Certain Songs #811: John Cougar Mellencamp – “Rain on the Scarecrow”

Album: Scarecrow
Year: 1985

With the arrangements getting sparser, the guitars getting tougher and producer Don Gehman making ace drummer Kenny Aronoff’s snare ring so bright it became the lead instrument, the only reason I wasn’t going to like 1985’s mega-massive Scarecrow was my previous ambivalence toward his work.

Which I definitely had at first, but got over relatively soon. I mean, after all, Scarecrow was basically a more polished version of the heartland rock that The Long Ryders or Green on Red had drifted into.

You could easily put just about any song from Scarecrow onto a mixtape with say, “Looking For Lewis and Clark,” “That’s What Dreams” or (ahem) “Begin The Begin,” and it would fit just fine.

And in the defacto title track, “Rain on the Scarecrow,” Mellencamp’s lyrics about a guy who had been on the farm so long he couldn’t love his land no more felt unsparing and contemporary; of a piece with the same sentiment that led to his co-creation of Farm Aid right around the time this album came out.

Rain on the scarecrow
Blood on the plow
This land fed a nation
This land made me proud
And son I’m just sorry
There’s no legacy for you now
Rain on the scarecrow
Blood on the plow
Rain on the scarecrow
Blood on the plow

Besides the snare sound (and the bell-like clang that was doubling it), I also loved the build up to Larry Crane’s solo with his guitar doubling in on itself before screeching into the solo with burst of feedback.

And while I will admit that it all took itself a bit too seriously, that was kind of par for the course in the mid-1980s, and who cared when it sounded so fucking good anyways?

“Rain on the Scarecrow” was the song that made me a fan of JC Mellencamp once and for all. Well, maybe not “for all.” As it turned out, Scarecrow was a peak for Mellencamp, who dropped the “Cougar” once and for all on the expansive The Lonesome Jubilee which I’ve always kind of underrated, and the quieter Big Daddy, which I’ve always kind of overrated.

I pretty much lost interest in the 1990s, especially when he turned up covering Van Morrison, though I did tune back in for 2010’s No Better Than This, which was . . . OK.

“Rain on the Scarecrow”

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