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Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Let The Day Begin...Let The Day Start!: Day 103 - John Mellencamp

American Fool is the fifth Studio Album from John Mellencamp (but released under his stage name John Cougar, more about that in a moment).

John Mellencamp didn't have an easy ride to get where he is today. Right from the start he was forced to use the name Johnny Cougar as it was deemed that Mellencamp sounded too clunky and impossible to market to anyone! His first album Chestnut Street Incident was produced by his then manager Tony Defries who had suggested the name change and Mellencamp reluctantly agreed, but the album (of Cover Versions) was a complete failure, selling only 12,000 copies. Mellencamp confessed in a 2005 interview: "That (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."

He was dumped by MCA after they rejected his second album The Kid Inside. So his second album ended up being released  by his then former manager Defries in 1983 as he tried to cash in on the success from the American Fool album!

His second album (in 1978) ended up as A Biography released by Riva Records but it did not get a release in the US but only in the UK and Australia! Indeed he got his first #1 hit in Australian with I Need A Lover.

The Self-Titled John Cougar followed in 1979 (though in Australia the album was called Miami) and finally got him on the charts in the USA (#64). Nothing Matters and What If It Did (produced by Steve Cropper) followed in 1980, reaching #34 and he did have a couple of hit singles from it. Mellencamp is quite dismissive of it though."The singles were stupid little pop songs," Mellencamp told Record Magazine in 1983. "I take no credit for that record. It wasn't like the title was made up – it wasn't supposed to be punky or cocky like some people thought. Toward the end, I didn't even go to the studio. Me and the guys in the band thought we were finished, anyway. It was the most expensive record I ever made. It cost $280,000, do you believe that? The worst thing was that I could have gone on making records like that for hundreds of years. Hell, as long as you sell a few records and the record company isn't putting a lot of money into promotion, you're making money for 'em and that's all they care about. PolyGram loved Nothin' Matters. They thought I was going to turn into the next Neil Diamond."

The next Neil Diamond he certainly wasn't! And then came the breakthrough album American Fool making it to the top spot on the Billboard Charts, not bad for an album that John Mellencamp reckons, "To be real honest, there's three good songs on that record, and the rest is just sort of filler. It was too labored over, too thought about, and it wasn't organic enough. The record company thought it would bomb, but I think the reason it took off was – not that the songs were better than my others – but people liked the sound of it, the 'bam-bam-bam' drums. It was a different sound."

Following the success of American Fool Mellencamp had enough clout with the label to be able to at least add his surname to the John Cougar for the release of his next album released in 1983 Uh-huh, which contained three of his finest singles to date (Crumblin' Down, Pink Houses, and Authority Song) and he would eventually dismiss the use of the name Cougar come the time for his 1991 album Whenever We Wanted.

People have a habit of seeing John Mellencamp as some sort of poor man's Bruce Springsteen and I think that is terribly unfair. He should be recognised as a great songwriter and performer in his own right. I have a lot of time for his music and he's still putting out some great stuff, 2014's  Plain Spoken is fantastic. There's a good interview looking back over his career and talking about Plain Spoken here that's worth checking out.

American Fool - John Cougar
Produced by Don Gehman and John Mellencamp
Released 12th April 1982
US Chart #1
UK Chart #37

    John Cougar – lead vocals
    Larry Crane – guitar, background vocals
    Mike Wanchic – guitar, background vocals
    Kenny Aronoff – drums
    George "Chocolate" Perry – bass
    Mick Ronson – guitar, background vocals
    Robert "Ferd" Frank – bass, background vocals
    Eric Rosser – keyboards
    Dave Parman – background vocals

Singles From American Fool
April 1982
US Chart #2

July 1982
US Chart #1
UK Chart #25

October 1982
US Chart #19
UK Chart #89

Let The Day Begin...Let The Day Start!
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