Mellencamp: Cherry Bomb: That's When a Spoke Was a Smoke, errr, Sport?

I always heard it as “that’s when a spoke was a spoke.” But it made no sense to me: maybe some mid-western euphemism?

So, I see on some search pages “Thats when sport was a sport.” What the hell is that?

I have also heard “that’s when a smoke was a smoke,” profound, isn’t it?

BTW I love the song… this one line has always been elusive. What is it? What Indianian concept do I fail to grasp?


The line is “that’s when a smoke was a smoke”. I think it relates to old cigarette advertising but I don’t know what brand used that line.

Man, I’ve heard of mondegreens before, but you are waaaay off.

“Cherry Bomb” is a nostalgic song, in which John Mellencamp is reminiscing about his teen years, back in the Sixties, when he and his friends used to hang out at a club called the Cherry Bomb and listen to the latest new tunes.

The line goes, “That’s when Smokey was smoking, and ‘Groovin’ " was groovin.”

Smokey is Smokey Robinson, Mellencap’s favorite soul singer of the Sixties.

And "Groovin’ " was a smash hit for the Young Rascals, who were Mellencamp’s favorite rock band in the Sixties.

One interesting bit of trivia from the video of this song:

Watch the video linked to in the link below. He is not saying “when Smokey was smoking”.

I think the line is “that’s when sport was sport” but he pronounces it like “spote”.

Why couldn’t it be: “That’s when a smoke was a smoke

Meaning a guy was smoking a “real” cigarette?

Lucky Strike, or a Camel, maybe?

Just my wild ass guess!


That’s really what I always thought it was. But every lyrics page I looked at on Google said the word was ‘sport’, and then in watching the video and listening through headphones, it does look and sound to me like he’s saying sport, but with an odd pronounciation, like spote.

When in doubt, I always go with the lyric sheet included with the album, if there is one. The lyric sheet that comes with the album “The Lonesome Jubilee” says, “That’s when a sport was a sport.”

I take it to mean “real” sports such as football, basketball, or baseball, as opposed to extreme “sports” created for ESPN or MTV or any of the various cable entertainment networks.

That wasn’t when pronunciation was pronunciation.

But at least back then I knew how to spell it. :wink:

This is seriously disappointing, because “smoke” makes a million times more sense than the nonsensical “sport.”

I know Kiddos!

…“A smoke was a smoke”…is how I always “heard” it! I never knew anyone thought any different.

How about we write the artist, and ask?


I don’t know. If his Cherry Bomb days were in the late sixties/early seventies as his ages in the song indicate, dope smoking had been in vogue for anywhere from a couple of years to five or six. In that context it doesn’t sound to me like he was necessarily talking about ‘smoke’ being store-bought cigarettes. And it could be that among his crowd, ‘sport’ was ‘rackin’ around, chasing girls, drinkin’ beer’, etc., or perhaps it refers to bodybuilding, lugeing, or other activities that were becoming popular then but which many people didn’t regard as true sports.

All of this has admittedly been pulled out of thin air, but I suspect the disconnect is simply that he’s using the word in a context familiar to him but not to the rest of us.

ETA: Q, cochrane says the lyric sheet that came with the album says it’s ‘sport’. That’s probably about as close to the horse’s mouth as we’re gonna get.

The lyric sheet does indeed say, “That’s when a sport was a sport”. For whatever reason, I’d always assumed it meant ‘sport’ in the context of someone being a ‘good sport’ or something similar.

Damn good song at any rate. And props to Lisa Germano. Her fiddle is probably 40% of the reason I like that song so much.

Your version would’ve been better.

Ditto this. “That’s when a smoke was a smoke” always made and still makes perfect sense to me. I’m completely shocked that it possibly could be anything else – it never even occurred to me that it could be something different. Dang.

Big wheel keep on toinin’, Proud Mary keep on boinin’ …
I always heard “smoke”, too, but I don’t own the album and have never seen the lyric sheet.

I wonder if it really was smoke when recorded and for some reason the decision was made to disavow it, thus the lyric sheets stating the word was sport. I know I said earlier that the video led me to believe it really was ‘sport’ but frankly, had I not already read that the lyric sheets all showed it to be sport I may well not have heard it that way.