John Cougar Mellencamp stood for broken dreams and auctioned dignity in this folk rock tribute to the small town in-betweens. The singer songwriter had fought an uphill battle in his career through seven albums. His first album Chestnut Street Incident released under the moniker Johnny Cougar in 1976 was a commercial flop and his next record The Kid Inside was shelved by his manager Tony DeFries only to be released in 1983 after Mellencamp had made it big. He parted ways with DeFries and got a new deal with Billy Gaff on his Riva Records. His next project A Biography in 1978 wasn't even released in the US; but gave him a top five hit in Australia with "I Need A Lover". The song became a top thirty hit in the US when it was included on his next album John Cougar in 1979; which changed his stage name slightly. Nothin' Matters and What If It Did followed in 1980 with the top twenty US hit "Ain't Even Done with the Night". His major breakthrough came in 1982 with American Fool yielding two smash hits "Hurts So Good" and "Jack & Diane". 1983's Uh-Huh didn't quite match the sales of American Fool, but it had two top ten hits with "Pink Houses" and "Crumblin' Down". It was the first time he used his real name Mellencamp.
He says: "That [Johnny Cougar name] was put on me by some manager. I went to New York and everybody said, 'You sound like a hillbilly.' And I said, 'Well, I am.' So that's where he came up with that name. I was totally unaware of it until it showed up on the album jacket. When I objected to it, he said, 'Well, either you're going to go for it, or we’re not going to put the record out.' So that was what I had to do... but I thought the name was pretty silly... If I'd been a little bit secure with myself, I would have [dropped the stage name]. But I would call record people up and say, 'This is John Mellencamp, I'd like to speak to . . .' 'Sorry, he's not in.' I'd call back ten minutes later and say, 'Hi, this is John Cougar.' 'Okay, hold on.' They didn't know the name Mellencamp, so to get my foot in the door, I had to use that horrible thing that happened to me. I had also talked myself into thinking that it wasn't so bad after all. Dylan even said, 'My name, it means nothing/My age, it means less.' Surely that's right."
'Scarecrow' was produced by Little Bastard (a nickname for Mellencamp given by an anonymous record company executive) and Don Gehman at Mellencamp's new recording studio, Belmont Mall in Belmont, Indiana and featured John Cougar Mellencamp on vocals and guitar; Larry Crane on electric guitars, acoustic guitars, and backing vocals; Kenny Aronoff on drums, tambourine, vibes, and backing vocals; Mike Wanchic on electric guitars and backing vocals; and Toby Myers on electric bass and backing vocals; with John Cascella on keyboards; Rickie Lee Jones on vocals for "Between a Laugh and a Tear"; Sarah Flint on background vocals for "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A."; Laura Mellencamp (John Mellencamp's grandmother) on lead vocal for "Grandma's Theme"; Mimi Mapes on backing vocals for "Minutes to Memories"; A. Jack Wilkins on saxophone for "Justice and Independence '85"; Richard Fanning on trumpet for "Justice and Independence '85"; and Ry Cooder on slide guitar for "The Kind of Fella I Am".
The album brought elements of sixties classic rock and soul into his sound as he tackled bigger social issues in the lyrics: "I've always been issue oriented. In the Sixties, I wore a black armband in high school, and I was at the Vietnam War moratoriums in Washington D.C. I was there cheering. But I never wrote songs like that because I felt, until recently, that it was too pretentious. When I think of the Sixties songs that I liked, they were never politically or socially oriented. For a long time I thought, as far as my career goes, it would have been ridiculous for me to make a record and talk about anything other than "Hurts So Good." People just didn't see me that way. I didn't think anybody would take it seriously...My politics are pretty much what they taught us in fifth-grade history, the old values, the very nuggets of this society. When a guy comes on my TV and tells me he's going to do something for me if I vote for him, he better fucking do it. Because if he doesn't, he's a liar and a manipulator...My grandfather was a carpenter. His father was a farmer. See, farming is not really in my family, but my younger sister married into a big farming family in Dudleytown. Let's take Mark, her husband. He works eighteen hours a day. Last year, he mathematically figured out how much money he made. His wage was $1.15 an hour. And he's got hundreds of hogs. Here's a twenty-eight-year-old kid who has a very heavy debt hanging over his head. I know he's scared to death of that. He doesn't sleep at night worrying about it. That's my understanding of farming, my friends, the guys I went to high school with. There was one kid whose parents had a huge chicken farm. He works in a grocery store now. He's not the same guy he was after his family went out of business...That song "Rain on the Scarecrow" came from months of table talk about the farm problems and seeing it on television. All George Green [Mellencamp's frequent lyricist] and I did was act as reporters on that song. The "ninety-seven crosses" was straight out of the news. Every time a farm foreclosure would take place in a certain state, they planted a cross in the courthouse yard...[My grandfather Speck Mellencamp] was a much larger inspiration to me than Bob Dylan or Woody Guthrie ever were. He taught me the value of dedication and trying to do the best you can with the tools you've got. He'd say, 'It's a poor workman who blames his tools'.... I always found that I made my biggest mistakes when I compromised myself – the Johnny Cougar name, some of the records I made, the producers I was talked into using. Whenever I compromised, I should have listened to Grandpa. Don't ever compromise yourself, right or wrong. That's something he always told us, to always believe in yourself ... Finally I was able to write some better songs. Not that Jack And Diane is a something I regret. That song did well for me and it’s pretty good anyway, as an account of a couple of high-school sweethearts goes. I was also writing stuff like Pink Houses which was kinda political but wrapped in an ‘ain’t that America’ vibe, which made it work for the mainstream. I was huge, so I decided to write what I wanted. I think I invented that whole “No Depression” thing with the Scarecrow album, though I don’t get the credit. By 1985 I was made. My only enemy was myself.”
'Scarecrow' went to number fourteen in New Zealand; nine in Sweden; and number two in Australia, Canada, and the US. It matched the sales of his blockbuster American Fool and had three top ten hit singles. When the album was finished, Mellencamp worked with Willie Nelson and Neil Young to organize the first Farm Aid concert in September of 1985.
"Lonely Ol' Night"
"R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A (A Salute To 60's Rock)"
"Rain on the Scarecrow"
All songs written by John Mellencamp, except where noted.
00:00 "Rain on the Scarecrow" (Mellencamp, George M. Green) – 3:46
03:47 "Grandma's Theme" (traditional) – 0:56
04:42 "Small Town" – 3:41
08:24 "Minutes to Memories" (Mellencamp, Green) – 4:11
12:37 "Lonely Ol' Night" – 3:45
16:22 "The Face of the Nation" – 3:13
19:37 "Justice and Independence '85" – 3:32
23:10 "Between a Laugh and a Tear" – 4:32
27:42 "Rumbleseat" – 2:58
30:41 "You've Got to Stand for Somethin'" – 4:32
35:13 "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. (A Salute to 60's Rock)" – 2:54
38:08 "The Kind of Fella I Am" – 2:55
Thanks To The Disabled Veterans Of America For Your Time