John Cougar Mellencamp
Synopsis of Pop Music
"Little ditty 'bout Jack and Diane,
Two American kids growing up in the heartland..."
It was a long climb to the top for John Cougar Mellencamp. He had to face plenty of obstacles along the way: managers who made questionable choices for him, having the name ‘Johnny Cougar’ thrust upon him, and the difficulties brought on by on his own refusal to ‘play the game.’ However, he persevered through these troubles and managed to carve out a personalized fusion of folk, rock and country music that resulted in many hit albums and singles.
Mellencamp had been performing 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, 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 hit, “I Need A Lover,” a tune still popular on classic-rock radio today.
John 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 Mellencamp: 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 had 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 Cougar’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. It 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 compilation of his more recent work, was released in the summer of 1999. He continues to record and tour, keeping his old-fashioned vision of American music alive for fans around the world.
"Ain't that America..."
Artist Release History1976 - Chestnut Street Incident
1977 - The Kid Inside
1978 - A Biography
1979 - Johnny Cougar
1979 - John Cougar
1980 - Night Dancin'
1980 - Nothin' Matters & What If It Did
1982 - American Fool
1983 - Uh-Huh
1985 - Scarecrow
1987 - The Lonesome Jubilee
1989 - Big Daddy
1991 - Whenever We Wanted
1993 - Human Wheels
1994 - Dance Naked
1996 - Mr. Happy Go Lucky
1997 - The Best That I Could Do (1978-1988)
1998 - John Mellencamp
1999 - Dance Naked
Pop Sub Categoriesrock
Essential Music AlbumsScarecrow (Mercury)
The Best I Could Do: 1978-1988 (Mercury)