John Cougar Mellencamp

Riva Records, 1985

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


In 1985, John Mellencamp was on a roll. He had successfully reverted to his real name (though he kept his stage name of "Cougar" as a middle name for a few albums) and had garnered his biggest success with his album Uh-Huh. So by the time 1985 rolled around, the question Mellencamp had to face was how he could top the success he had already enjoyed.

His answer was to write and record Scarecrow, an album that was his most vocal (to that point) about his defense of Midwestern life and the plight of the American farmer. Some people didn't know how to deal with the angrier side of Mellencamp, but in the end, he created one of the few albums of his career that I would call an album that everyone should own.

The first single "Lonely Ol' Night" was a logical follow-up to the hits Mellencamp enjoyed on Uh-Huh - this one sounds like it could have been written at the same time as "Authority Song" and "Crumblin' Down". This, by the way, is not a bad thing - I found this track to be highly underrated -it almost seemed like people were expecting to hear something radically different from Mellencamp.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The gloves come off early on the album - "Rain On The Scarecrow," the album's lead-off track, was a scathing commentary about the decline of the American farm and theplight of the farmers who could no longer afford to eek out a living. It is a song that makes you think - and it should make you angry for the farmers. This track might be the peak of Mellencamp's songwriting; I don't think he's ever topped the sheer power of this song. Thirteen years later, it's still a great track.

Of the remaining singles, Scarecrow becomes a matter of taste. One website (whose address I can't recall off the top of my head) ranked "R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A." as one of the worst songs ever recorded. I disagree - it may be a tad simplistic, but it is an enjoyable track that helped to keep the names of some older rockers registered in the heads of Generation X. (How many kids listening to the radio in 1985 had ever heard of someone like Mitch Ryder or Bobby Fuller prior to this song?) However, the other single "Small Town" is one that I've just never warmed up to. It sounds like a re-tread of "Pink Houses," only without as much power. Nevertheless, others love this track - more power to them.

But an album is more than the singles that get airplay - and more often than not, Scarecrow continues to show its strengths in the "forgotten" tracks. "Minutes To Memories" is a great number that could have enjoyed success had it been given a fair shake on the airwaves, while "Justice And Independence '85" is a better track than I originally imagined it to be - Mellencamp sounds incredibly comfortable performing this one. (For that matter, the whole feel of this album is more laid-back than anything Mellencamp had done to this point - which helps the album. When the artist is at home with the material, we'll feel more at home with it as well.)

There are a few clunkers on Scarecrow - "You've Got To Stand For Somethin'" and "Between A Laugh And A Tear" don't stand out as anything special - but even the weak material has enough promise to carry the album.

I don't think that Mellencamp ever was more popular than he was around the time of Scarecrow, and I could argue with members of the Pierce Posse for hours as to whether his future albums were as good as this one. No matter what your view of Mellencamp's career and output, it can't be denied that Scarecrow is an incredibly powerful album that challenges you to listen to the message behind the melody.


Rating: B+

User Rating: A



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Riva Records, and is used for informational purposes only.