from him is to be a good observer of life,” Mellencamp said. “You don’t have to be the one. You can watch. People have said to me, ‘John, have you ever had writer’s ban?’ And I would say no, all you have to do is look out the window.”
He recalls a long conversation with his late friend and songwriting partner, George Green, wondering why so many of the small towns they knew had vanished. Of those conversations, they wrote “Rain on the Scarecrow.”
The album cover features a serious appearance of Mellencamp on a farm, and a mysterious scarecrow and a tractor in the background. He gave it to his grandfather Speck, who died at the end of 1983.
After he made the recording, he remembers another conversation with someone who was making some of their music videos, “who looked at me and said, ‘You know, this is a really special record for these times. “
I said, ‘Do you think so? ‘ he said. ‘That was the first time I thought it was so much different than anything else I had done.’
With the spirit of Live Aid and “Scarecrow” themes in the air, Mellencamp helped organize the initial Farm Aid party with Willie Nelson and Neil Young. The organization says it has so far raised $64 million for family farming. Nelson and Mellencamp debuted at their last show in September in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Mellencamp and his band had been tight for years on the road in the mid-’80s, but he still entrusted them with a mission before producing the new album: learning to play dozens of rock songs from the ’60s, a sound their leader wanted to recreate.
Among them were several artists whose names were named in ‘ROCK in the United States’. Mellencamp did not like the song in “Scarecrow”, considering it sound “cartoon” compared to the rest of the material. Now grateful to him, he listened to the pleas of record company executives to change his mind.
Song versions of the band’s mission, such as “Cold Sweat” by James Brown and “Shama Lama Ding Dong” from Otis Day & the Knights, are in the re-release of “Scarecrow.”
He said, “I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I wasn’t surprised that people liked this recording. I’m not surprised that ‘Small Town’ has stuck around as long as it has been. I don’t listen to the radio anymore, but when I do, I always hear this song.”
During the 1980s Mellencamp built an impressive music box that deserved its own success. But his time at the top coincided with the worst times he had personally experienced, and he left.
“I had a girlfriend about who was a really famous actress,” Mellencamp said (he didn’t drop the names, but a good guess is Meg Ryan, whom he dated for several years in 2010). “She looked at me one night and said, ‘You know, John, we’ve been to the moon and we both know we don’t want to go back there. “She was right.”
He has a new album, “Orpheus Descending,” due out in February and has booked an extended concert tour from February to May. theaters, not arenas.
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