John (Cougar) Mellencamp
Writer(s): John Mellencamp (see lyrics here)
Released: November 2, 1985
First Charted: September 14, 1985
Peak: 6 US, 6 CB, 4 RR, 13 AC, 2 AR, 53 UK, 13 CN, 80 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)
Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US + UK)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 17.1 video, 99.7 streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
Singer/songwriter and musician John Mellencamp was born in 1951 in Seymour, Indiana. He released his first album, Chestnut Street Incident, as Johnny Cougar in 1976. Over the next few years, he cracked the top-40 with hits “I Need a Lover,” “This Time,” and “Ain’t Even Done with the Night” before breaking through to a much wider audience with 1982’s American Fool. The album spawned the #2 hit “Hurts So Good” and chart-topper “Jack and Diane.”
The album was the first of five consecutive top-10, platinum-selling albums. Each of the first four produced at least two top-10 hits and he became the #1 album rock artist of the 1980s. While American Fool was his only chart-topper, the 1985 album Scarecrow matched it as his best-selling album with 5 million copies and reached #2. The lead-off single, “Lonely Ol’ Night,” reached #6. Its follow-up, “Small Town,” first charted on the album rock chart in September 1985 and was officially released two months later as a single. It copied its predecessor’s success in peaking at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Cash Box called the song “a rocking homage to the small town of the artist’s life and the small towns of America.” WK Mellencamp wrote it about his life in Seymour and Bloomington, Indiana and being “steeped in the sensibilities of his environment.” DM “Many songs have been written about looking to escape the confines of small town America, but Mellencamp celebrates it…most vividly on this song.” SF It can be viewed as “sentimental nonsense derived from America’s myth of agrarian patriotism. But play this record for audience reared in Brooklyn and they’ll tell you that growing up there felt the same way to them.” DM
Mellencamp did actually move to New York City after he got a record deal, he “felt overwhelmed and creatively bereft” SF and moved back to Indiana. He told Rolling Stone, “I wanted to write a song that said, ‘You don’t have to live in New York or Los Angeles to live a full life or enjoy your life.’ I was never one of those guys that grew up and thought, ‘I need to get out of here.’ It never dawned on me. I just valued having a family and staying close to friends.” WK
He said, “I wrote that song in the laundry room of my old house…We had company and I had to go write the song.” WK He explained that he wrote the words on a typewriter which beeped when he misspelled a word, which amused the guests upstairs. WK He “perfects his latter-day folk-rock (C&W instruments played Rolling Stones-style).” DM
First posted 10/27/2022; last updated 6/14/2023.