Sunday, June 03, 2012

From My Collection: John Cougar's American Fool

American Fool was John Mellencamp's sixth album, released in 1982. He was calling himself John Cougar at the time, though this was the last album to be released under that stage name.

This was his big break, reaching #1 on the Billboard 200 chart that year.

As a single, "Jack and Diane" reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. "Hurts So Good" reached #2 and "Hand to Hold On To" got to #19.

Here's the Allmusic review of the album, for what it's worth:

John Cougar's first albums were so bereaved of strong material that the lean swagger of American Fool came as a shock. The difference is evident from the opening song, "Hurts So Good," a hard, Stonesy rocker with an irresistibly sleazy hook. Cougar never wrote anything as catchy as this before, nor had his romantic vision of small-town America resonated like it did on "Jack & Diane," a minor and remarkably affecting sketch of dead-end romance. These two songs are the only true keepers on American Fool, but the rest of the record works better than his previous material because his band is tighter than ever before, making his weaker moments convincing. Besides, songs like "Hand to Hold On To" and "China Girl," for all their faults, do indicate that his sense of craft is improving considerably.

I would take issue with the review only in the sense that "Jack and Diane" was not primarily a sketch of "dead-end romance," but a sketch of "dead-end life." I always thought "life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone" was one of the finest lines in rock and roll music. For me, it's right up there with Mellencamp's title track to the 1983 album Pink Houses.

Maybe I'm just partial to Mellencamp because he demanded John McCain's campaign stop using "Pink Houses" and "Our Country" at political events during the 2008 campaign. Mellencamp explained his support for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. McCain's campaign stopped using the songs.

Mellencamp latter played "Pink Houses" at an Obama inaugural event in 2009 to drive home the point.

All songs on American Fool were written by John Mellencamp, except where noted: 

  • Hurts So Good (Mellencamp, George M. Green
  • Jack & Diane 
  • Hand to Hold On To 
  • Danger List (Mellencamp, Larry Crane
  • Can You Take It 
  • Thundering Hearts (Mellencamp, Green) 
  • China Girl (Joe New, Jeff Silbar
  • Close Enough 
  • Weakest Moments 
Here's "Jack and Diane," and, because I may not get back to Mellencamp for a while, "Pink Houses" below that. I love both of these tunes.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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