Track of the Day: 'Pink Houses'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Another reader, David Berzonsky, keeps a great thread going:

For ironically misunderstood patriotism, I offer you the entire John Cougar Mellencamp catalog, specifically “Pink Houses,” used in every truck commercial since the ‘80s, but really a Midwestern version of Malvina Reynolds’s “Little Boxes.” I really feel bad for this great musician and poet, with his subtle and sad critiques of small-town life, being co-opted by right-wing American nationalism.

“Pink Houses” was used by both the 2008 McCain campaign and the National Organization for Marriage, but Mellencamp, an outspoken political liberal, got them both to cease. (David Graham has a great piece about the perennial battle between musicians and the politicians who co-opt their songs.) Another bit of trivia on “Pink Houses”:

Mellencamp has stated many times since the release of “Pink Houses” that he's unhappy with the song's final verse. At an October 2014 press conference, he stated: “A long time ago, I wrote a song called 'Pink Houses.' Now when I hear that song, all I can think is: 'Why didn’t I do a better job on the last verse?' If I had written it today, the last verse would’ve had more meaning.”

The full lyrics:

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