John Mellencamp was born on October 7th, 1951, in Seymour, Indiana. He was born with spina bifida, which required a lot of hospitalization. During this time, he developed an interest in music. As a teenager, he was often getting in trouble since he was already starting to embrace the rock and roll lifestyle. He formed his first when he was fourteen. In 1958, he eloped with his Priscilla Esrteline, who was pregnant. As he began to pursue his musical career, he also worked blue-collar jobs to support his family, inspiring some of his biggest hits. At 24, he moved to New York City with hopes of breaking into the music industry. He caught his first break when David Bowie’s manager Tony DeFries signed him to MainMan, a division of MCA. The album was released under the name Johnny Cougar in 1976. After the album garnered no success, Mellencamp was dropped from the label. This early experience never left his mind and kept him at a distance from the music industry. It didn’t help that early in his career; people thought he was a Bruce Springsteen wannabe. However, during his career, he began to find his own style of music that separated him from other similar artists like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Bob Seger. Six years later, he released the album that would lead him to chart-topping success, American Fool. It featured massive hits like Hurts So Good and Jack and Diane, both MTV staples. This was when he added Mellencamp to his stage name. The first album under John Cougar Mellencamp was Uh-Huh, released in 1983. His next album, Scarecrow, in 1985 was a blend of social consciousness featuring a wide variety of genres. His next album, The Lonesome Jubilee, pushed the boundaries again, influenced by Appalachian folk and country music. As with many other songs, he focused on middle-class America and how they are the country’s backbone. Although his following several albums didn’t share the success of his earlier albums, 1994s Dance Naked brought him back to the top ten, peaking at number 3.
Additionally, he did a Van Morrison cover, Wild Night, a duet with Meshel Ndegeocello. Unfortunately, he suffered a massive heart attack, so he could not tour to support the album. After a year of recovery, he returned to the studio for Mr. Happy Go Lucky, an album that went gold. In 2001, he was honored with the Billboard Century Award for creative achievement. Between 2003 and 2014, he had several other chart-topping albums, including Trouble No More. Additionally, he released a four-disc box set of his entire catalog, On the Rural Route 7609 was released in 2010. In 2014, Republic Records signed him to a lifetime recording contract. In 2017, he teamed up with Carlene Carter and released Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, debuting at number 11 on Billboard’s Album Charts. According to his website, Mellencamp is currently in the studio working on his twenty-fifth album. He is also working on a documentary about his 2000 tour when he performed on street corners and public parks for free. It will be narrated by Matthew McConaughey. These are the top 10 John Cougar Mellencamp songs of all time.
10. Paper In Fire
The opening of this bars this song features a fiddle. The overall sound is southern rock. This song was part of his album The Lonesome Jubilee, which dealt with lower to middle-class citizens who face continuous struggles. Throughout Mellencamp’s career, he’s never lost his Indiana roots. His voice has a lilt in the chorus, which works well with the guitar riffs.
9. Check It Out
Accordion and rock don’t seem like a good combination, but this song proves those thoughts wrong. The lyrics in this song are about a middle-class man working to pay his bills and support his family. As the year progresses, he looks around and sees all the things he’s accomplished and feels happy even though he’s followed the same path his entire life. Many of the lyrics feel like a tribute to suburban life.
8. Crumblin’ Down
This was another political song from Mellencamp. He wrote this song during Regan’s presidency about the fall of the Berlin Wall. The song’s lyrics were a thinly veiled biography about the former movie star turned president. The lyric “everybody’s got their problems ain’t no news here I’m the same old trouble I’ve been havin’ for years” suggests that even with a change in administration, the core issues at the heart of America remain.
John Cougar Mellencamp has been a rebel since an early age. This song is a celebration of going against the grain and living by your own beat. The guitar in the background creates a fun upbeat to this song. Even though Mellencamp stays true to his signature style in this song, it’s another in his catalog that has lyrics you know by heart and can’t help but sing.
6. Rain On The Scarecrow
One of the most undervalued industries is the farming industry. The drums and guitar riffs at the beginning of the song sound ominous, reflecting the uncertainty farmers face. The lyrics detail the hard work they do and the politicians who make decisions that hurt generations of work.
5. Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)
The opening of this song is a bright combination of drums and guitar. Mellencamp’s smoking voice adds a dreamy quality to this song. The song’s lyrics are about someone seeing a woman across the bar who is the “it” girl. There are threads of ethereal romance that weave through this song. “He just made that story up; there ain’t no girl like that,” lends itself to the fantasy of finding your person serendipitously.
4. My Soul’s Got Wings (Featuring Carlene Carter)
The beat of this song sounds like music from The Carter Family. Mellencamp teams up with a newer generation of Carter’s to deliver a gospel sound full of harmonica. Both of their voices compliment each other well on this upbeat track.
3. Ain’t Even Done With The Night
This song was on the album American Fool, his fifth album. First love is a heady rush, and the bluesy feel of this song eases the listener into the lyrics, possibly reliving the first time they fell for someone. The instrumentation is stripped down and allows Mellencamp’s smokey vocals to shine.
2. Peaceful World (Featuring India.Arie)
India Arie’s career was just taking off when she did this song with Mellencamp. It’s a summer song about enjoying the sunshine even though much of the world is having serious issues. The lyrics reflect the need to find a place for repose even if all the world is so negative.
1. Cherry Bomb
When people look back at their teenage years, it’s either with mortification or a sense of nostalgia. This song is an uptempo ballad about simpler days spent with friends who became lifelong acquaintances. Throughout the lyrics, his analogies detail how over time, things that we thought we true evolve into more complex meanings.