Sunday, September 9, 2018

"Small Town" by John Cougar Mellencamp

Top 10 Alert!
Rated 10 Alert!
Song#:  2522
Date:  11/02/1985
Debut:  51
Peak:  6
Weeks:  18
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Mellencamp's eighth album Scarecrow got off to a solid start with the #1 Rock/#6 Pop hit "Lonely Ol' Night." Next up was this second single that would nearly top the Rock chart at #2. It would do the same business at Pop as "Lonely" did reaching the #6 spot while getting to #13 at AC. That result made Scarecrow Mellencamp's third album in a row to featured two Top 10 Pop singles. The album got close to the summit of the chart, but ended up having to settle for a #2 peak. Eventually, it would sell over 5 million copies, which was the same amount as his 1982 #1 breakthrough album American Fool.

ReduxReview:  If "Lonely Ol' Night" turned me back on to Mellencamp's music, then this song made me a diehard fan. The opening drums and guitar lick blasted through my speakers and I knew I was totally smitten when Mellencamp stated, "Well I was born in a small town." All this took place before the band really kicked it in. This instantly became my favorite Mellencamp song and it still remains at the top of the list. This song is a bit unusual for a pop hit because it doesn't have a chorus. It's all verses with a middle bridge and instrumental section. Yet the melody of the verses and guitar lines were strong enough to be memorable and hook listeners. Even all these years later, the song still moves me when I hear it. Sometimes I just rock out to it, other times it hits my emotions. I've never gotten tired of hearing it and that is one of the hallmarks of a truly great piece of music.


Trivia:  On the Scarecrow album, this song is preceded by what sounds like a snippet from an old 78 record with an older lady singing a song. Despite sounding old due to added effects, it was actually a recent recording. Earlier in 1985, Mellencamp recorded his grandmother Laura singing an old tune titled "In the Baggage Coach Ahead." That song was written by Gussie Davis in 1896 and it was considered a big hit at the time as it sold over one million copies of the sheet music (records weren't quite a thing yet). The song tells the story of a man riding a train with a young child. As everyone is going to sleep for the night, the child starts crying, which disturbs the other passengers. A few get angry about it and one tells him to take the child to its mother. However, the man can't as his wife is dead and her coffin is in the baggage coach. Realizing the situation, the passengers then become sympathetic and the man tells the story of he and his wife. Davis' song was apparently based on a true incident that was accounted and witnessed by a railroad porter. The story from the song went on to inspire a 1911 film short titled In the Baggage Coach Ahead.


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