John Mellencamp, Record Store Day and the joy of vinyl


John Mellencamp’s had that “respected country rock troubadour” label hanging around for long enough now for him to become iconic, the Farm-Aid face of a generation.

When he rolls into Edmonton for his gigs tonight and tomorrow at the Jubilee Auditorium, it’s another city of a million souls, a good chunk of who are now in their 30s and 40s and still reflexively think of him as “John Cougar Mellencamp.” Thank cripes he got long past being just “Johnny Cougar,” though, which was his handle when he came out with the ditty “Jack and Diane” in ’82.

More awkward high school kisses were exchanged under cheap, underpowered cafeteria disco balls to that tune than all the cubic zirconia in China.

Then there was that run of Americana tunes in the late 80s, tunes like “Scarecrow”, “Pink Houses.” This stuff was HUGE in small-town Canada, lemme tell you (as was “Small Town”, come to think of it). And down south of the border? R-O-C-K in the USA, mofos.

And we heard nearly all of those tunes on vinyl — or at the very least eight-track carts employed by radio stations in the period to save time. You got all the pops and hisses and dust. But you also got the warmth of the recording room, mastered works unspoiled by digital compression formats. They were songs from an era when hi-fidelity meant something more than just remastering in 7.0 Surround.

(Cue segue with all the subtle grace of a newborn deer.)


So it’s fitting that Mellencamp — the Coug, the Cougster, Johnny C-Man — is here on Record Store Day. Swell joints like Permanent Records just off Whyte (see this recent story) and Blackbyrd Myoozik are hosting acts and showcasing their stocks of divine vinyl, aspart of an international movement to keep records , and their hi-fidelity warmth, alive.

It’s not that CDs aren’t fine — it’s that they’re largely irrelevant. When you take a CD and put it on an iPod, the MP4 compression format substantially degrades quality. And CDs suck anyway, for being immensely mortal. Remember how they were supposed to be a great replacement for vinyl because they were “indestructible” and “scratch proof”? Seriously, these were selling pitches when CDs first came out. PT Barnum must’ve had stock in Sony.

Still, it’s true that size and fragility were as much the foe of vinyl as they were of men with small feet and large egos. It wasn’t a hard sell to get people away from vinyl, particularly thanks to the early adoption of CDs and of negative option billing by the Columbia Record and Tape Club. The Clash? Cut The Crap?!? I already have that one, dammit! Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”? THat’ll NEVER get old!

Our best bet — and let’s be open about this, prime-cut sponsor — is to spend your day at Permanent Records perousing the possibilities and grooving to Christian Hansen, Whitey Houston and The Vicious Cycles.

And when night falls?

“And when the night falls/loneliness calls/I wanna dance with someb….”

Shit. That was Whitney Houston.

Damn ’80s jukebox tunes are eating away at my brain.Wish…I’d..taken…more…acid…back…then…

It wasn’t all Pee wee’s playhouse and Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live, you know. The 80s kind of sucked.

Except for Johnny Cougar. Dumb fucking name, great fucking songs.