100 Best Albums of the Eighties
John Cougar Mellencamp, 'Scarecrow'
"We were basically in a pretty mean run at that time," says Larry Crane, guitarist with John Cougar Mellencamp's band. "We were going in and getting things done, and the band was clicking."
Scarecrow consolidated the band's rugged, roots-rock thrash and the ongoing maturation of Mellencamp's lyrics. The album is largely about dreams and illusions in America and how the essential character of the nation was being twisted in a government-supported climate of corporate greed. The most visible manifestation of the problem, from Mellencamp's perch in central Indiana, was the rash of farm foreclosures across the Midwest.
Despite the bittersweet, reflective tone of songs like "The Face of the Nation" and "Minutes to Memories" and the sentimental cast of his ode to rural America, "Small Town," the rehearsals that led up to the recording of the songs were nothing but pure fun. The group spent a month, at Mellencamp's insistence, learning a hundred classic rock & roll songs from the Sixties. "We got a bunch of those tapes you see advertised on TV with all the old songs on them," Crane says, chuckling, "and God, we learned everything." They rehearsed behind Mellencamp's house inside what had been a dog kennel. When a cousin opened up a bar nearby, Mellencamp christened it by playing an entire evening's worth of cover versions, from "White Room" to "Lightnin' Strikes."
When it came time to cut Scarecrow, the band members employed the lessons they learned from their Sixties studies. The idea, according to producer Don Gehman, was "to learn all these devices from the past and then use them in a new way with John's arrangements." Mellencamp would make comments like "I want this to be like an Animals record.... And I want the overall record to have this kind of a tone, like maybe it was a modern-day Dylan record." Indeed, Dylan himself hadn't been that bitingly topical in years. "You've gotta stand for somethin'/Or you're gonna fall for anything," Mellencamp sings, and on Scarecrow, he dug in and made a stand.