On a night that championed country tradition, one of the most overlooked performances of the 49th annual CMA Awards was John Mellencamp and Keith Urban’s Eighties classic rock-inspired duet on “Pink Houses.” Urban, who won the Musical Event of the Year award for his collaboration with Eric Church on “Raise ‘Em Up,” joined Mellencamp for a rousing, abridged take on the rocker’s 1983 signature small-town anthem — a song that would certainly be played on country radio if it came out in 2015.
Accompanied only by a few electric guitars, Mellencamp began his signature song on an acoustic six-string, singing its iconic first verse before the full band kicked in for Urban’s verse. It was a fitting pairing for the country superstar, who quickly segued into his Mellencamp-namechecking hit single “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” (below) as soon as “Pink Houses” ended (and his duet partner vanished).
“It’s a really well-crafted set of not only lyrics, but consonants and vowels, as far as percussive singing goes,” Urban told Rolling Stone Country earlier this year of his chart-topping hit, co-written by Josh Osborne, Ross Copperman and Shane McAnally. “They predominantly hit at all the right places rhythmically. I love singing the line, ‘Marilyn Monroe in the Garden of Eden.'”