Archive for John Mellencamp

Video Du Jour: Bob Dylan/Farm Aid

Posted in Rock Moment with tags , , , , , on September 18, 2012 by 30daysout

This weekend’s Farm Aid 2012 in Pennsylvania’s Hersheypark Stadium will be the 25th event staged to help America’s farmers (actually in 1989 they took Farm Aid on the road).

Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Dave Matthews and many more will play on Saturday, Sept. 22, 27 years to the day of the very first Farm Aid concert.

Farm Aid was inspired, of course, by Bob Dylan’s offhand comment at Live Aid in 1985 that he hoped some of the money would help American farmers in danger of losing their farms through mortgage debt. Nelson and Mellencamp took up the mantle and went to bat for U.S. farmers.

So, to celebrate Farm Aid, here’s Bob Dylan along with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Willie Nelson, doing “Maggie’s Farm” at the 1985 event in Champaign, Illinois.

Farm Aid official web site

Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: 1980s Singles!

Posted in Lost Classics! with tags , , on October 19, 2010 by 30daysout

The mid-1980s was a bad time for records.  Nobody wanted to buy vinyl albums any more, so the cassette was on the rise.  Likewise with good old plastic 45s; eventually those gave way to the “cassingle,” or cassette single.  But when it came to singles, the record labels didn’t stop there – they put out “extended play” singles with more than just two songs on it; “double packs,” with two singles (or four songs) for the price of one; and the dreaded 12-inch “extended version” singles.

Some labels were quicker to jump into the future than others, so today we’re going to listen to some singles that sort of reflected this rapid change taking place around 1987.  First, let’s jump back a year to ’86, and a good old-fashioned two-sided 45 by John Mellencamp.

Mellencamp had evolved from his Johnny Cougar days and by 1986 he had added his real surname to the John  Cougar handle, as he had turned into a roots rocker with the hits “Pink Houses” and “Crumblin’ Down,” and he was one of the heroes of the annual Farm Aid concert started the year before.  Mellencamp’s 1986 album was Scarecrow, which had as its main songs the urgent “Rain On The Scarecrow,” which focused on the then-precarious financial plight of the American farmer, and the self-explanatory “Face Of The Nation.”

The singles that came off Scarecrow weren’t so heavy: “Lonely Ol’ Night” is an old school rocker, and “Small Town” was cut from the same cloth as “Pink Houses.”  But the biggest hit off the album had nothing to do with farmers and everything to do with Heartland America: “R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A.” subtitled “A Salute To ’60s Rock.”  The tune is a mix of vintage Motown, Mitch Ryder’s Detroit sound, some California vocal harmonies and a pinch of Texas garage rock organ.  It was Scarecrow‘s biggest hit, going all the way to No. 2 on the pop charts in 1986.  The flip side was a cover of the Drifters’ “Under The Boardwalk,” which was not found on an album until the pot-luck Rough Harvest (1999).

MP3: “R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A.”

MP3: “Under The Boardwalk”

Running neck and neck alongside Mellencamp in the Great American Heartland Rocker category was Detroit’s own Bob Seger.  Seger and his Silver Bullet Band had been hitmakers since 1976, thanks to the two albums he released that year: Live Bullet and Night Moves.  Jump ahead ten years, and Seger was about to reach the tail end of his immense success.  His album Like A Rock came out in 1986, and it was his first LP in about six years.   The title song was a hit and a truck commercial, but today we want to spin “American Storm,” the anti-drug (specifically anti-cocaine) rant that modernized Seger’s sound to the times.

The flip side of the conventional single was a live cover of John Fogerty’s “Fortunate Son.”  But at the time I was working for a music magazine and Capitol sent over a special “extended play” record that put the A and B sides on one side, and on the flip were studio and live versions of “Hollywood Nights,” the leadoff tune from 1978’s Stranger In Town.  Whenever I listened to “Hollywood Nights” I kind of pictured it in the soundtrack of a movie where dudes were snorting lines in a Hollywood mansion; so it was kinda funny to hear it paired with Seger’s anti-coke tune.  In fact, this was the era of the hit TV show “Miami Vice,” and one song from Like A Rock – “Miami” – actually appeared in one episode.

MP3: “American Storm”

MP3: “Fortunate Son” (live)

MP3: “Hollywood Nights”

MP3: “Hollywood Nights” (live)

So now, let’s jump ahead a couple years to 1988.  The year before, I bought my first “cassingle” (it was the Grateful Dead’s “Touch Of Grey”) but there was already something new on the horizon: these little shiny things called compact discs.  Do you remember what a compact disc looked like in 1988?

They were only 3 inches in diameter!  Originally designed as the digital replacement for the 45 single, the CD-3 (as it was called) featured many of the big artists of the day but by the 1990s the practice proved to be not as economical as just pressing CD singles in the standard disc size we know and love today.

Our blog co-editor George bought this CD-3 as an import: Bruce Springsteen’s “Spare Parts,” from his 1987 Tunnel Of Love album.  “Spare Parts” was a stripped-down rocker released as a single in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Sweden.  The best version of the “Spare Parts” single, though, is a Japanese CD-3 from 1988 which features a studio and a live version of the song as well as “Pink Cadillac” (which appeared as the B-side of the “Dancing In The Dark” 45) and a live cover of Dylan’s “Chimes Of Freedom.”  That song would anchor its own EP in 1988, but without the little pre-song speech that Springsteen delivers on this version.

MP3: “Spare Parts”

MP3: “Pink Cadillac”

MP3: “Spare Parts” (live)

MP3: “Chimes Of Freedom” (live)

Review: Is It New Or Is It Old?

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2010 by 30daysout

Well, here we are almost to the end of summer 2010 … and we have a handful of new records that sound nothing like the summer of 2010.

Now I am a HUGE fan of Brian Wilson, and the Beach Boys – but I must admit Wilson’s new Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin leaves me kinda cold.   Wilson has said many times that George Gershwin is his all-time fave, and as a result Gershwin’s heirs have asked Wilson to create a tribute to the long-dead composer.   There’s no doubt that Brian Wilson’s genius ear for arrangement is still on-target, that’s obvious on the beautiful, accapella version of “Rhapsody In Blue” that opens and closes the album.  And “Summertime” (from the musical “Porgy and Bess”) with Wilson’s voice is just about perfect for this time of the year.  It’s on some of the other tracks where I get a little lost:  the instrumental “I Got Plenty O’ Nuffin’ ” sounds like a Pet Sounds outtake, and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” was better when it was “Little Deuce Coupe.”  Oh, this is all right I supppose, particularly if you’re more a fan of Gershwin than of Wilson.  In my case, I kinda wish Brian had devoted all this energy to writing some new songs.  Ah well, maybe next time.

Listen to piano demos Brian Wilson used to create songs for the new Gershwin album

John Mellencamp strips it all down and gets back to his “roots” with the new No Better Than This. Rather than reinterpreting old songs like Brian Wilson, Johnny Cougar’s done the opposite – he casts some freshly written tunes in “old” settings.  He visits Sun Studios in Memphis to cut a rockabilly tune, he records a bluesy tune in San Antonio’s Menger Hotel, where Robert Johnson recorded … you get the idea, right?  The title song manages to rock out,  and that Menger Hotel tune “Right Behind Me” manages to summon up the right amount of spookiness.  Complete with low-fi production from T-Bone Burnett, No Better Than This seems to be the right step for Mellencamp.

MP3: “No Better Than This” by John Mellencamp

Let’s go back even farther in time, say Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three.  The band’s Riverboat Soul could have been heard on a dark night along the Mississippi, circa 1933.  For lack of a better adjective, this is pure Americana – with heaping teaspooons of ragtime, bluegrass and back-porch blues.   Impeccably played and sung, the songs never break character for a modern-day wink and that makes Riverboat Soul all the better for it.

MP3: “La La Blues” by Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three

You gotta love YOSO, and not just for the name.  YOSO is made up of former members of Toto (singer Bobby Kimball) and Yes (keyboard player Tony Kaye and bassist/singer Billy Sherwood).  Elements is the band’s first album, and there are strong original numbers like “Path To Your Heart” and “To Seek The Truth.”  Kimball’s vocals are pretty solid, but on a few numbers he threatens to lose control; I think “Walk Away” could have been stronger with a few more takes.   In case you have a short memory, Elements comes with a second CD of live performances of a few of the new tunes and some Toto/Yes classics like “Hold The Line,” “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” and “Rosanna.”  Now this is classic rock!

MP3: “Walk Away” by YOSO

Repost: On the Trail of the Hellhound

Posted in Rock Classics! with tags , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2010 by 30daysout

(Editor’s Note: Recently John Mellencamp has been in the news, promoting his new album No Better Than This, which comes out in August.  He recorded a couple of songs for the new album in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, where legendary bluesman Robert Johnson supposedly recorded some of his greatest songs.  We’ve been told repeatedly that nobody knows where the recordings really took place, and there is no explanation in the press material for the album how they identified this particular room.  But who cares, really – here’s our original post from 2008.)

Perhaps no musician is as influential as the bluesman Robert Johnson.  Supposedly he sold his soul to the Devil so he could play his guitar like no one else.  And maybe he did – his songs “Cross Road Blues,” “Love In Vain,” “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Dust My Broom” are part of the bedrock of American music.  Johnson’s songs have been covered by the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin, among many others.

His music comes from the heart of the Mississippi Delta where Johnson lived and played until he died in 1938 under mysterious circumstances.  However, his entire catalog was recorded in Texas, during two short sessions in San Antonio and Dallas.  The San Antonio sessions produced some of the songs listed above.  Writer Dave Marsh once said, “Has there been any other single recording session that produced music so beautiful, so tortured, … so historically resonant?  No.”

Johnson first recorded in November 1936 at San Antonio’s Gunter Hotel, located just a few blocks from Alamo Plaza.  Now called the Sheraton Gunter Hotel, it has a few more floors than it did in Johnson’s day but it is still a nice place.

Some years back, I decided to stay a few nights in the Gunter close to where Johnson cut some of his most famous songs.  I had long since replaced the hellhound on my trail with two rugrats on the back seat – so I took my family.

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Review: “Life, Death, Love and Freedom,” John Mellencamp

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2008 by 30daysout

John Mellencamp comes around every couple of years with a batch of new material, whether you like it or not. The Indiana native has never been afraid to write and sing about what exactly is on his mind. In his three decades of hitmaking he has addressed the plight of the American farmer, the Iraq War, racial injustice and many other controversial subjects. On his latest, Life, Death, Love and Freedom, he ponders all of these subjects with the same vigor, albeit with lackluster results.

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