Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Flashback- John Mellencamp

While its hard for me to consider John Mellencamp a "flashback"- he's certainly not been around as long as bands like Pink Floyd and The Who- those of us that remember Johnny Cougar know he's been around long enough to matter.

Country and blues are America's homegrown sounds- our very own part of music history, but there are few musicians or acts that evoke the spirit of Americana like John Mellencamp, paving the way for many of today's most popular indie folks artists.

Born and raised in the heartland of Indiana, Mellencamp's life was marked by images of farmland, rows of corn with the husk tops waving in the wind, hardworking people, and miles and miles of land.  Land - the original American Dream- for someone from another country to come here and own his very own little piece (much like John Mellencamp's grandfather probably did when he emigrated to the US from Germany).  Growing up in a place where the land was the life people made, its no wonder stories of the land and the people that made their living off of it dominate the imagery in his songs.

With early albums that spawned songs like "Ain't Even Done With the Night" and "I Need a Lover", John Cougar didn't really find his footing until his iconic album, American Fool.   This album garnered Mellencamp a Billboard #1, thanks to songs like "Jack & Diane" and "Hurts So Good".  Mellencamp's evolution into heartland hero wasn't fully complete until his next album, Uh-Huh.  With songs that evoked the hard times and hard living in America's heartland, Uh-Huh brought to the rest of the US the ideas of "Pink Houses", "Crumblin Down" and "Authority Song".

His next albums, Scarecrow,  and The Lonesome Jubilee became for many a Mellencamp fan his iconic albums, spawning timeless hits like "Small Town", "R.O.C.K. In the USA" and "Check It Out".

In the late 80's and early 90's, Mellencamp churned out albums and hits like clockwork, producing Big Daddy in 1989, Whenever We Wanted in '91, Human Wheels, in '93 and Dance Naked in '94, and Mr. Happy Go Lucky in '96, which illustrated a fast evolution from his down-home almost country-eque music into a much more worldly and sophisticated musician.

Mellencamp's most recent album is unique for other reasons.  He performed and recorded each song at various historic musical locations around the US with old and simple recording instruments, as if recording in such historical places would evoke the spirits of the great musical experiences there and seep their way into his record. In some ways, they did.  This album, No Better Than This, is one of his most mature and timeless yet, with each track highlighting the lack of expensive recording equipment and picking up the nooks and crannies that made old records great.  For fans of Mellencamp, and fans who forgot they were fans of Mellencamp, this record is worth a listen.

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