There was a time there in the early 1980s when I had no idea whether or not I liked John Cougar Mellencamp or I hated John Cougar Mellencamp.
I mean first off, back in 1979, there was the improbably-named John Cougar, and his dumbass “I Need A Lover,” a way-too-long bit of sub-Springsteen misogyny that nevertheless sounded pretty great blasting its way out of KKDJ, so we’ll call that a draw. I know there were a couple of other songs as follow ups, but I can’t remember a damn thing he did until 1982’s “Hurts So Good.”
I fucking hated that song so much that I was pretty sure I could safely dismiss Mr. Cougar.
But then came “Jack and Diane,” which rode big drums, a poignant lyric and The Handclap Rule straight into my heart, and I got all confused again, especially after MTV bludgeoned me into submission with it. Though the older I get, the less I believe it — the thrill of living has never left me — which is why I’m not writing about it in a separate entry.
But when John Cougar decided that he was going to be John Cougar Mellencamp, it struck some of us us cool KFSR kids as something hilarious, and for awhile, we all appended “Mellencamp” (or “Mellencamp Uh-Huh”) to our names on the air (there’s even an edition of the Dead Air Diary where I refer to myself as “Jim C Connelly Mellencamp Uh-huh”), until we found something else to make fun of.
And by that time, I was so inundated by college rock that I didn’t really pay that much attention to “Crumbling Down,” and outright disliked “Authority Song.”
But fucking “Pink Houses,” that one got me. It kinda split the middle between Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M, obviously not as big as the former and far more slick that the latter. R.E.M. would never have gospelish backing vocals on a chorus and Springsteen wouldn’t have the mix of acoustic and electric guitars that defined the verses.
“Pink Houses” was also one of those songs where the verses were prettier than that choruses, and once again, as on “Jack and Diane,” he deploys handclaps throughout to great effect.
Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this song inspired perhaps the greatest of all of the great early MTV contests: the “Paint The Mutha Pink” contest, the winner of which won a house that they then had to paint pink.
In any event, if in 1984, I still wasn’t sure what to think about John Cougar Mellencamp, his next record would set me straight for good.
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