BlindedBySound staffer, friend, and loyal sidekick Melinda dubbed me Encyclopedia Nerdicus after suffering through a bevy of my obsessive, opinionated, (and in my mind at least, informative) rants about music and my addict's mentality when it comes to building my musical library. My best friend 11, himself an occasional contributor here, is astonished that my collection boasts albums by artists I don't even like all that much. What can I say? I'm destined to die poor, amigos.
So what the fuck does that have to do with anything? I got to thinking this week about songs I can't live without by artists I can. John Mellencamp fits that bill. I'm not much of a fan but the guy has put a few songs out over the years I'll proudly cop to listening to and liking. So here are the Top 5 Mellencamp songs I can't live without.
- Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First): This is the best thing Mellencamp has ever done and I bet most of you don't even remember it. If I ever have a wingman, I'm naming him Gypsy Scott. This works on a pure pop level with a great hook and a drum loop providing a dance-worthy beat -- a rarity in his oeuvre -- but it's the evocative imagery and brilliant narrative that make this pop perfection. We've all seen the one we can't have, the one we want to get to know and wonder "why not me?" The story has been told many times, many ways but rarely this well. The cantankerous Mellencamp nails the vocal, too, with nuanced execution. It's wrong to not just love this song.
- Check It Out: I love the snarling guitar sound on the bridge; it's the thing that stuck with me the first time I heard it and remains my favorite part of the song to this day. Mellencamp's populist leanings have led to some preachy, awkward moments but he gets it right here in a song about community and connection.
- Rain On The Scarecrow: There are a million comparisons and parallels between Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen and one of them is they both employed damn fine drummers. Bruce's Mighty Max Weinberg is a king and one of rock's best but Kenny Aronoff was no slouch as heard on this stomping track from Mellencamp's classic Scarecrow album.
- Get A Leg Up: I was a DJ at a classic rock station in college and this song came up on the playlist. I was doing one of my professional radio broadcast talk breaks and I introduced this dirty ditty as the Official Theme Song of the Clinton White House as we were at the height of the Lewinsky sex scandal and the president's randy reputation was the topic of talk shows everywhere. 11 is pretty sure it's the funniest thing I ever said and he, a fan of the then-president, is convinced Clinton would have agreed with me about it being funny and quite possibly his theme song. Mellencamp is overt without becoming a predator or a prowler. This is just badass rock and roll about the pursuit of pleasure.
- Small Town: I, too grew up in a small town (in Iowa) and remember when this and Springsteen's "My Hometown" were major hits in the mid '80s. I was not yet the Springsteen fan I am today but even then I "knew" in a head-to-head battle, Springsteen wins easily. Except here. I knew then "Small Town" was a far more musically and lyrically interesting version of "My Hometown" and 30 years later, this remains a Mellencamp victory.