“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