Category Archives: John Mellencamp

Today’s Top 5: June 3, 1986

I have no idea as to where I was, or what I was doing, on this day in 1986. I can say, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, that it was a Tuesday and a fine, fine day and great night, given that we enjoyed a high of 72 and low of 48. I can also say, based on the basic timeframe: I’d recently finished my junior year at the Penn State mothership, and was back home for the summer. I was working, working and working at a department store while also taking (or about to take) a summer class at Penn State’s Ogontz campus: physical education.

The photos are from a few months earlier. The one at the top is my dorm room, minus my messy bed; the second is me, at my desk in said dorm room. (I’d be in a different dorm and room, and have a different roommate, when I returned to the mothership in the fall.) You may not be able to tell from the second picture, but those are paisley patterns dotting my shirt – a nod to the Paisley Underground. As I’ve written before, I was an English/Creative Writing major, deejayed a folk show on the student-run radio station and enjoyed a boatload of fun despite being a year too young for the bars.

Among the day’s headlines: Secretary of State George Shultz took a hard line against South Africa’s apartheid policies; the Supreme Court ruled that cable-TV operators were protected by the First Amendment; and the U.S. Senate broadcast its floor debate on TV for the first time. Also: former (and future) Go-Go released her debut album, Belinda, which included “Mad About You.” According to Weekly Top 40’s charts for the week ending June 7th, that catchy song was one of the week’s “power plays,” having jumped from No. 59 to 49.

Other recent releases that caught my ear: Steve Earle’s Guitar Town, Lou Reed’s Mistrial and Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band’s Like a Rock. Also receiving frequent play: the Bangles’ Different Light, which had been released in January; Emmylou Harris’ Thirteen, which was released in February; and others that I’ve long-since forgotten. Other, older albums in frequent rotation included Lone Justice’s debut, the Long Ryders’ State of Our Union, Jane Wiedlin’s solo debut and the Three O’Clock’s Arrive Without Traveling, plus whatever else I singled out in my 1985 roundup. (Many of my favorites for 1986 are here, but most had yet to be released by this point in the year.) Of course, there were my mainstays, too, including the Beatles, Neil Young, Janis Joplin and Hank Jr.

Anyway, onward to today’s Top 5: June 3, 1986 (based on the charts ending the 7th).

1) Madonna – “Live to Tell.” Most of my friends were not Madonna fans. They were into prog-rock, rock and/or folk music, and save for one dismissed her without listening to her music. I did not. To my ears, her first two albums were good, not great, affairs; True Blue, for me, was (and remains) her best work. This, its lead single was, and remains, a thing of wonder; and was No. 1 this week.

2) Simply Red – “Holding Back the Years.” Jumping from No. 22 to 16 is this soulful gem from the Manchester band’s 1985 debut.

3) John Cougar Mellencamp – “Rain on the Scarecrow.” The title tune to Mellencamp’s classic 1985 album Scarecrow, rises from No. 26 to 22. (I’ve featured the album before, of course.)

4) Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – “Like a Rock.” Jumping 10 notches to No. 28 this week is this tune from the album of the same name. On the one hand, the song is yet another variation of Seger’s patented nostalgia-soaked formula, which dates (at least) to Brand New Morning’s “Railroad Days” in 1971. On the other hand, formulaic or not, it’s a damn good song – and just gets better the older I get.

5) Janet Jackson – “Nasty.” Looking back, one thing (among many) that I can definitely fault myself for is missing Janet Jackson’s third album, Control. (By decade’s end, when I was working in a CD store, I’d realize what I missed; and, in fact, saw her on her Rhythm Nation tour – a future Of Concerts Past entry, no question.) In its fourth week on the charts this, one of her iconic songs, clocked in at No. 33. (“What Have You Done for Me Lately” was No. 19, for what that’s worth.)

And one bonus…

6) The Bangles – “If She Knew What She Wants.” Another “power play” track, this gem from Different Light climbs to No. 42; and here they are on the Letterman show performing it with the house band:

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Today’s Top 5: February 1984 (via Record Magazine)

record284008Thirty-three years ago, in February 1984, America was stumbling out of back-to-back recessions that almost hammered the American Dream flat. The unemployment rate for January was 7.9 percent, which is high – but better than the 10.3 percent of January 1983. In fact, the unemployment rate for 1983 as a whole was, according to the St. Louis Fed, 9.5 percent – the same as it was in 1982. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics has slightly different numbers – 9.6 and 9.7 percent, respectively.) The trend was headed in the right direction, however.

(This Pew Research Center essay delves in-depth into the “Reagan recession.”)

Stories in the news included Michael Jackson’s hair catching fire while he filmed a Pepsi commercial on Jan. 27th; the cable networks A&E and Lifetime debuting on Feb. 1st; the first successful embryo transfer from one woman to another being announced on Feb. 3rd; the movie Footloose premiering on Feb. 17th; and Michael Jackson winning eight Grammy Awards (seven for Thriller and one for the E.T. audiobook) on Feb. 28th.

record284009New music releases for the month included the Footloose soundtrack; Thompson Twins’ Into the Gap; The Smiths’ eponymous debut; Queen’s The Works; The Alarm’s Declarations; and Van Morrison’s Live at the Grand Opera House Belfast.

Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which had been released in November 1982, still ruled the album charts, as Record’s Top 100 list shows. At the time, I owned – on vinyl or cassette – four of the top 10 and seven of the top 20; and, by year’s end, 20 of the top 100. As February dawned, the top single was – according to Weekly Top 40 – Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon.” John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses” had just cracked the Top 10. By month’s end, the top slot was held by one of the more infectious songs of the year, Van Halen’s “Jump.”

hatborotheaterAt the time, I was 18 and living the commuter-college life. I lived at home, attended Penn State’s Ogontz campus and worked, worked and worked as an usher at the single-screen Budco Hatboro Theater – a fun job that I’d held since the previous summer. (That’s me in the doors in the picture on the left.) This month, however, the employees learned that it was destined to close at some point over the summer, as Budco saw the writing on the wall for single-screen palaces. The building was sold, torn down and a Wendy’s was built on its spot.

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My purchases for the month show where my head was at, beginning with Neil Young’s masterful On the Beach, which I picked up on Feb. 1st.

I also bought Stephen Stills – Stills (6th); CSNY – So Far (6th); Stephen Stills/Manassas – Down the Road (12th); Joni Mitchell – For the Roses (12th); and Stephen Stills double-LP Manassas set (17th), which quickly became (and remains) one of my all-time favorites. This song, featuring former Byrd and Burrito Brother Chris Hillman on co-lead vocals, is a a minor gem:

And, with that, onward to today’s Top 5: February 1984 (via Record Magazine)…

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First, though: This issue isn’t one of the magazine’s best. I wasn’t a fan of David Byrne at the time (I’m still not), and never read the interview with him. I also never read the articles about Huey Lewis, Spandau Ballet, Juluka, Philip Bailey and DeBarge. So why choose this month? Because of On the Beach and Manassas. When I saw both in my old desk calendar, well, how could I not go with this month?!

1) The Rolling Stones – “Undercover of the Night.” I won Undercover, a sad-sack Stones album, from WYSP on November 19th of the previous year by calling in on a trivia contest and saying “John Drake” (the real name of Number Six in The Prisoner TV series). I think I played the album once, maybe twice, and never went back. In other words, Anthony DeCurtis – who penned this review – is more generous to it than I obviously am. Of this song, he writes that it “opens the first side with a machine-gun run of synthesized drumming that crashes into a barrage of percussive disco bottom and patented Stones guitar chords.”

record2840122) Paul McCartney – “Pipes of Peace.” This, the second review, goes to show the delay that once existed between release and review. The February issue of Record would have been on newsstands by early or mid-January, I’m sure, but Pipes of Peace had already been out for at least two months by then, as it was released in October 1983 (as I write about here).

In the review, the (apparently tone-deaf) critic Craig Zoller doesn’t mince words: “The only McCartney LP worth holding onto, by any stretch of the imagination, is Wings Greatest because it collects most of his good hits (along with some silly ones). And seeing sluggish hodgepodge efforts like Band on the Run and Tug of War garner critical raves is as bad a joke as hearing the Beatles described as Paul’s old back-up band.” Lest one have any doubts about where he’s headed, he then states of Pipes of Peace: “I’m here to tell you in no uncertain terms that it’s just another lousy McCartney album with a couple of halfway decent cuts, a load of hummable pablum and the usual no-risk coasting.”

What I find interesting: in back-to-back reviews, a subpar Stones album is saluted while an admittedly mediocre McCartney album is thoroughly trashed. Says much about the mindsets of rock critics at the time…

record2840133) Bob Dylan – “Sweetheart Like You.” I’ve been in something of a Dylan mood of late, having listened to The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, The Times They Are a-Changing, Bringing It Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and the Bootleg Series Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos 1962-1964 this week, with Freewheelin’ and BIBH both receiving twin spins. But, though I know his ‘60s output as well as most, and bought Slow Train Coming in 1979, by the time the decades turn to the ‘80s… I’m admittedly ignorant. There are a few albums I’ve bought and liked, and a few I’ve bought and disliked. Which is likely why I turn to his ’60s oeuvre whenever I have a hankering to hear him.

Anyway, of Infidels, reviewer John Swenson opens by saying that Dylan “is the most consistently misunderstood figure in pop music history” and closes with “Dylan hasn’t sung this well in some time, a fact which indicates his ultimate commitment to his material.” In between, there’s a lot that makes me want to check out the album, which I may well do in the coming week.

4) John Cougar Mellencamp – “Pink Houses.” Christopher Hill accurately describes the one-time Johnny Cougar’s seventh album: “Uh-Huh, Mellencamp’s first record under his real name, is also his first conscious effort to speak collectively for the people of his state and his state of mind. Though not always successful, the rough grain and savor of parched Midwestern earth that comes through makes this a bracing, provocative antidote to the bleak romancers of the ‘Badlands.’” He doesn’t single out the album’s tour de force, however, which is this song:

record2840145) Clarence Clemons and the Red Bank Rockers – “A Woman’s Got the Power.” Anyone from the Delaware Valley circa the late ‘70s and early ‘80s likely remembers the A’s – at least, anyone of a certain age who, regardless of whether you were old enough to get into the clubs, listened to Philadelphia’s two main rock stations at the time, 93.3 FM WMMR and 94.1 WYSP. The homegrown rockers were routinely plugged and played on both, as they should have been – they were damn good.

And this song, which was the title track of their 1981 album of the same name (their second and last on Arista), was played to death – as I remember it, at any rate.

Anyway, of the Big Man and his side band: Barry Alfonso, who reviews Rescue, notes that “the feel captured is right on the mark—such tracks as ‘A Man in Love,’ ‘A Woman’s Got the Power’ and ‘Savin’ Up’ (the last-named a Springsteen composition) have the funky nobility that big-band R&B has always traded in.” He also raves about lead singer John “J.T.” Bowen: “He lends to Clemons the same sort of urban bravura that Clemons brings Springsteen. It may not be new, but it still packs a wallop.”

AND, if two clips of the same song aren’t enough, here’s a third: the A’s performing it live…

 

 

Today’s Top 5: 1991

dodgecolt002Twenty-five years ago today as I write, on Wednesday Sept. 25, 1991, Diane and I were brand-new to married life, having gotten hitched the previous Friday in Philly’s Chestnut Hill neighborhood. It was, suffice it to say, a great day – up until we walked out of the French restaurant where we held the wedding: my brother and a friend had decked out my car, a Dodge Colt, in festive wedding gear, and tied empty cans to the back. That centuries-old tradition sounds charming, I suppose, but try driving with said cans clanging on Chestnut Hill’s cobblestone streets… as Bill the Cat might say, “Ack!” At the first opportunity, I cut ’em loose. Anyway, we waited until the following spring for our actual honeymoon, a wondrous California odyssey, and spent the weekend down the shore. We already lived together, so the adjustment was minimal – changing our W-4s was it, I think.

Here’s our living room from January 1991:

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Yes, that’s a lot of CDs; and the number only increased, as they spawned often. By decade’s end, they took over that end of the living room.

smokey_ogc001Although I don’t remember the specifics of this particular Wednesday, I can still lay out a large chunk of what happened based on routine: I woke around 6:30, left at 7:35am, arrived at work 10-15 minutes later, and then sat at a desk for a spell. Those were the days of hour-long paid lunches (what a concept!), and I made use of the time by heading home most middays. Without morning traffic, it took 10 minutes each way. I brought in the mail, likely indulged the original old grey cat, Smokey, with a few treats, and worked on the Great American Novel, which I spent much of the ‘90s writing, re-writing and never completing.

That’s to say, in addition to a cat, we had a computer – a second-hand x286 IBM clone. It came with an eight-gig hard drive, 256MBs of memory and a modem, which meant we could, and did, connect to the sandboxed universe of Prodigy. My dad, God bless him, dumbed down the DOS operating system for us and installed a simple menu, so accessing a program was never more than one or two keystrokes away – as in, A, B, C, D or E. For me, at lunchtime, that meant firing up the word processor and tap-tap-tapping away.

The top movie of 1991 was The Silence of the Lambs, which Diane and I saw while down the shore for a week in the spring. (We read the book and Red Dragon, the novel that preceded it, in the same week. Yes, we were eyeing everyone with suspicion.) Other popular films included Beauty and the Beast, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Point Break and Hook, none of which interested me then or now; and Thelma & Louise.

On the economic front, America was teetering: unemployment averaged 6.8 percent for the year and inflation, at 4.2 percent, was a source of concern as January dawned, though it (thankfully) fell over the next 12 months. Still, there was reason to rejoice: the USSR officially disbanded on December 26th and, with it, the Cold War came to an end – at least, it came to an end for a time. We’ve recently seen the rich man’s Hugo Chavez, Vladimir Putin, upping Russia’s nationalistic ante as a way to distract everyday Russians from their own economic woes; and those dupes who’d play cards with him, such as Donald Trump, apparently have no clue that he’s dealing from a stacked deck.

Back on point: In the music-history books, 1991 is heralded for the breakthrough of the paradigm-shifting Nirvana, whose influential Nevermind was released 25 years ago yesterday. I’d love to say that I was among the first to buy it and take the music to heart. I wasn’t. I was in a different mind-space, as my list below shows. That’s not to say I didn’t and don’t appreciate the immediate impact and lingering influence of Nevermind; if I was creating an objective list for the year, I’d rank it No. 1. I’m not, however, so I won’t.

Before I get to the list: My main music-related memory from 1991 isn’t of an album, but of two sterling shows that we saw in the span of a few weeks, both at the TLA in Philly: Rosanne Cash on her Interiors tour; and the Irish singer Mary Black on her Babes in the Woods tour. Rosie’s was, as Dan DeLuca phrases it in his review, “an ‘I can’t remember the last time I saw anything this good’ show’; and Mary Black’s was as magical. (I reference it in this Of Concerts Past post about her 1994 show at the Chestnut Cabaret.) Other shows we saw in 1991: Elvis Costello with the Replacements; Emmylou Harris with Chet Atkins; Kathy Mattea with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band; Roger McGuinn; Bonnie Raitt with Chris Isaak; and K.T. Oslin with ex-Byrd Chris Hillman’s group, the Desert Rose Band. There were plenty of others.

For today’s Top 5: 1991.

1) Mary Black – Babes in the Wood. Selected track: “Still Believing.” I mentioned that memorable show of hers above because, looking back, I’m sure that live experience played a major part in my picking this as my favorite of the year. To this day, whenever I play the CD – or, now, stream it – I’m transported to the TLA, seated about halfway back, with Diane by my side.

2) Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Weld. Selected track: “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).” Now, this is my idea of grunge. Neil Young returned from the wilderness in 1989 with the stellar Freedom; followed it the next year with the raucous, Crazy Horse-infused Ragged Glory; and put a cap on his comeback with the electric tour captured on Weld, which could well be summed up in two words: brutal grace.

3) Matthew Sweet – Girlfriend. Selected track: “Divine Intervention.” One of my most-played albums of ’91, which is saying something as it was released in October of that year. This track, like the album as a whole, is delightfully trippy – and very Beatlesque.

4) John Mellencamp – Whenever We Wanted. Selected track: “Whenever We Wanted.” This, Mellencamp’s first release of the ‘90s, bypasses much of his late ‘80s Americana stylings in favor of the crunchy rock of Uh-Huh; and often substitutes sloganeering for the incisive short stories that accent Scarecrow, Lonesome Jubilee and Big Daddy. That said, a handful of songs – including this cut – stand with his greatest work.

5) Soundtrack – Falling From Grace. Selected track: Nanci Griffith’s “Cradle of the Interstate.” So John Mellencamp made a movie. I have no idea if it was good, bad or mediocre, as I’ve never seen it., but I can say without equivocation that the soundtrack – which preceded the film by a few months – was uniformly excellent, featuring tunes from Mellencamp, Dwight Yoakam, Larry Crane, Lisa Germano and Nanci Griffith.

And a few bonuses:

6) Nanci Griffith – Late Night Grande Hotel. Selected track: “It’s Just Another Morning Here.” A solid, if slightly overproduced, outing from the folkabilly singer-songwriter, who was one of our favorites. The songs played better live, as recall. I do wonder what’s become of her…

7) Lisa Germano – On the Way Down From Moon Palace. Selected track: “Riding My Bike.” Germano, of course, came to the fore as the fiddler in Mellencamp’s band – and is a phenomenal fiddler. This jazzy solo effort is likely not to everyone’s taste, but I enjoy it.

8) Blake Babies – Rosy Jack World. Selected track: “Temptation Eyes,” Juliana. John. Freda. What else need be be said?