“If they wanted to call me Rumpelstiltskin, I would have done it to have the opportunity to make records. Johnny Cougar indeed.– John Mellencamp

Okay. Let’s get it out of our systems….get your John Cougar snickers…your “My Country” joke…your “Corporat…..ERR….Heartland rock joke….Get them all out of the way now. When you’re done we’ll talk about this release like adults.

Done? It’s okay, I get it. I’ll wait.
No, there is no need to apologize. Just get it out of your system and then give me a chance.

Okay? Ready?
Cool. I’ll start.

Somewhere between “John Cougar” and “My Country”, John Mellencamp became a punchline….

Oh, come On! What the fuck? I said get it out of your system and then give me a chance….
Okay? You ready? You sure? You really sure? Pinky promise? Okay….

Somewhere between “John Cougar” and “My Country”, John Mellencamp became a punchline. Hell, he became a punchline for me, too, and when I am honest, I don’t even know what the joke was. Truth is, Mellencamp was well played in my childhood home and I still like all of those songs. I don’t think I could name a single song between then and the infamous Chevy commercial, but that commercial managed to change my opinion of everything from “Rain On The Scarecrow” up to it. My opinion began to change back when Mellencamp’s Life, Death, Love and Freedom was released last year (review here). Seeing that his new box set, On The Rural Route 7609, was heavily populated with tracks from that album, I decided to look into it a little more.

On The Rural Route 7609 isn’t the typical ‘toss in the hits and a few b-sides, compiled money’ grab. Instead it’s a very well thought out and carefully assembled 4 disc release that seems more focused on theme and story than hit churning. Sometimes the collection lets you hear the birth and growth of a song, such as “Jenny At 16” and the demo for “Jack and Diane” that eventually became the “Jack And Diane” we all know. I was even amazed to find that when all the pizazz and pop polish was stripped away from the infamous “My Country”, it fits perfectly into what Mellencamp has been writing his whole life.

Look, I know the odds of anyone still reading this at this point are slim to none and I know I can’t change anyone’s opinion on what Mellencamp is all about, but I will ask you this: If you’re truly honest with yourself, do you know why you view Mellencamp as a joke? Was it ’cause someone else said he was? Was it for the clap track in “Jack and Diane”? Was it for the Chevy commercial? Regardless of the reason, check out his last album. Perhaps download this box set from AmazonMP3. Listen to them. Perhaps, like me, you’ll find that we might have treated Mr. Mellencamp unfairly over the years….

I am gonna close this piece with the same liner notes quote that Adam Sheets used in his fantastic review for No Depression, ’cause I feel it’s as poignant as he did: “If he has not been properly credited for that groundbreaking role, it is largely because he committed the unforgivable sin of actually having hits while making innovative music. Part of the No Depression mythology requires either a tragic early death or decades of unacknowledged masterpieces created during a life of grueling poverty. Writing and recording great songs that millions of people like and buy is not part of that sentimental picture- regardless of how comfortably the music itself sits within the genre’s parameters. As Neil Young pointed out, sometimes you are made to pay a price for having hit records.

John Mellencamp – Rain On The Scarecrow
John Mellencamp – To M.G. (Wherever She May Be)
John Mellencamp – Cherry Bomb (writing demo)

John Mellencamp’s Official Site, John Mellencamp on myspace, Buy On The Rural Route 7609

12 thoughts on “JOHN MELLENCAMP – ON THE RURAL ROUTE 7609”

  1. I’ll listen to the new stuff. And I’ll admit, I was a huge fan of “John Cougar”, as he was known back then, when I was 16-17. He had an album titled, “Nothing Matters and What If Did” that I knew by heart when I was a senior in high school. (“To M.G.” is one of the tracks.)

    I lost interest some time after Farm Aid, but I’ll check out the new stuff, on your recommendation. And I’ll probably like it.

  2. Sometimes I wonder why record labels don’t release these sort of recordings more often. That version of Rain on the Scarecrow is so much better than any other version I’ve ever heard. And Cherry Bomb was really cool to hear in its raw form like that. I can’t say I’d go buy the entire four-disc record, but I might pick and choose some songs on iTunes or Amazon.

  3. Johnny Cougar’s from my hometown, so he’s a hero around there and pretty much dominated the radio waves in my youth. If anyone in Seymour is gonna put on a Mellencamp record, it’s gonna be from the Cougar era.

  4. Being an Indiana boy, I have always been a JM fan…even when he was putting out less than stellar stuff.

    My only real complaint about the guy is that his live show is about the same every fucking night. When you print up a $25 tour book that includes the setlist, you are pretty fucking locked in…and I am not a big fan of that.

    I plan on getting this set soon, and your review has hastened my doing so.


  5. Can anyone explain a bit about the “joke” thing? and Mellencamps reputation over there?

    Here in Europe he’s always been sort of low key and not very well known for anything else than Pink Houses… so we really don’t know what the joke-bit is all about ?

  6. I have been following Mr Mellencamp/Cougar since 1978. I always thought his music was great and I never really paid any attention to any jokes about him. 2 albums everyone should listen to are Mr. Happy Go Lucky and Whenever We Wanted. Check them out.

  7. I’ve always been a big fan. I remember hearing “I Need a Lover” from him first and reading about him being compared favorably with the Jersey Devil in Creem. I started to lose interest with JandD, but picked up interest after my wife liked his work. JM has always had a healthy sense of humor about his career which might fit into the “joke” tradition. He does a nice job of connecting with fans, sometimes to his detriment – years of shows filled with warhorses. Even those shows were usually high energy affairs and you’d sing along with everyone else. Great American singer songwriter who happens to be popular. Works for me.

  8. You do realize that the song is called “Our Country” not “My Country,” right?

  9. I have always adored John Mellencamp. As a seven year old singing along with Hurts So Good with no idea what it was about, to being an angry teenager for whom he was the only point of agreement between myself and my mother, he has been the soundtrack of my life. It isn’t just the sentimental attachment of music from a time and place. His music has always moved me and has mirrored my life and experiences in a way that other artists have not. He has informed my social conscience and my political views, and his music has paralelled the stages of our lives. He was brash and wild as Johnny Cougar, focused on the state of the nation as John Cougar Mellencamp, and as John Mellencamp he has traversed the perils of middle adulthood and shared his wisdom (and admittedly, a little of his bad ass attitude) with us.

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