John Cougar (1979)

1. A Little Night Music 2. Small Paradise 3. Miami 4. The Great Mid-West 5. Do You Think That's Fair 6. I Need a Lover 7. Welcome to Chinatown 8. Sugar Marie 9. Pray For Me 10.Taxi Dancer 11.Take Home Pay


For many years, people thought that this record was his debut, when, in fact, it was his fourth release. No one bought his first three, and in all fairness, there are good reasons why. He probably should have never been given a record deal so early in his career anyway. The good thing is that he was well seasoned by the time he recorded this record, and his experience shows itself quite well. He was still far from a household name, and this record didn't exactly burn up the charts, but in retrospect, it's easy to identify this record as a very special, underrated piece in his collection.

He was still a long long way from his political phase of singing about the underprivileged, middle american forgotten ghosts. Instead, he's just another frustrated blue-collar kid singing about the angst of being a rebellious former teenager that never quite grew up nor (in the words of his elders) amounted to much of anything. Witness the cover of the album and you get a pretty good picture of the themes around the album.

Of course, being that this record was made in 1979 during the short lived dance/disco revolution, it's forgivable that many of those elements are present here. It's a tad easy to dismiss songs such as Miami and A Little Night Music as being more at home on a dance floor than a blue collar rock show, but Mellencamp was always able to incorporate a variety of influences into his music while keeping it authentic, and everything here is definitely worth repeated listens.

Since his last release didn't get a U.S. distribution, he wisely lifted the two best tracks from that album and included them here - his first "hit" I Need a Lover, and the sad, lonely, but wonderful Taxi Dancer. The former is left intact, while the latter is touched up a bit. I personally prefer the simpler version of Taxi Dancer on the last album, but the one here was probably enhanced with the possibility of gaining some airplay somewhere.

In many ways, early Mellencamp is similar to early Bruce Springsteen. The main difference is where Springsteen grew up in the "streets" of New Jersey, Mellencamp grew up in a small town where there probably was only one street in the whole town. So there's not as many characters or action in his stories, but the angst and frustration of the young man and his romantic pursuits are prevalent throughout.

You can skip his first three records, but this one is essential. You could tell big things weren't too far away from happening.

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