100 Best Albums of the Eighties

32

John Cougar Mellencamp, 'Uh-Huh'

By 1983, John Cougar was a smash with the public — his multiplatinum American Fool, the biggest-selling album of 1982, saw to that — but was still scorned by critics. With Uh-huh, he turned a corner, winning over even hardened skeptics who thought he would never escape the shadow of the heartland-rocker triumvirate of Seger, Springsteen and Petty. Not only did he surmount his influences, he upped the ante with insightful and incisive songs about life in working-class America such as "Pink Houses" and "Authority Song." And, in a move consistent with the no-nonsense, back-to-the-roots flavor of Uh-huh, he even reclaimed his real surname, becoming John Cougar Mellencamp. Suddenly other artists were being compared to him.

A rough-hewn gem, Uh-huh was "written, arranged and recorded during a sixteen-day blowout at the Shack," according to the liner notes. The Shack, in fact, wasn't a studio at all but a half-finished house standing in the middle of Indiana farmland. It belonged to a friend who couldn't afford to finish building it, so Mellencamp agreed to do so for him — provided Mellencamp could rehearse and record there for a year.

Before recording Uh-huh, Mellencamp produced a Mitch Ryder record, Never Kick a Sleeping Dog, at the Shack. Working with a Sixties icon like Ryder helped gear Mellencamp and company for a leaner, more aggressive sound when it came time to do their own record.

Ironically, one of Uh-huh's most memorable songs, "Pink Houses," isn't a rocker at all but a ballad about the contentment to be found in leading a modest life. Inspiration struck Mellencamp on a highway overpass. "I looked down and saw this old man, early in the morning, sitting on the porch of his pink shack with a cat in his arms," he says. "He waved, and I waved back. That's how the song started."

"The first time we ever played it is the way it stayed," says guitarist Larry Crane. "We said, 'Well, we got that one,' and we didn't bother it after that."

Rolling Stone's Original 1983 Review

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