Another Look back at the Heartland


My Personal Chart Blog January 11, 1981

See my chart here

Part 3, The Sound of the Heartland: A Cougar is Created and Jacksonville Means Everything to Southern Rock

DELBERT MCCLINTON/Giving It Up For Your Love (21)

By the time Delbert McClinton had his first and only Pop top 10 hit he was 40 years old. His first appearance on the Pop chart was in 1962 was playing harmonica on the #1 “Hey Baby” by Bruce Channel. It was Channel’s only top 40 hit. In 1965 the Lubbock, Texas native McClinton reached #97 as part of the duo The Ron-Dels with “If Really Want Me To I’ll Go” and in 1972 hit #90 as part of another duo Delbert & Glen with “I Received A Letter”. True to his Texas roots these songs all had a country bent to them.

I loved “Giving It Up For Love” and the b-side “My Sweet Baby”, both reaching the top 10 on my personal chart. ‘Giving’ was a blues/soul/pop confection, totally in the later Huey Lewis mode. ‘Baby’ employed a more prominent blues guitar, and both were heavy on the horns. At the time I thought ‘Baby’ would have been a great follow-up single choice (it’s not available on Spotify so seek it out on YouTube). Instead, they went with the more mid-tempo Country-Pop of “Shotgun Rider” which only managed a #70 peak. and then a ballad “Sandy Beaches” that just missed the Hot 100. He may have felt his blues chops were being diluted by the record company as he did not resurface until the late ‘80s when he was nominated for a Grammy for his 1989 live album “Live From Austin”.

Now 50, in 1991 he won a Grammy for his collaboration with “Bonnie Raitt” on the funky “Good Man, Good Woman” and in ’92 reached #13 on the rock chart with “Every Time I Roll The Dice”, while in ’93 his duet with Tanya Tucker “Tell Me About It” brought him to #4 on the country chart. Since then, he has won 3 more Grammys, the last in 2019. Nice later in life accomplishments. While cataloging all the music I own as I move things into my new music studio, I came across a cd single from another Texas blues rocker Ian Moore from 1993. It features 2 songs, “How Does It Feel” (which I remembered upon listening) and “Nothing”, plus 2 interviews. I’m surprised he did not make any inroads on the rock chart. I’ve added a couple of his songs to my current playlist including the slow burn “Satisfied”.

At this time in 1981, one of the biggest purveyors of heartland music was establishing his presence with his second album (well sort of). In late 1979 Indiana’s John Cougar (Mellencamp) debuted on the Hot 100 with “I Need A Lover”, which at the time, I was completely in love with. It was an interesting song in that the album version had a 2:28 instrumental intro that varied in intensity before kicking into the vocal. It was my #12 of the year back then but lost some of its luster when I re-did my 1980 charts last year.

In late 1980 the lead single from his album “Nothing Matters And What If It Did”, “This Time” (90) was an instant pleaser for me and reached #1 on my personal chart. It fits in nicely with the McClinton hit, no horns, but just an easy-going heartland slice of Pop-Rock. This was actually his fifth album. In 1976 his actual first, “Chestnut Street Incident”, was a commercial bomb, he was then known as Johnny Cougar. That name was bestowed on him by his manager Tony DeFries (who was also David Bowie’s manager), which he did not know about until he saw the album cover. He objected but was told it would not be released if they didn’t go with the name. He relinquished.

With the poor sales of that album, his label MCA refused to release his second album “The Kid Inside” and dropped him. He signed with UK label Riva Records (which he stayed with until 1985) founded by Rod Stewart’s manager Billy Gaff, and released “A Biography” in the UK and Australia only in 1978. That album included “I Need A Lover” and the song became a top 5 hit in Australia. It would also appear stateside on his next album, 1979’s “John Cougar”. Pat Benatar covered the song on her 1979 debut album as well. After the success of Mellencamp’s “American Fool” album in 1982 DeFries, his former manager, released the shelved “The Kid Inside” in 1983 to capitalize on his success while “A Biography” was remastered and released in the States in 2005.

Early songs like “American Dream” and “Born Reckless” are really not bad at all but Mellencamp is not a fan of his early music, and even with ‘Nothing Matters’ he said, “he takes no credit for that record” and of the label he said, “they thought I was going to turn into the next Neil Diamond”. “This Time” brought him into the top 30 on the Hot 100 for the second time at #27 (‘Lover’ reached #28). The second single “Ain’t Even Done With The Night” eclipsed that, going to #17. 3 other songs from the album would grace my personal chart, “Hot Night In A Cold Town” (56), “Don’t Misunderstand Me” and “Make Me Feel”. Of course, he really took off in ’82 with “Hurts So Good” and “Jack And Diane”, #2 and #1 respectively on the Hot 100. In total, he would make the top 10 on the Hot 100 10 times and the top 20 another 7 times. According to Joel Whitburn’s “Top Pop Singles” book, Mellencamp was the #9 artist of the ‘80s and #68 of all-time on the Hot 100 overall.

I could be hot and cold with his music, but he did make my top 60 of the year 4 more times with “Paper In Fire” in 1987, “Love And Happiness” in 1991, “Human Wheels” in ’93, and “Wild Night in ’94. Johnny Cash considered him one of the 10 best songwriters of all-time, and he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. In 1985 he was one of the organizers (along with Willie Nelson and Neil Young) of Farm Aid. The concert series has been going on yearly since then. The concerts have attracted a wide swath of artists from the Country, Rock, and Pop realms.

Another Indiana native, John Hiatt, shares a distinction with Mellencamp in that after his fourth album, 1980’s “Two Bit Monsters” failed to chart in the States (it did reach #41 in Sweden), he was dropped from his record label, MCA again. Over the years Hiatt has been associated with 6 different major labels before settling in with the label New West which focuses on Alt-Country, Indie Rock, and Americana claiming to be “for artists who perform real music for real people”. Delbert McClinton has also been on that label. Hiatt came onto my radar in 1985 with the song “Living Just A Little, Laughing Just A Little”, a duet with Elvis Costello. Funny thing, his then record label Geffen dropped him after the album it was from failed to chart.

I just looked up the song’s chart performance on my own chart in 1985 and was surprised it only peaked at #34 the week of July 20, one position lower than another heartland rocker, “Tough All Over” by John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band. The song had a weird descent, meaning it wasn’t a natural incremental drop. It fell to 83 and stayed there for 2 weeks, then to 143 and stayed there for 2 weeks. 2 weeks later it was off the chart but what that indicates to me is that I was not ready to get rid of it quickly. Listening to it today I have a fonder memory of it than its chart peak would indicate. Back to Rhode Island’s John Cafferty and his band. They had a nice run of 4 top Rock 10 hits between ’84-’85, starting with “On The Dark Side” from the movie “Eddie and the Cruisers”.

Read the rest here

By: Radio Tim 
Feb 5, 2021