Sad Clowns & Hillbillies
Released: April 28, 2017
Peak: 11 US, 78 UK
Sales (in millions): --
Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks)
Songs by John Mellencamp unless noted otherwise.
Total Running Time: 46:38
3.313 out of 5.00 (average of 14 ratings)
About the Album:
Sad Clowns & Hillbillies featured Carlene Carter singing on five of the album’s thirteen songs. She was his opening act on his 2015-16 Plain Spoken tour and they worked together on the score for the movie Ithica, directed by Mellencamp’s then-girlfriend Meg Ryan. One of the songs, Sugar Hill Mountain, was included on the Sad Clowns album. Carter said, “We are very like-minded and on musical ground that really feels right.” WK The line “cigarette trees” comes from “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” a song written in 1928 by Harry McClintock and recorded by Burl Ives some 20 years later. WK
Mellencamp and Carter premiered a few of the songs, including Indigo Sunset and My Soul’s Got Wings, while they were on tour. The latter features lyrics from Woody Guthrie. His daughter Nora sent Mellencamp a few of her father’s poems and Mellencamp turned “Wings” into a song.
The former is the only song the pair wrote together. Carter started it, saying, “I didn’t think he was going to like [it] because he doesn’t usually like romantic, warm and fuzzy loving songs.” WK Mellencamp finished the song by changing the title and the hook line WK and it ended up on the album.
At one point, the album was intended to be original gospel tunes. Carter wrote Damascus Road with that in mind. Mellencamp confirmed that as he and Carter became “singing buddies” they toyed with the idea of doing “a old country religious record” but that “it just kept evolving and evolving.” WK While the gospel record was abandoned, this song survived. Carter said, it had “a very, very deep spiritual to sense to it; the whole album does. It was an organic experience that we found it easy to work in the studio together.” WK
A couple of the other songs were first featured in Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, a musical about two brothers who hate each other. When they are forced together in a haunted cabin, they are visited by ghosts of dead brothers who also hated each other. Mellencamp created the musical with Stephen King and T-Bone Burnett. It debuted in 2012. The songs What Kind of Man Am I and You Are Blind were featured on the soundtrack, sung by Ryan Bingham and Kris Kristofferson respectively.
The song Grandview dates back to the early 1990s. Mellencamp’s cousin, Bobby Clark, was in a band in Indiana. He wrote the song with some help from Mellencamp on the melody and the arrangement. WK Mellencamp recorded the “ode to life in a trailer park” during sessions for his 1993 Human Wheels album. The version from Sad Clowns was recorded in late 1993 for a box set that was scrapped. WK Mellencamp recorded it as a duet with Martina McBride for Sad Clowns and it was released as the second single from the album.
The song All Night Talk Radio was also written much earlier. Mellencamp recorded it originally for his 1996 album Mr. Happy Go Lucky, but it didn’t make the cut. For the Sad Clowns version, eh added some new elements to the song and backing vocals from Carter. WK
The album also includes two covers. Mobile Blue was first recorded by Mickey Newbury in 1971 and Early Bird Café was a cover of a 1970 folk song by Jerry Hahn Brotherhood. Mellencamp saw the latter open for Frank Zappa in the early 1970s and had an affinity for that song ever since. WK He often played it at parties and people assumed he wrote it. WK
Mellencamp debuted Easy Target on January 19, 2017 – the eve of the Presidential inauguration. He said, “I didn’t even want to write the song. I know this sounds crazy, but it happens a lot, I think, to songwriters – you can't tell it by looking, but I was working out and all of a sudden I just started singing ‘easy targets’ and I thought, ‘oh no, now I’ve got to stop what I’m doing’ and it took me....you know, somebody just sent it to me and I just wrote it down. The melody came [intact], the lyrics.....as fast as I could write is how long it took me to write the whole song.” WK
Resources and Related Links:
Other Related DMDB Pages:
First posted 2/3/2022.