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Paper in Fire – John Cougar Mellencamp

lonesome-jubileeEditor’s note: John Cougar Mellencamp or John Mellencamp is NOT a one-hit wonder. He has boatloads of hits. Sometimes I write about songs stuck in my head. This is one of those songs.

Earworms are strange things. I’ve never understood why or how certain songs start playing in my head. Take today’s song, for example: “Paper In Fire” by John Mellencamp. It has been at least five years since I’ve heard that song. But it’s rattling around my dome endlessly today.

I’m an unashamed Mellencamp fan. I liked him when he was John Cougar. I liked him when he was John Cougar Mellencamp. And I still like him today when he is simply John Mellencamp.

The guy can flat-out write a song. Yet the interesting thing is that people seem to hold his success against him. Or perhaps they didn’t like the cheesy video for “Hurts So Good” from 1982 and those images of Mellencamp with the leather-clad bikers stayed with them—along with the accompanying prejudice.

In my mind, Mellencamp is a hall-of-fame songwriter who continues to improve over his long career. And his success is pretty amazing when you see it on paper. Here’s a quick summary of his Billboard chart success:
• 22 Top 40 hits
• 17 Top 20 hits
• 10 Top 10 hits

Give the man his respect.

Paper In Fire” was the first single from Mellencamp’s ninth album, The Lonesome Jubilee. I remember being shocked the first time I heard it on the radio in 1987. It sounded like nothing else on the radio. This was the era of big-hair rock. Def Lepard. Bon Jovi. Heart. Big guitars. Big drums. Big choruses. Then there is “Paper in Fire” with its mix of rock guitars and Appalachian folk instruments – hammer dulcimer, mandolin, fiddle, dobro and accordion. It hit #9 on the charts and still sounds like no other top 10 song I can think of.

Great energy. Great passion. Great album and song. And lyrics that are relevant to today’s materially focused, debt-ridden economy:

There is a good life
Right across this green field
And each generation
Stares at it from afar
But we keep no check
On our appetites
So the green fields turn to brown
Like paper in fire

Listen to “Paper in Fire” by John Cougar Mellencamp

Paper in Fire - John Cougar Mellencamp

Written by

I'm an obsessive music collector, cataloger, commenter and trivia nut. Sometimes I'm even a listener. One-hit wonders have always been a guilty pleasure.

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4 Responses to "Paper in Fire – John Cougar Mellencamp"

  1. Mike Schouten says:

    I agree with your thoughts on JM. I don’t think I’m off base when I say that I own more Mellencamp CDs than anything else. And it’s not like I planned it that way…that’s just the count after buying music over a 30-year period. He’s a poor man’s Bruce Springsteen who along with some great writing skills, was backed by some of the best musicians in the business over his career.

  2. mik says:

    I loathe Mellencamp almost as much as I loathe Springsteen. In both cases, their aw-shucks-working-class-blue-collar-small-town shtick rings totally hollow since, by the time I heard them, they’d each sold eleventy jillion records.

  3. Strom says:

    It is strange that it almost feels weird to like Mellencamp, as if you’re not “hip” if you do. I must echo the Dog, however. I pretty much have all of his albums. He has a great handle on songcraft. And he’s done a good job producting (James McMurtry, etc.)

  4. Waterdog says:

    I think these comments pretty accurately reflect the love/hate relationship people have with Mellencamp. Mike and Strom dig him. Mik hates him. As for me, I remain a fan. And yes, Strom, the Mellencamp-produced James McMurtry debut remains the great John Mellencamp record John doesn’t sing on.

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