Monday, April 23, 2012
"American Fool" by John Cougar (1982)
View the Premise & Ground Rules for Revisiting Vinyl.
Filed between: Elvis Costello and The Country Gentlemen.
"Forget about Heaven, let me stay here forever."
My Overall Rating of the Tracks Separately:
REQUIRED LISTENING (4/4 stars). Seriously, if you haven't heard every song on this record, you owe it to yourself to check them out.
Okay, I'm gonna turn into that guy again. I'm a Mellencamp apologist. I'll defend pretty much anything he's ever done except for that rap thing with Chuck D (Cuttin' Heads) - that was just plain crap. After "Scarecrow," I think "American Fool" is hands down his best and most consistent effort. I have owned this record on vinyl, cassette and CD. In fact, I began writing about "American Fool" in my head days before I ever dropped the needle. I have listened to this record so many times that I pretty much know it note-for-note and word-for-word without even hearing it at this point. Like I said, that guy.
And as that guy, I can tell you that almost every Mellencamp LP follows a specific formula. There are the two or three songs that are pure pop gems (Jack & Diane and Hurts So Good - everybody knows these songs; when I clicked on the J&D youtube link, my nine-year old daughter started hollering along with that iconic guitar and drum riff as soon as it kicked in, and has been for almost five minutes now - neh-neh-neh, pewrn!). There are always a couple fo bombastic rockers (Thundering Hearts and Close Enough). There's always at least one song that's full of platitudes and pop philosophy, wrapped in yummy bacon like a pill for a dog (Hand to Hold on To). As his career progressed, these types of songs popped up more and more until now, they're pretty much the man's bread and butter. There's that one mid-tempo song that's often about romance but is decidedly NOT a ballad (China Girl). NOTE: This may also be one of the pop gems (i.e. Key West Intermezzo). There's always one song that's so chock full of allusions to specific details that it was clearly written as a letter to one person, and one person only (Weakest Moments). There's usually that one song that's kinda bawdy and usually plays out like a locker room anecdote (Can You Take It).
And then there's always one other song on every Mellencamp record. It's the one that comes out of nowhere and suckerpunches me right in the chest. I can never explain why it affects me the way it does - it's one of those "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" things. And it happens on EVERY record. It's the reason I will continue to buy every Mellencamp release, despite his seeming fascination with diminishing returns. Here' that song is Danger List. Man, I love Danger List. Couldn't begin to tell you why.
By the way, releases after "American Fool" also always have one other other song. It's the intentionally weird, out of place, sore-thumb track that doesn't fit in with anything else.
So, is it an album? Yes. Having a formula is not necessarily a bad thing. And besides, "American Fool" is pretty much where that formula got developed.
Up next, "No Control" by Eddie Money.
THE JOHN COUGAR MELLENCAMP ALBUM FORMULA TEMPLATE
NOTE: Some songs may fall into multiple categories.
CAUTION: DO NOT attempt to use this template in conjunction with "Big Daddy." It just won't work.
3: (If Present)
Deeply Personal & Referential Song
Bawdy Song (If Present)
Song That Is Much Better than It Has Any Right to Be
Song Full of Platitutes
NOTE: The frequency of these songs increase as the artist's career progresses. There may be up to five of these on a more recent album.
Intentionally Weird, Sore-Thumb Song (Only Applicable for Albums Released AFTER 1982)
NOTE: "Human Wheels" will have multiple entries in this field.