35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
John Mellencamp's "Scarecrow" is a singular masterpiece. It reveals an artist expanding his ambitions, and creating a work that will live for ages. He is searching for American soul. Not as in "soul music"; as in "the soul."
As other great rock musicians have done, he demonstrates the universality of very specific instances. When he sings about his small town, it's about everybody's small town...even NYC.
He showed us the ability to craft little stories in the confines of a pop song with "Jack & Diane". Here he develops it into a science...his own branch even. Every song is filled with character, images...some even have a plot, surrounded by irresistible melodies and a terrific rock band.
The album opens with the harrowing drums and brittle guitars of "Rain On The Scarecrow", and right away, you get the feeling Mellencamp is out to make a statement. Not only in a socio-political manner, but in an independent, artistic one. He's saying, "Look at me now."
His declaratory tone during that song, hushed comments followed by snarled anger, is the sound of a farmer sitting on his porch, telling you why life ain't that great right now.
And it still feels "right now", as there's an immediacy to this work that you can still feel 20 years later. This album has not aged a bit; I don't think it ever will.
After a guest appearance by his "grandmom", we hear the familiar chords of "Small Town" with John once again visiting territory he explored with "Pink Houses". People in L.A. identify with "Small Town"...which makes no earthly sense at all, but at the same time "feels" completely right.
"Minutes to Memories" is another example of a maturing Mellencamp, more confident in his songwriting skills, and also in his production.The relatively quiet verses versus the proclamatory choruses, both rising as the song progresses, mixing in a varied palette of instruments he'd never used before...it all contributes to an amazing listening experience.
And it is amazing. The remastering job will bring tears to your eyes. I heard things I've never heard before, and I've heard this album about a million times. I had the vinyl, I had the CD, I had the Mobile Fidelity CD...this one blows them all away. Drum patterns that sounded the same before, I now realize were played on different drums, altering the sound dramatically. Guitars have "edges" on them. The bass is bottomless. Overall, it's nearly three-dimensional...the guitars, bass and other instruments each have their "place."
"Lonely Ol' Night" is a classic rock single...with those revved-up intros...the rat-ta-tat-tat drumming...the boozy back-up vocals...
"Face of A Nation" flirts with being ham-fisted and heavy-handed, but it holds interest as you hear Mellencamp experimenting with one of his different "voices". On subsequent albums, it will become more obvious, but here he alters his tone and inflection, becoming the voice that the song demands.
"Justice & Independence '85" is a thrilling tour-de-force of all that is good is rock. Get over the little parable about the kids named "Justice" and "Independence", and what you have is shout-out, butt-shaking rock...complete with "sha-la-la's", erupting bursts of horns, manic drums (this is an album for drum lovers...) and furious, dive-bombing guitars.
"Between A Laugh and A Tear" will allow you to catch your breath, as it's a soothing duet with Rickie Lee Jones...almost pretty, which is an adjective rarely used when describing Mellencamp material.
"Rumbleseat" shows John to be a master at this type of fun-loving, story-song, mid-tempo rocker...he'd soon perfect this with "Cherry Bomb" although I like this one a bit more. It reminds me of John Fogerty...this year's summer tour should prove my instincts right about that.
If there's one clunker on the album, it's "You've Got To Stand For Somethin'. While I "get" the sentiment, I didn't enjoy it's presentation. The music is uninspired, especially when you've been exposed to the previous eight or nine songs. The melody is not memorable. The lyrics are kinda cool though, so make sure you at least read 'em.
I read that Mellencamp and his band learned several dozen classic rock songs from the 50's and 60's to prepare for the recording of this album. Listening to "R.O.C.K. In the U.S.A.", that has to be the case. This slice of American rock sounded like an instant classic the first time I heard it. It HAD to be a remake. The fact that is sounds "derivative" (in the evolutionary sense, not the derogatory one...) is completely intentional. Why fix what ain't broke? The song hums like a finely-tuned V8 accelerating down a long, flat road. There's a chorus that screams "sing along with me", there's an old-fashioned, raucous instrumental break with guitars and harmonicas bouncing and wailing all over the place punctuated by a short tasty organ solo that covers all of three notes. It's a delirious and intoxicating song.
"Kind of Fella I Am" is a small song, one of John's pseudo-autobiographical tunes tagged on at the end...the album FEELS over after "R.O.C.K." but this one still rocks nevertheless.
The extra acoustic "Small Town" is an interesting counterpoint to the full-band version, and will be most enjoyed by those who are overly familiar with the original version and want to hear something new.
Listening to this remastered version, I found myself, more than once, blurting out an obscenity or uttering a simple quiet "wow", completely taken aback by how great this album still is...if you loved this album before, you will love it even more.
And before you say that's not possible, let me tell you it IS. This is THAT good.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on December 24, 1999
What makes a great album a best album are the songs that penetrate your soul but not the radio charts. The B-siders. Scarecrow songs with the simple grace of "Minutes to Memories" and "Between and Laugh and a Tear" complement the hit melodies that made my high school soundtrack. I bought the vinyl in '85 and the CD in '95 and the songs are never worn, but always fresh and revealing. Like albums such as Van's Moondance, Bruce's Born to Run, or U2's Joshua Tree, Scarecrow is a rock and roll masterpiece. And while JM is still producing great music, Scarecrow is his best to date. It's more than an Amazon essential recording. It's one of rock's truly finest.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2008
I bought this on vinyl in 1985 when it first came out and absolutely loved it. When I got my Cd player in 1986 I made a rule that I would buy no more than 2 CD's per week trying to switch my vinyl over to CD. the first CD I bought was Scarecrow. To this day it remains one of my favorites and a definite "Desert Island disc". Every song is either good or great. No filler here except maybe the bonus cut "Kind of Feller I am" which was not on the vinyl disc. From "Rain on the Scarecrow" to "Small Town" to "Minutes to Memories" to "Rumbleseat" this is a "must have" disc for any pop rock fan.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2000
Every reviewer here is right. This is a classic album. The songs on it all keep a flow to the CD that never wears out. When it comes down to key moments on the disc, Mellencamp laid out with such exquisite beauty tracks like Between a Laugh and a Tear, Minutes to Memories,Rain on the Scarecrow, Rumbleseat, and Small Town, that half the album is unforgettable. The rest of the album is good filler, more rock out tunes, some social commentary- Face of the Nation, Justice and Independence, ROCK, Lonely Ol' Night. This album yielded five top 40 hits, there's no question why when you listen to it. John Mellencamp simply sang from his soul honest songs about the people he knew. Instead of the people being junkies from LA, they were regular men and women of the midwest. It still stands a perfect roots-rock album for any time and place.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
The songs and sounds of Scarecrow is a far cry from the braggadocio John Cougar Mellencamp showed in his earlier "Hurt So Good" and rebelliousness in "Authority Song". The harder-edged electric rock sound with pounding riffs yielded five singles and pushed him at his apex in the 80's rock arena, alongside big names like Bruce Springsteen and Prince.
"Rain On The Scarecrow" definitely does indicate that. The Reagan era saw many farms closed down but what makes this song poignant and angry is the destruction of the farmers' morale. It's not just the land that's being taken away, but a man's dignity in feeding a country's people. "There's 97 crosses planted in the courthouse yard/and 97 families who lost 97 farms."
I never got tired of hearing "Small Town", despite the fact I hated the one I lived in. Must've been that catchy guitar and Kenny Aronoff's drums that did it. But in JCM's ode to the small town he grew up in, we learn more about his roots, his parents, his upbringing, and himself, of course. A small town reflects who he is: "Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town/And people let me be just what I want to be." However, I take issue when he self-deprecatingly calls himself a boring romantic. Boring? Hardly!
"Minutes To Memories" is the interraction between an old man and a younger one riding a bus. The old man tells about his life, and his value in certainties. His advice to the young man may be one to us all: "Days turn to minutes/and minutes to memories/Life sweeps away the dreams/That we have planned/You are young and you are the future/So suck it up and tough it out/And be the best you can."
The intense stomp of "Lonely Ol' Night" more or less emphasizes the need for human company, because "ain't they all [lonely ol' nights]?"
From the way he beholds "Face Of The Nation", it's one of JCM's state of the union addresses. Poverty is the one thing identified here, as well as the absence of the golden rule, which is yet another chop at Reaganomics. "I don't recognize it [the face of the nation] no more," he sings.
"Justice and Independence '85" is an allegory of America and how it has gone awry. Independence Day marries a girl named Justice, and together they have a child named the Nation, but the girl and child leave on their own. "Well, Nation grew up and got himself a big reputation/Couldn't keep the boy at home oh no/He just kept runnin' round and round and round and round/Independence and Justice, well, they felt so ashamed/When the Nation fell down they argued who was to blame." Very accurate portait of America!
The mid-paced "Between A Laugh And A Tear", which features Rickie Lee Jones as accompanying vocalist, details how one can be mentally jaded when one's dreams fall through, and is a personal song about my state of mind: "Through the days you feel a little used up/And you don't know where your energy's gone/It's just your soul feelin' a little downhearted." That's me, all right.
"Rumbleseat" is an amusing rocker about a guy who's so self-pitying, he says, "I feel for the sorry for the world/I feel sorry for you/Yes I am a pitiful sight/I can't even get one thing right." As the song goes on, though, he decides to "stop putting myself down/I'm gonna turn my life around." Lesson for me, you think?
"You've Got To Stand For Somethin'" is a slap against the gossip-mongering, warmongering mentality, with references to Vanessa Williams's scandal. As he says, "The American people/paid a high price for justice/And I don't know why." "We've got to start respectin' this world/or it's gonna turn around and bite off our face" he says. You tell'em, Cougar!
"R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A." is an engaging rocker, that's a nod to the 60's music JCM grew up with--with even a small flute and organ section--, and the musicians who took a risk to follow their dreams. The mention of Frankie Lyman, Bobby Fuller, the Shangri-Las, made me want to find out who these artists were. And yes, "let's don't forget James Brown."
"The Kind Of Fella I Am" shows JCM to be ordinary, not impressed with flashy extravagant nothings, but also jealous when it comes to a woman.
A very mature, socio-political commentary with rocking sensibilities from Seymour, Indiana's small town guy.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Scarecrow is the most politically charged album of John Cougar Mellencamp's career. "Rain On The Scarecrow" is about the plight small farmers face. His compassion for the farmers led him to start Farm Aid with Willie Nelson & Neil Young. "Justice & Independence '85", "Face Of A Nation" & "You Got To Stand For Something" all take a social commentary slant. The album is also ripe with down home tales from Mr. Mellencamp's life. "Small Town" was a huge hit and tells of the little Indiana hometown, "Minutes To Memories" is about an old man he meets on a bus and "Rumbleseat" is about being young and in love. "Lonely 'Ol Night" sounds like it could have been released in 1967. "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." is a tribute to the sounds and groups he grew up with and is a great song. Scarecrow spent half a year in the top ten, spawned three top ten hits and made Mr. Mellencamp the Midwest answer to Bruce Springsteen. The bonus track is an acoustic version of "Small Town" which was the b-side to the album version. It is not quite as effective as the acoustic version of "Pink Houses", but still worth repeated listens.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2005
By the time 1985 would roll around, John Mellencamp (or known at that time as John Cougar Mellencamp) had established himself as a star in Rock music. He gained a following back in 1979 with his hit "I Need a Lover". With his 1982 album, "American Fool" he became a household name with the songs "Jack and Diane" and "Hurts so Good". His next album, 1983's Uh Huh" was not considered the blockbuster follow-up to "American Fool" that many expected - although it did produce two hits in "Crumblin Down" and "Pink Houses". So, in 1985 when Mellencamp released "Scarecrow", many would have the question whether John Mellencamp had peaked? The answer clearly would be no. For Mellencamp, he would deliver the defining album of his career - a mix of social and political commentary with some of the classic Mellencamp "Middle America" music that made him so popular. What shocks me is how this album didn't garner attention for Album of the Year.
Perhaps "Uh Huh" got released during the peak of the synth pop revolution of the early 1980s. But as 1985 came around, the music landscape was starting to undergo some changes. Only a about a year before, Bruce Springsteen had released "Born in the USA". I look at "Born in the USA" as a landmark album for many reasons, but perhaps one of the most important reasons is that it began to shift the sound of the 80s music scene away from synth-pop to a more natural guitar-laden sound. By 1985, other artists were now beginning to find commercial success with that sound - such as John Fogerty ("Centerfield"). Artists such as Springsteen and Fogerty were mixing their own musical roots with social commentary. Mellencamp's "Scarecrow" fits into this mold perfectly - and came along at the right time where the music fans were willing to embrace this style. However, Mellencamp's "Scarecrow" goes beyond this embracing - it delivers a most solid sound.
Here is a track by track breakdown of this album:
"Rain on the Scarecrow": This is the title track and not only the best song on the album, but I feel the best of Mellencamp's career. The song's opening immediately creates a haunting song. This is a song that Mellencamp sings about the plight of the American Farmers facing foreclosures. Mellencamp sings this song with pure passion. He does a great job at playing the role of the banker who is handling the foreclosure - "John, it's just my job and I hope you understand". This song featured a very good video - and the added sounds of a farm auction that are in that video give the song a new dimension. Listening to this song, you can see why Mellencamp felt so passionately about "Farm Aid".
"Grandma's Song": This public domain song is sung by Mellencamp's Grandmother, Laura Mellencamp. Not a great song, but it is a great lead-in to "Small Town".
"Small Town": The title says it all. This song is about a - small town. Back in 1986, radio overplayed this song - however looking back at it now - very good song.
"Minutes to Memories": I'd put this underrated song in the upper echelon of Mellencamp's work. This song is a great mix of Mellencamp's Social Commentary with his Middle America music. This is a narrative sung by Mellencamp about an elderly man who has seen things change around him. On top of the great lyrics, there is some great music as well.
"Lonely Ol' Night": This was the first song released from this album. This song almost is in the theme of "Jack and Diane" as it has the feel of a young man growing up in Middle America. This is a great song and probably lured a lot of people to buy this album.
"The Face of a Nation": This is a clear social/political commentary. When Mellencamp sings "You see people starvin' under the tree", it is clear that Mellencamp is looking at society and questioning how these things can happen.
"Justice and Independence": This song has a great melody, but it is also a bit of an symbolic allegory. "Independence" is a man who marries "Justice" who is a woman - they have a son named "Nation". Listen to the words carefully as Mellencamp uses the family as a way to compare to the concepts of Justice, Independence, and Nation we are all familiar with. Masterful songwriting - also some terrific percussion and trumpet work.
"Between a Laugh and a Tear": This is another underrated song that I put in the upper echelon of Mellencamp's career. This title might not indicate social commentary - but it's loaded with references - such as "When paradise is no longer fit for you to live in, and your adolescent dreams are gone". This song is a duet with Ricki Lee Jones and it blew me away.
"Rumbleseat": Kind of a song that takes you back to the 1950s - it has a retro feel to it. It seems to be more of a personal song of Mellencamp's own experiences - great stuff.
"You Gotta Stand For Somethin": I thought this was the toughest to get into, but lyrically it's a solid track. It almost takes you on a historical journey of pop culture from 1950 onward.
"R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A": Great song, but was overplayed on the radio. This is a tribute to the early pioneers of Rock and Roll.
"The Kind of Fella I am": Another great song. This song is basically about a jealous man. It's a fun song and nice way to wrap things up.
The liner notes contain all of the lyrics, songwriting, and musician credits. I love how you get the recording dates and times of the songs. This song is clearly the defining album of Mellencamp's career. It also has the best music that he did. Truly one of the underrated albums of the 1980s - I highly recommend it.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2005
I can't explain in words how wonderful this record is.John has always been one of my favorite musicians and songwriters,he just knows how to tell a great story through his music.For me, Scarecrow is John Mellencamp at his artistic best, i can listen to any of his works and enjoy them but nothing can beat Scarecrow as far as i'm concerned.
I'v technically been a fan since 1988, when i was living in Exeter New Hampshire."Jack and Diane" was the first song i ever heard in my life, i was 4 years old at the time and that was what started it all for me.I'v always had JM albums laying around since then in some form or another and listened to them quiet often.American Fool, Uh-HUH and Scarecrow were the ones i listened to the most.Scarecrow is one of the finest rock records ever commited to wax,and i think this utterly destroys Springsteen's much more popular Born in the U.S.A. album released a year earlier.JM is just a superior songwriter and preformer when compared to The Boss,mainly because you can hear where John's music is coming from, as demonstrated beautifuly by Scarecrow. This Album was predominatly inspired by John's life growing up in the farm land of his native Indiana,which is the first time i'v really seen a theme be put through a collection of songs(album).I won't go over every song here as to not sound redundant but i will mention the highlights. "Rain on the Scarecrow" is one of the best JM songs ever written, real anger is put through the songs lyrics which are about the plight of hard-working farmers losing their farmland to the govenment(can any one say Megadeth's "Forcolsure of a Dream"?). "Small Town" is a classic rock radio staple and the most famous song off of this album. "Face of a Nation" has a real edgy,moody beat and is one of my favorites from here. "Justice and Independence 85" is an attack on the American justice system. "R.O.C.K in the U.S.A" is a classic rock n roll song and the most upbeat tune found here. I could go on like this for every song, but i won't. The truth is that this whole album will get you, it is one of the most emotional albums i have ever listened too.While i enjoy everthing John has done, Scarecrow is his finest hour and i can't imagine my music collection with out it.It is really a timeless record, unlike alot of garbage that is(was) released in an effort to acheive the commercial cash cow.With this being his fifth studio effort, it is intersting to take a look progresivly at how John developed and evolved from his self titled debut all the way up to this one.He has definatly matured and progressed on each of his albums since the inception but you can see it most here.Some of the lyrics tackeled issues that were happening in 85 and in someways are still relevent today. Overall, this album is nothing short of amazing in every aspect;the musicianship,songwriting,lyrics,heart,emotion, this album has it in spades.
Have some great memories from listening to this album.When you compare it to the corprate junk that was coming out at the time in music, you will realize it was one of the most sincere and heartfelt rock records to come out of the 80's.You just can't go wrong with this one, in my top 10 of desert island CDs.
It made me a John Mellencamp fan for life, and it might make you one as well.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2010
This is, by far, my favorite John Mellencamp album. I bought it a little over a year ago because it had R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. on it. I fell in love with it on my first listen. There is not a song on it that I don't like. "Rain on the Scarecrow", "Lonely Ol' Night", "The Kind of Fella I Am", "Rumbleseat", and "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." are great rockers; "Grandma's Theme" is a great intro to "Small Town", which I very much relate to; "The Face of the Nation" is catchy; I wish I knew what "Justice and Independence '85" is trying to say, but it's a good song nonetheless; "Between a Laugh and a Tear" is great for those times I'm feeling down; the other two songs ("Minutes to Memories" and "You've Got to Stand for Somethin'") are supplements to a great album.
I'm very glad I bought this album, and it makes a great CD for the car.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2008
Looking back on my high school years, Scarecrow was one of the most popular and prevalent albums to be released in the 80's, along with Springsteen's "Born In The USA" and, unfortunately, Michael Jackson's "Thriller." (not my thing)
Do you realize all 12 tracks on this album were singles? I'm not sure how many hit #1 or were top 10 exactly, but how often can you say that about any album in rock history?
Scarecrow hit a chord with middle America, celebrated our innocence, and reminded us of a time when almost all of us had a relative who owned or once owned a farm or lived in the country.
During the "good times" of the 80's when the economy was strong, jobs were abundant, the internet didn't exist, and cable TV was still new, music was more of a focal point of entertainment and interest amongst youth. Songs had meaning and rock wasn't a pretentious glood and doom image circus, and pop music still had great musicians and song writers.
Scarecrow of course highlighted the plight of the small town family farmer, and the small town in general, which was just starting to truly fade away, as we transitioned into a global service oriented economy, increasingly more dependent on foreign interests and were victims of corporate mergers, that took away our insulated communities when good education was still free, drugs weren't nearly as abundant or harrowing, and being outside was the goal of our free time.
For those of us in our late 30's and early 40's, take some time to revisit a great pop album classic that takes you back to a more innocent time of our lives. "Between A Laugh And A Tear," "Rumbleseat," and "Face Of A Nation," are songs you don't hear much anymore, but are as good today as they were then.
Pay no attention to modern critics who call Cougar's talent "mediocre." It didn't matter, he wrote great songs, related to a wide audience, and sang about America without the oppressive Patriotic ferver of our modern times, questioning our direction and celebrating our good fortunte at the same time.