Weekend Songs: John Mellencamp, ‘Authority Song’
Classic rock is about heavy hooks, power chords, and tight harmonies, but it’s also about letting loose and enjoying the good times — and there’s no better time than Friday evening, when we pick up our paycheck, punch out of work, and enjoy a couple days of much-needed rest and relaxation.
He became particularly identified with blue-collar causes in the mid-to-late ’80s, thanks to his involvement in Farm Aid and a string of populist hit records that included ‘Scarecrow,’ but John Mellencamp was always a feisty friend to the working man, and for proof, one need look no further than 1984’s Top 20 hit ‘Authority Song.’
The third single from Mellencamp’s triple-platinum ‘Uh-Huh’ album, ‘Authority Song’ offered an updated take on the Bobby Fuller classic ‘I Fought the Law,’ using a roiling rockabilly riff and driving beat to add a cheery sock-hop vibe to one of the more ticked-off sets of lyrics from the former John Cougar’s early career. In fact, given the famously elastic drawl Mellencamp favored on his first few records, plenty of casual listeners may not even realize that what sounds like a simple good-time anthem is really more of a bitter admission that power and wealth are always held by a chosen few — and that no matter how hard you might fight for change, it won’t have any lasting effect on the status quo.
But that’s no excuse for just laying down and accepting the way things are. Although ‘Authority Song’ isn’t one of Mellencamp’s more profound moments as a lyricist — it’s just two verses and an endlessly repeated refrain — one doesn’t always need to use highfalutin poetry to get one’s point across, and this track’s shout-along chorus is a perfect example: “I fight authority, Authority always wins / I fight authority, Authority always wins / I been doing it since I was a young kid and I come out grinnin’ / I fight authority, Authority always wins.”
Sure, winning feels good. But it isn’t all that matters, and in fact, it isn’t as important as being able to look yourself in the eye and know you’re doing the best you can to live up to your deepest, truest ideals. It might mean taking it on the chin once in awhile, but you’ll still be able to hang onto your pride, and that’s almost always enough to keep you coming up grinnin’. Of course, if you need a little help in that area, you can always just hit ‘play’ on the clip below, turn up the volume…and let the weekend start now.
Hear John Mellencamp’s ‘Authority Song’