John Mellencamp – “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” – In 1987, Mellencamp was at the height of his musical trajectory. His “Lonesome Jubilee” album synthesized rock, country, folk and old-timey instruments into a peculiar (though accessible) piece of art. The shows that supported the record put on display one of the best bands I have ever seen live, and I’ve seen hundreds, both great and crappy. I saw John first in ’85 at Detroit’s Cobo Hall during the “Scarecrow” tour and it was my first real taste of what kind of power a band that behaved like that could have; it was the combination of 60’s Mitch Ryder-like rock and roll, Kinks-via-America blue collar lyrical poetry and really loud guitars and drums. Two years later, in ’87, that same band had become even more nuanced without losing its power or its garage rock backbone, while adding a fiddle and accordian to the mix. So when I found myself deep in the lawn at Pine Knob Music Theater (again, Detroit) for the second leg of that tour, the intensity, James Brown-ish polish and the momentum of a bunch of radio singles made it one of the best five shows I have seen in my life. The “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” video was recorded during that tour, before one of the shows. It captures that unique-for-the-times Mellencamp sound – rustic, rootsy rock and roll. I would call it brilliant. It is a Mellencamp era that I miss to this day.
He’s had a helluva career, still does what he wants – with integrity – and has moved into a more traditional rock sound for his live shows, though the fiddle still plays an important part in defining the Mellencamp concert sound. Rewind to a era captured on video, of an Indiana punk grown up just enough to build himself one of the great, underrated live bands of the rock era, successfully reinventing a holiday classic.