John Cougar Mellencamp

John Cougar Mellencamp

“Little ditty ’bout Jack and Diane,
Two American kids growing up in the heartland…”

Despite countless obstacles along the way, John Cougar Mellencamp persevered all the way to the top, managing to carve out a personalized fusion of folk, rock and country music that landed him numerous hits – and made him the voice of millions of ordinary folks struggling to make their own way.

Mellencamp had performed in rock bands since his teens, moving to New York in 1975 to become a star. He signed on with David Bowie‘s management company and released an album of cover versions called Chestnut Street Incident. Mellencamp did not learn his managers had renamed him ‘Johnny Cougar’ until he saw it on the album cover. He soon broke away from them and struck out on his own. He recorded and performed steadily throughout the late 70’s, scoring his first big hit with the Springsteen-esque Top-30 song, “I Need A Lover,” a tune still popular on classic-rock radio today.

Mellencamp toured steadily to back up his new hit. He also continued to record, scoring a Top-40 hit in 1980 with “This Time” and a Top-20 hit in 1981 with “Ain’t Even Done With The Night.” 1982 was the breakthrough year for John: his American Fool album became a #1 hit, topping the charts for nine weeks and producing plenty of hits. “Hurts So Good,” a riff-rocker with a memorable biker-themed video, was a #2 hit. “Jack and Diane,” an autobiographical love saga punctuated by handclaps, gave Mellencamp his first #1 single, while “Hand To Hold On To” went Top-10 in early 1983.

Now that he had a bit of clout, John Cougar officially became John Cougar Mellencamp on his next album, Uh-Huh. It quickly went Top-10, as did its first single “Crumblin’ Down.” This anthemic rocker also produced a memorable video that showed off Mellencamp’s dancing skills. He had another Top-10 hit in early 1984 with “Pink Houses,” a country-flavored ditty about Americana that was built on an acoustic guitar riff. “Authority Song,” which boasted an imaginative black-and-white video set in a boxing ring, also did well.

In 1985, Mellencamp organized the benefit concert ‘Farm Aid’ with Willie Nelson and Neil Young to raise money for America’s farming community. The plight of farmers was one of the themes explored on his next album, Scarecrow, a musical travelogue through Mellencamp’s memories of rural small-town life. Both “Lonely Ol’ Night” and “Small Town” became #6 hits from this album. The next year, he had a #2 hit with “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” “Rain On The Scarecrow” and “Rumbleseat” also became Top-30 hits from Scarecrow, helping it sell three million copies in the U.S. alone.

1987 saw the release of The Lonesome Jubilee, an album that continued to explore the autobiographical themes of Scarecrow but also played up the country and folk edges of Mellencamp’s sound. “Paper In Fire”, a country-ish song that prominently featured a fiddle, became a Top-10 hit, as did its follow-up, “Cherry Bomb.” Big Daddy continued Mellencamp’s new ‘rootsy’ sound and scored a hit with the sarcastic “Pop Singer.” This critique of the music business had a chorus that went “Don’t wanna be no pop singer/Don’t wanna sing no pop song.”

Mellencamp entered the film world in 1992 with Falling From Grace, a film he directed and starred in. Human Wheels was released in 1993 and became one of Mellencamp’s most critically-acclaimed albums. He followed it up the next year with Dance Naked. The album featured “Wild Night,” a cover of a Van Morrison song that was done as a duet with Me’Shell Ndegeocello and went to #3 on the charts. He collaborated with dance-music DJ/producer Junior Vasquez on his next album, Mr. Happy Go Lucky, and scored a rhythm-dominated hit in “Key West Intermezzo.”

In 1998, Mellencamp released The Best That I Could Do, a retrospective that covered his work from 1978 to 1988. He also released a new album, simply titled John Mellencamp, and also Mellencamp: Selected Paintings , a book that compiled pictures of 75 examples of his artwork. Rough Harvest, a musical compilation of his more recent work, was released in the summer of 1999.

Into the new millennium, John Mellencamp has showed no signs of slowing. He’s released six more albums along the way, most recently Plain Spoken in 2014, continues to tour around the world to adoring fans, and remains as much an activist as ever. And, although he never much cared for the name, when it comes to perseverance, the man has always displayed the traits of a Cougar.

If you consider yourself one of the many fans of John Cougar Mellencamp, we’d love to hear any of your thoughts and recollections in our comments section below, as we tip our hats to this hero of the heartland.

One Response to “John Cougar Mellencamp”

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  1. Gina says:

    The only songs I like are “ROCK in the USA” and “Wild Night”.

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