Here’s a clip of radio-friendly singer-songwriter and Hoosier roots rock hero formerly known as ‘Cougar’ John Mellencamp with his 1991 hit that out-Stoneses the Stones. It’s “Get A Leg Up” as taken from Mellencamp’s Whenever We Wanted. This album is his first not to feature the ‘Cougar’ moniker, as given to him without his permission by the record company when his first album came out.
R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, and pop music is rife with stage named artists from Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, and Muddy Waters, to Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Elton John, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Sting, Flea, Lady Gaga, and on and on. These artists created and wore their names to suit their music, and their personas on stage. Mellencamp would spend the rest of his career fighting for his name. And here, he claims it, with a knock-it-out-of-the-park rock ‘n’ roll tune that brings it all back home.
In many ways, Mellencamp is one of the last songwriters of a certain era and a certain stock, unafraid to be his own man artistically, while still getting mainstream attention and succeeding in getting smash record sales, too, which would be his for decades. In this, he arrived on the scene just in time, delivering era-defining hits in quick succession, particularly from 1982 to 1987, when his voice was a welcome, and familiar rasp on commercial radio.
By the ’90s, he was still going strong of course. But, the decline of pop music as a mainstream artform, driven more and more by a bottom-line obsessed music industry had begun to take its toll. As if to flip the bird to this, Mellencamp dropped his “Cougar”, and decided to release a record that framed his strengths. His first “Cougar-less” album represented a big take that to the machines of music marketing, while also offering one of my favourite singles by an artist who had clearly come to a place where he felt free enough to shake off their shackles.
Since this period, Mellencamp’s worked with producers ranging from Babyface to T-Bone Burnett. He’s recorded pop records, folk records, experimental R&B albums, and has appeared on stage in tribute to his heroes, like Pete Seeger and Willie Nelson, and alongside his contemporaries like Bob Dylan and Sheryl Crow. He’s been an actor and a director, one of his films being Falling From Grace, on which he was both. He’s been politically active as well, being a proponent of the agricultural charity Farm Aid, and various causes in support of the American Democratic Party.
Recently, he’s been quoted on the state of pop music with regard to how artists are treated and deveoped (or in many cases, not developed):
There is no time for the music to develop in a natural way that we can all embrace when it ripens and matures. That’s why the general public doesn’t really care. It’s not that the people don’t still love music; of course they do. It’s just the way it is presented to them that ignores their humanity. (read the full article)
And of course, it’s pretty ironic that I’d write about him here, considering John Mellencamp’s stance where music and the Internet is concerned. To make a long story short, he’s against the Internet as a source for consuming music. But, life is full of ironies as any great songwriter knows, not in the least of which that Mellencamp is involved on multiple online platforms to help new generations of fans discover his music.
For more news about John Mellencamp, check out the John Mellencamp Official Website.
12 thoughts on “John Mellencamp Sings “Get A Leg Up””
I am unabashedly and unashamedly a huge fan of John Mellencamp and his music. That’s not very punk/alt of me, but whatever. He rocks, c’est ça. Plus, you gotta respect the man and his values.
That’s his wife, Elaine Irwin, in the video. I know my supermodels, if nothing else! (Sadly, they broke up in December after 20 years of marriage, as I just now discovered whilst googling her for her maiden name.)
Thanks for the post, I will be sending this to my college roommate, a proud Hoosier.
Apparently, Mellencamp met her on set. He was against the idea of having a beautiful girl in her 20s rubbing up against him in the video, that being something of a cliche. But, they clearly are getting along very well, in a non-staged sort of way in this video, aren’t they? After the shoot, she asked him out.
What’s interesting about Mellencamp is that he’s never plateaued, never got stuck in a rut, always strives to improve. The Lonesome Jubilee tour which I caught a couple of times back in 84(!?) at the Montreal Forum remains when of the best straight up rock ‘n’ roll shows I’ve ever seen. Another stellar track on Whenever We Wanted worth checking out is ‘Crazy Ones.’
I think that tour was later – closer to ’87 than ’84.
And you’re right – he was able to really expand and play with his sound during this time period in particular. For me, his heyday corresponds to the last remaining years of some semblance of variety on mainstream radio, when all of the songs were pop songs, yet actually didn’t sound as if they were made in a factory like boxes of cereal.
You’re correct: 1987 (had to look it up, 51-year-old memory failing).
Well, despite my inner protestations that it not be so, 1987 was a long time ago, Geoff. 😦
Nice article man. All kinds of little tidbits that I wasn’t aware of. I love Mellencamp’s quote and I think he is right – to a point. And for the record I am more of an “Again Tonight” guy but overall this is a great album. One which I think needs to be dusted off. Thanks!
Way more cowbell in “Again Tonight” (and some castanets, too)! Thanks for comments.
Ah the cowbell. Maybe that was it along with the “lighting underneath her skirt” line. I am partial to women like that.
lol… Spell check doens’t get those. Have a good one.
Sorry. Couldn’t resist.