John Mellencamp – Pink Houses

I remember this song well but I also remember the MTV giveaway contest. Oh yes, you could win a free house in Indiana where Mellencamp was from…a pink one of course! MTV got a good deal on the first house…20,000 dollars…there was a reason for that. It was across the street from a toxic dump. MTV then had to get another house and they finally did and gave it away. Susan Miles won the house along with a pink jeep and a garage full of Hawian Punch…not sure how that factored in.

Inspiration for this song came when Mellencamp was driving on Interstate 65 in Indianapolis. As described in the first verse, he saw a black man sitting in a lawn chair just watching the road. The image stuck with Mellencamp, who wasn’t sure if the man should be pitied because he was desolate, or admired because he was happy.

Pink Houses peaked at #8 in the Billboard 100 and #15 in Canada in 1984. The song was on the Uh-Huh and that album peaked at #9 on the Billboard Album Charts in 1984. This is the album that in my opinion placed John Mellencamp with the so-called “Heartland Rockers” like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Bob Seger.


From Songfacts

Mellencamp is from a rural town in Indiana and often writes about the American experience. His songs are sometimes misinterpreted as patriotic anthems, when a deeper listen reveals lyrics that deal with the challenges of living in America as well as the triumphs. Mellencamp has expressed his love for his country, but has also criticized the US government for going to war in Iraq, developing a dependency on foreign oil and not doing more to support the working class.

“It’s really an anti-American song,” Mellencamp told Rolling Stone about “Pink Houses.” “The American dream had pretty much proven itself as not working anymore. It was another way for me to sneak something in.”

MTV ran a contest based on this song where they gave away a pink house in Indiana. They got a great deal on the place – John Sykes at the network remembers paying $20,000 for it – but unfortunately, the house was across from a toxic waste dump. When Rolling Stone ran an article pointing this out, Sykes flew to Indiana and bought another house, which is the one they gave away (after painting it pink). The ordeal provided one of the many strange-but-true memories of the early MTV years (and not the only one involving a contest – when they did a promotion with Van Halen making a viewer a “roadie for a day,” the guy who won almost died from the alcohol, drugs and assorted excess). According to Sykes, the house near the waste dump stayed on the books at MTV until 1992, as they couldn’t get rid of it.

Uh-Huh was the first album where Mellencamp used his real name. His manager named him “Johnny Cougar” when he started out, a name he used on his first two albums. He then became “John Cougar” until his seventh album, Uh-Huh, when he used John Cougar Mellencamp. In 1990, he recorded as John Mellencamp.

Changing his name was out of character, as he was notoriously combative with his record company and refused to participate in conventions like listening parties. But he knew that the only way he could ever call his own shots was by making hits, and the name change seemed like a good call, even though it didn’t suit him. When his plan worked, earning his autonomy, he started the process of changing to his real name.

Mellencamp’s previous hits, notably “Hurts So Good” and “Jack & Diane,” took him a long time to write. “Pink Houses” was different, and marked a creative breakthrough.

“I started writing every day and painting and drawing, and I found myself open to suggestion,” he said in his Plain Spoken DVD. “I wrote a song called ‘Pink Houses’ that came very quickly. I wasn’t thinking about it – I saw something a couple of days before, and I just more-less reported on it, and it came out to be ‘Pink Houses.’ True art is always a surprise. It’s not constructed. If it doesn’t surprise the person that’s writing it, it’s not going to surprise the person that’s listening.”

Mellencamp performed an 8-minute version of this with Kid Rock at the 2001 “Concert For New York,” a benefit for victims of the World Trade Center attacks.


Pink Houses

There’s a black man with a black cat
Living in a black neighborhood
He’s got an interstate running’ through his front yard
You know, he thinks, he’s got it so good
And there’s a woman in the kitchen cleaning’ up evening slop
And he looks at her and says:
“Hey darling, I can remember when you could stop a clock”

Oh but ain’t that America, for you and me
Ain’t that America, we’re something to see baby
Ain’t that America, home of the free, yeah
Little pink houses for you and me, oh for you and me

Well there’s a young man in a T-shirt
Listenin’ to a rock ‘n’ roll station
He’s got a greasy hair, greasy smile
He says: “Lord, this must be my destination”
‘Cause they told me, when I was younger
Sayin’ “Boy, you’re gonna be president”
But just like everything else, those old crazy dreams
Just kinda came and went

Oh but ain’t that America, for you and me
Ain’t that America, we’re something to see baby
Ain’t that America, home of the free, yeah
Little pink houses, for you and me, oh baby for you and me

Well there’s people and more people
What do they know, know, know
Go to work in some high rise
And vacation down at the Gulf of Mexico
Ooo yeah

And there’s winners, and there’s losers
But they ain’t no big deal
‘Cause the simple man baby pays the thrills,
The bills and the pills that kill

Oh but ain’t that America, for you and me
Ain’t that America, we’re something to see baby
Ain’t that America, home of the free, yeah
Little pink houses for you and me, ooo, ooo yeah

Ain’t that America, for you and me
Ain’t that America, hey we’re something to see baby
Ain’t that America, oh the home of the free,
Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
Little pink houses babe for you and me, ooo yeah ooo yeah

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

14 thoughts on “John Mellencamp – Pink Houses”

  1. Thanks for that post, Max- shows there’s always something new to learn, even about things you know. I’d never heard the MTV giveaway story – that’s cool! And odd.
    While ‘Jack and Diane’ was a good rock song and is iconic, to me this was the first really great song he put out and as you suggest, began to elevate him in stature among American singer-songwriters.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh I remember that giveaway well. They also gave away a party house for college kids to paint pink I believe and party…I don’t see that happening today.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Another tune right up alley! 🙂 I’ve dug John Mellencamp for many years, including his early straight rock phase and the gradual transition to stripped back roots/Americana. To me, he’s right up there with Springsteen, Jackson Browne and Bob Seger.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. That Uh-Huh record was pretty good. It helped that John had a killer band behind him. Dude had a great run in the 80’s thats for sure!


      1. I’m becoming used to it, now. On my site, at least my Admin. panel shows me. On other’s sites, if I miss a comment…not a damn thing I can do. I chatter my ass all over the place.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: