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2023 Albums Thing 231 - John Cougar Mellencamp “Scarecrow”

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The reasons why I was drawn to this album are lost in the mists of time. It may have been because a friend who worked security at the NEC Arena in Birmingham asked if I wanted some tickets to see him (it can’t have been the reason as without knowing more about him than “Jack And Diane” I probably would have said no)…anyways I accepted a fistful of tickets and couldn’t give them away. So I went on my own, bought a slab of those horrible plastic bottles of lager they served at the NEC and set myself up dead centre on the very back bleacher of seats. 2 hours later my mind was suitably blown, the place was barely half full, there was no-one sitting within 5 rows of me and it’s still, to this day, one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen.

Well if that was the reason I bought “Scarecrow” then good, cos it’s a fantastic album, one of the first I owned that could be described as Americana. Yes it has hit singles on it, “R-O-C-K In The USA”, “Lonely Ol' Night" and “Small Town”, but elsewhere it has a similar feel to Springsteen’s “Nebraska” about it. It’s not as low-fi and stark as “Nebraska” but the songs about the trials and troubles of ordinary Americans, this time based more on farming communities than Springsteen’s songs of bars, cars and cops, feels familiar.

It starts right from the off in “Rain On The Scarecrow”

The crops we grew last summer weren't enough to pay the loans 

Couldn't buy the seed to plant this spring and the Farmers Bank foreclosed 

Called my old friend Schepman up to auction off the land 

He said “John its just my job and I hope you understand”

The video for the song begins with an interview with three farmers telling of their struggles. Feels like stories we’ve heard before on Drive-By Trucker and Jason Isbell records. Single “Small Town” describes where the people that haunt these songs come from and how they think. “The Face Of The Nation” bemoans the changing times, “You’ve Got To Stand For Something” is an exhortation to do just that, no suggestion on what just believe in something, preferably yourself.

There are lighter moments, Mellencamp and his band had spent some weeks in rehearsal before entering the studio playing through a list of a hundred rock and roll songs from the 1960s which led to the single “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. (A Salute to 60's Rock)” and “Between A Laugh And A Tear” is a nice duet with Rickie Lee Jones.

“Scarecrow” was released in 1985, just a year after Springsteen’s “Born In The USA”, both at the height of Reagan-ism. Both albums are recounting the stories of ordinary Americans and how they were coping in that world, for many, not well.

Rain On The Scarecrow - https://youtu.be/joNzRzZhR2Y?si=A_h92A7QnvO7X30W

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