Going strictly by the numbers, ‘Small Town’ is tied for John Mellencamp’s fifth-biggest hit.
The first is 1982’s ‘Jack & Diane,’ his only song to reach #1 on the Billboard charts. ‘Hurts So Good,’ from the same album (American Fool) reached #2. The amusingly titled ‘R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. (A Salute to 60s Rock),' from 1985's Scarecrow, made it to #2 as well.
Mellencamp’s Van Morrison cover ‘Wild Night,’ a duet with Me’Shell Ndegéocello, made it to #3 in 1994.
Then you have ‘Small Town’ and ‘Lonely Night,’ both from Scarecrow, reaching #6 on the Hot 100. That makes Scarecrow Mellencamp’s only album to land three singles in the Top Ten.
I’m quite familiar with those three songs, but less familiar with Scarecrow as a whole. Only lead track ‘Rain On the Scarecrow’ rang a bell when I skimmed through the album prior to writing this post. I enjoyed the rest, though.
And I live in a small town
Probably die in a small town
Oh, those small communities
All my friends are so small town
My parents live in the same small town
My job is so small town
Provides little opportunity
Educated in a small town
Taught to fear Jesus in a small town
Used to daydream in that small town
Another boring romantic, that’s me
But I’ve seen it all in a small town
Had myself a ball in a small town
Married an L.A. doll and brought her to this small town
Now she’s small town just like me
No, I cannot forget from where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be
Got nothing against a big town
Still hayseed enough to say, “look who’s in the big town”
But my bed is in a small town
Oh, and that’s good enough for me
Well, I was born in a small town
And I can breathe in a small town
Gonna die in this small town
Oh that’s probably where they’ll bury me
Amy considered Scarecrow one of her favorite albums, and there are, to be sure, some great deep cuts on it, including “Minutes to Memories” and “Between a Laugh and a Tear.” I, however, was always partial to the albums Lonesome Jubilee and Human Wheels.
I adore this album, which was the first of his I ever owned. Maybe it was listening to it in Gainesville, FL, a decidedly smaller town than the ones in which I grew up, that made it extra special. Of course, listening to it this morning, I’m struck by how many kids had exactly the opposite experience of getting to be “just what [they] want to be” in the small town where they grew up. That said, there’s a gentle idealism to small town life as it’s depicted here that I find myself tremendously drawn to. It may be a small part of why I spent yesterday planning our trip so meticulously to be sure we explore as many small West Virginian towns as possible. Thanks for helping me remember JM’s role in the origin story of our Amber Waves tour.