Album review: John Cougar Mellencamp, Scarecrow (1985)


By Steve Newton

“The Authority Song” from last year’s Uh-Huh album was one of my fave rock tunes of 1984, right up there with Van Halen’s “Panama” and the Pretenders’ “Back On the Chain Gang”. But I wasn’t too crazy about the album on a whole. I’m much more impressed with Mellencamp’s new LP, Scarecrow.

Scarecrow boasts a number of ragged, hard-edged songs, the best of which are the opener “Rain On the Scarecrow” and “Rumbleseat”. I’m getting a bit tired of hearing songs about the ole U.S. of A. (Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”, Night Ranger’s “Rock in America”, etc.), but Mellencamp ‘s “R.O.C.K. in the USA” does get the old toe tappin’. Guitarists Larry Crane and Mike Wanchic have a Stones-y looseness kept in check by drummer Kenny Aronoff and bassist Toby Myers’ bang-on rhythms.

Rickie Lee Jones has a guest appearance on “Between a Laugh and a Tear”, and Mellencamp’s’ 80-year-old grandmother sings on the scratchy “Grandma’s Theme”. JCM’s fifth album is dedicated to his grandfather Speck Mellencamp, who passed away in December of 1983. Cougar’s closeness to the old man comes through in “Rain On the Scarecrow”:

Scarecrow on a wooden cross, four hundred empty acres that used to be my farm/I grew up like my daddy did, my grandpa cleared this land/When I was five I walked the fence while grandpa held my hand

George M. Green, who cowrote “Rain On the Scarecrow” with Mellencamp, also wrote a short introduction to the album:

“The highway between John’s house and the studio where these songs were recorded cuts through a stretch of Indiana where the land is fertile and full of growth. It is from this land and its people that these songs are born, and though it is not necessary to know this to enjoy and appreciate them, it does lend a certain understanding for those who care to think about such things.”

Fans of Bruce Springsteen and the American midwest’s “heartland” sound are almost sure to like this record.


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