Chestnut Street Incident

Johnny Cougar

MCA, 1976

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Every artist needs to start somewhere. I understand this. Some of those birth cries are loud and strong, letting you know that the artist is planning on being on the scene and relevant for a very long time.

And then there are efforts like Chestnut Street Incident, the debut release from the artist now known as John Mellencamp. Unfortunately, his manager didn't think that his last name would sell any records, so his moniker was changed to “Johnny Cougar”. (Didn't help; this release only sold 12,000 copies at the time.) You can definitely hear Mellencamp (which is how I'll continue to refer to him throughout the review) taking shape in terms of his vocals, but the songwriting? Not quite so much at this stage.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It never was explained why half of the album was cover tunes. Perhaps someone – either Mellencamp's manager or someone at the label – didn't think his songwriting skills were strong enough to carry a whole album. And, in that case, they would have been correct; originals like “Dream Killing Town,” “Supergirl” and “American Dream” just don't have the power that one would have hoped for. Only the closing track from the original album, “Sad Lady,” shows the potential in his songwriting – but by then,  it's too little, too late.

The problem with Chestnut Street Incident is even the covers are poorly selected, poorly executed and poorly produced. It sometimes sounds like Mellencamp is going through the motions when he's performing “Oh Pretty Woman,” “Twentieth Century Fox” or “Do You Believe In Magic” - and why anyone thought these songs were the perfect vehicle for his vocals and delivery, I just don't understand.

That said, I can't rightfully say that Chestnut Street Incident is a “bad” album. It's indeed listenable, if not just a tad dated after 41 years since its initial release. It's not great by any means, but it is, at the least, worth one listen by fans of Mellencamp, if only to hear where he got his start – as well as to hear the early development of his vocal and delivery style that would propel him to superstardom less than a decade later.

It's definitely not an album I go out of my way to listen to, that's for sure… but Chestnut Street Incident is, at the very least, worth a casual listen before filing it in the “why did I buy this” shelf in your collection.

Rating: D+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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