Wednesday, August 19, 2020

"Paper in Fire" by John Cougar Mellencamp

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3231
Date:  08/15/1987
Debut:  62
Peak:  9
Weeks:  16
Genre:  Folk-Rock, Americana

Pop Bits:  Mellencamp's eighth album, Scarecrow, became the best selling studio album of his career with over five million sold. It went to #2 thanks to five Pop Top 30 hits including three Top 10s. After his tour for the LP wound down, Mellencamp headed back to the studio to record his follow up. At the time, the Polygram-distributed label he was on, Riva, which he had been with since 1978, folded up so he moved over to another Polygram label, Mercury. For the new LP, Mellencamp developed a clear vision of what he wanted it to sound like. It would be an earthier effort with elements of country and folk folded in. Instruments like the accordion, fiddle, dulcimer, and auto harp would add to the Americana feel. The album would be titled The Lonesome Jubilee and this first single got things kicked off. It would immediately head to #1 on the Rock chart while becoming Mellencamp's eighth Pop Top 10. The hit would help the album reach #6 in October.

ReduxReview:  This was not your typical pop single. That was clear right from the start with the opening riff being played on accordion and fiddle. With the percussion rhythm, it nearly sounded like a chugging train and its whistle. Then that folk-ish style opening led to a big rockin' chorus with slammin' drums (via the brilliant Kenny Aronoff). It was a moody folk-rock track that just didn't seem like it would fit in a world full of synthpop, Madonna, and gooey Whitney Houston ballads. Yet the song captured the attention of rock and pop listeners who made a hit out of it. I was leery about its hit potential when I first heard it, but the more you heard the song, the more it got stuck in your brain. I loved the tune and being a fan I immediate bought the album. It was excellent then and it has aged just as well as Scarecrow. Another brilliant addition to Mellencamp's catalog.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  The prominent female background vocal on the song was provided by Crystal Taliefero. Mellencamp found the Massachusetts-born singer and multi-instrumentalist via his drummer Kenny Aronoff and after hearing one song from her, Mellencamp invited her to join his band. When Mellencamp took a small break from music in '89, Taliefero went to New York City and soon after got hired into Billy Joel's band. She provide backing vocals for his 1989 album Storm Front. She also played percussion on the #1 hit single "We Didn't Start the Fire." While she would continue working with Joel through the years, she also was selected to perform with other major artists like the Bee Gees, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, Garth Brooks, and Elton John.


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