“Paper In Fire” by John Cougar Mellencamp (1987)
I remember the first time I saw the “American Fool” album. It was in the form of an ‘8-track’ tape kicking around on the floor of this guy’s truck who was giving me a ride. He was a self professed country music nut so I was curious why he had John Cougar. I asked him and he said “Because it is country music”. I thought “ Huh, I didn’t really think so....well, wait a minute, definitely influenced.”
John Mellencamp a.k.a. John Cougar Mellencamp a.k.a. John Cougar came straight out of the heartland of America with a dream and an attitude – sort of a rebel, ...I guess.
His first hit was really in Australia – “I Need a Lover”. Pat Benatar later covered it on her debut album (doing a better job in my opinion).
Really his first North American recognition came from the “American Fool” album with “Jack & Diane”, “Hurts so Good” and “Thundering Hearts”. Then as John Cougar Mellencamp he hit us with 1983’s “Un-Huh” which contained “Pink Houses”, “The Authority Song”, “Crumblin’ Down” and “Play Guitar”.
As now “John Cougar Mellencamp” 1985’s “Scarecrow” went to number 2 and contained most notably: "Lonely Ol’ Night”, “Small Town” and “R.O.C.K. in the USA”. That year Mellecamp helped Willie Nelson and Neil Young to do the first “”Farm Aid” benefit concerts.
Mellencamp moved to more of a country sound in 1987’s “Lonesome Jubilee”. This album contained “Check it Out”, “Paper and Fire”, and “Cherry Bomb”. The sound was pure pop, the lyrics still thin, but the music contagious - some of the best use of Appalachian fiddle in rock history. (Check out “Rough Harvest” from 1999)
1989’s “Big Daddy” was mellower and produced the hit “Pop Singer”. By 1991 he became just ‘John Mellencamp’ and continued into the 90’s with such albums as “Whatever We Wanted”, “Human Wheels”, “Dance Naked” and “Mr. Happy go Lucky”.
His Springsteenesqye lyrics pale in comparison to the ‘Boss’. His themes of small towns and girls tend to be shallow at times. Somehow he is able to sell you on it though, with a real or imagined attitude that pervades his songs. The music itself is what is great – punchy, original and varied. He seems to have found a universal ‘people’ appeal derived from a multitude of musical sources and stuck with it. The funny thing about Mellencamp’s records though is that no one knows many of the songs that weren’t hits – the hits were memorably crafted.
A couple of great covers John does, well worth a listen are: Eddy Cochran’s “Authority Song”, Van Morrison’s “Wild Nights”, and the Drifters “Under the Boardwalk”. Not bad for a small town boy!