Small Town

Album: Scarecrow (1985)
Charted: 53 6
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Songfacts®:

  • Mellencamp wrote this song about his experiences growing up in the small town of Seymour, Indiana. Many entertainers from rural America settle in big cities where the action is. Mellencamp tried that, moving to New York City after he got a record deal, but it didn't take: he felt overwhelmed and creatively bereft. He moved back to Indiana and stayed there the rest of his life, setting up his own recording studio, Belmont Mall, near the tiny town of Nashville, Indiana, so he wouldn't have to go into a city to work.

    Many songs have been written about looking to escape the confines of small town America, but Mellencamp celebrates it in his music and life, most vividly on this song.
  • The media portrayed Mellencamp as the champion of small-town America when the song was released. He downplayed his title as "voice of the heartland," saying he was simply writing about his life, not trying to make a statement. But to those living in small towns across America, his music was inspiriting. David Masciotra, author of Mellencamp: American Troubadour, grew up in the small town of Lansing, Illinois, and was one of many who felt validated by this song. "'Small Town' is an immensely important song in the recent history of American music because of exactly what he said: It celebrates the life that one can live in a town that is off the cultural map," Masciotra said on the Songfacts Podcast. "It affirms the dignity and integrity and value of the people who reside within those towns. When he wrote it, it wasn't his intention to become the 'Voice of the Heartland' or the keeper of the small town, but with all due respect to Mr. Mellencamp, I don't think that he gets to decide. Bob Dylan said that he didn't want to become the voice of his generation in the '60s. Well, once art exists outside the wider culture, it really becomes out of the control of the creator and it becomes something that embeds itself in the lives of the listeners. And for me, it affirmed the value and the dignity and the relevance of where I lived."
  • The music Mellencamp listened to growing up in the '60s was a huge influence on his work, and he often put bits of classics songs from that era in his tracks. On the bridge of "Small Town," you can hear the riff from The Supremes song "Back in My Arms Again."
  • Mellencamp wrote this song after having a number of conversations with folks from New York who seemed to think he - and everyone else from the middle of the country - was a rube. "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,'" he told Rolling Stone in 2013. "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."
  • Why was "Small Town" a hit? Mellencamp attributes it to a simple reason: it makes people feel good. He thinks many of his songs don't do well commercially because they make people confront problems, like the plight of American farmers.
  • Married an LA doll and brought her to this small town
    Now she's small town just like me


    Mellencamp married his second wife, Vicky Granucci, in 1981, which is the reference here. They had two daughters, Teddi Jo and Justice, before divorcing in the late '80s. Her father is the Los Angeles stuntman Phil Adams.
  • After Mellencamp married the model Elaine Irwin, who is 17 years younger, in 1992, he would sometimes add the line, "My wife was 13 years old growing up in a small town when I wrote this song." He and Irwin split up in 2010.

Comments: 23

  • Sullynindy from Indianapolis Indiana1985 Scarecrow album was such a great album, promoting much about the American farmer, any true record collection should have this album.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn this day in 1985 {November 23rd} a video of John Cougar Mellencamp's "Small Town" was aired on the Dick Clark ABC-TV Saturday-afternoon program, 'American Bandstand'...
    At the time "Small Town" was at position #25 on Billboard's Top 100 chart, five weeks later it would peak at #6 {for 3 weeks}, and it spent eighteen weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #2 {for 2 weeks} on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Songs chart, the two weeks it was at #2, the #1 record for both those weeks was "Sleeping Bag" by ZZ Top...
    Between 1980 and 2006 the Seymour, Indiana native had twenty nine records on the Top 100 chart, ten made the Top 10 with one* reaching #1, "Jack and Diane", for 4 weeks in September of 1982...
    One of his twenty nine charted records was a duet,"Wild Night" with Me'Shell Ndegéocello, it reached #3 in 1994...
    John J. Mellencamp celebrated his 68th birthday last month on October 7th, 2019...
    * He just missed having two more #1 records when both his "Hurts So Good" {1982} and "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." {1986} peaked at #2 on the Top 100...
  • Barbara from Seymour, InMark, John was not so much of a smartass growing up, he was bored and created alot of his entertainment. I guess the smartass really kicked in after he started cutting records. John and I went to school together, we are actually second cousins. John did play in bands in H.S., we had alot of teen dances at elks club, church basements, post office parking lot, they were a blast.John was no angel that's for sure, he was the one that introduced me to my first taste of shine,even though I don't live there now Seymour was a fun place to grow up in at that time.
  • Jim from Long Beach, CaI love Mellencamp. I kinda envy not being from a small town. I'm a city boy from LA. When I got a chance to go to college at IU, I jumped at it. I use to bump into John in Bloomington all the time, he was cool but I kept my distance. I respected his privacy.I love his music and always will. Thanks for the great music, John...
  • Mike from Raleigh, NcCollectively, the words "small" and "town" comprise 18.5% of the lyrics in this song. "Small" occurs 19 times. "Town" occurs 20 times. The phrase "small town" itself occurs 18 times. By contrast, the most common word in the English language ("the") occurs only 4 times. (There are 211 words in the song.)
  • Shane from Chattanooga, TnThe words "small town" are sung on average every 12.4 seconds of this song.
  • Tony from Seymour, Ingreatest song ever.every time i listen to this or jack and diane i remember one of the biggest loves in my life"Mis".always thinkin about you!
  • Mike from Orleans, Inhey adrianna, im from the town south of where you grew up. im from orleans. smaller than mitchell but oh well this song sums up all us small towners
  • Mark from Byrdstown, TnMellencamp has matured from just another rocker smart ass in his early days to the best songwriter of my generation.The man can do a 2 hour show and sing nothing but songs of his own that have been hits that the whole audience can sing along with--not bad for a guy who at one time seem headed down the dead end road of one hit wonders.

    Having always lived in small towns I can really get every word in this song.One of the best written songs by anyone ever.


    "...probably die in a small town,that's where they'll probably bury me." Yeah I dig where you're coming from John.
  • Adrianna from Bloomington, InI come from Indiana; Bloomington, to be specific, though I spent my teenage years in the mile-square town of Mitchell in Southern Indiana. This song definately describes what living in a small town is like. (And I agree with Pat on the fundie churches thing... There were FOURTEEN in a mile-square town, and everyone was convinced you'd go to hell if you didn't go to church.)
  • Michael from Seymour, InI live in the "small town", Seymour, Indiana. I'm in his High School as we speak... He rarely visits seymour, only on special occasions, like his parents' birthdays... We even have a festival for him every year, and he has still never showed up to it... I've made comments on the other songs, and John himself actually wrote this song...
  • Eric from Milltown, Ini'm livin in a small town in southern Indiana. John is sorta Ambassador for us. This is sort of a theme song for us.
  • Matt from Tsawwassenb, CanadaThis song brings out the small town boy in me. Reminds me of myself growing up in a tiny town on the west Coast. Good Song.
  • Nathan from From The Country Of, Canadano matter what small town you come from this song means something to you
  • Larry from Newton, NcThis song was featured on a local TV station about 15 years ago which did a spot on Dale Earnhardt, the NASCAR legend, and his roots. The film followed Earnhardt around his hometown of Kannapolis, North Carolina showing many of the places he used to hang out at while growing up. It showed the shop where his mother worked. It showed the gigantic Cannon Mills plant where so many of the town's people toiled through the generations. Mr. Mellencamp and Mr. Earnhardt seemed to be cut from the same cloth and both have meant so much to so many people. They both came from humble beginnings and never forgot that.
    As an odd side note, the Cannon Mills plant was recently imploded leaving a huge void in the skyline in Earnhardt's hometown much the same as the void left there when Dale died in the 2001 Daytona 500.
  • Mark from Wee Waa, AustraliaI love this song, its so simple and easy to listen to, it portrays so many lifes of people who live or lived in a small town.
  • Mark from Columbus, InI grew up down the road from John in Columbus, Indiana. He was in Seymour and Mellencamps were all over southern Indiana. In the early 70's I was delivering newspapers (The Republic) in Columbus and remember a story in a Saturday edition about this guy from Seymour was was going to be the next rock star. Yeh, right I thought, with a name like Johnny Cougar...the rest is history. He really rocked last night at Nissan Pavillion in VA.
  • John from Levittown, NyThe bobdybuilder posing in the video is Seymour's own Hustler Rip Rogers, a professional wrestler.
  • Mike from Fort Worth, TxIn the video to this song there is footage of Coach Bob Knight from Indiana University talking with kids at one of his basketball camps.
  • Rachel from Oxford, Ohperfection
  • Pat from Las Vegas, NvJohn Mellencamp grew up in Seymour Indiana, which was certainly a small town at the time. I'm originally from Indiana, where this song has become something of an anthem, along with Pink Houses. There are plusses and minuses to living in a small town,according to my wife, who grew up in another small Indiana town. You know everyone, but everyone also knows you and there's no anonymity. The line about "taught to fear Jesus" has to do with the often "hellfire and brimstone" nature of the many fundie churches in southern Indiana.
  • Charlie from Thomaston, Ctfor the longest time i've been trying to find out who wrote this, now i know, thank you songfacts!
  • Mike from Medford, Nyif you don't know what this song is about, you're an idiot, or you grew up in a big city. I live in a metro area, but grew up in a small town. This song means so much to me, personnaly.
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