In the late 1970s, I heard about a singer named Johnny Cougar. Without having heard a single note from the musician, I had immediately dismissed him. I later learned that a “suit” insisted that John Mellencamp change his name because the Germanic surname was too hard to market.
When he achieved some commercial success, he could get his record company to list him as John Cougar Mellencamp in 1983. But it wasn’t until 1991 that the Cougar went away.
Mellencamp claims to have invented alt-country, and perhaps he did. For sure, he helped organize the first Farm Aid benefit concert with Willie Nelson and Neil Young on September 22, 1985. It’s now an annual event that has raised over $60 million for family farmers who are struggling financially.
I’ll admit I haven’t heard that much of Mellencamp’s music since the late ’80s. I did listen to some recommended cuts on his Wikipedia page and liked quite a lot of them. He doesn’t seem to have the rock star instinct, though. When he released Big Daddy in 1989, which he said at the time was his best album, he decided not to tour. He was heavily involved with painting at the time.
John Mellencamp has been lauded by folks such as John Fogarty, the late Johnny Cash, and Bruce Springsteen, who has played with him occasionally. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. A decade later, he got into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Rolling Stone contributor Anthony DeCurtis said: “Mellencamp has created an important body of work that has earned him both critical regard and an enormous audience. His songs document the joys and struggles of ordinary people seeking to make their way, and he has consistently brought the fresh air of common experience to the typically glamour-addled world of popular music.”
On CBS Sunday Morning, he told fellow Indianian Jane Pauley that smoking got him the voice he wanted. He’s riding her on this motorcycle but where are their helmets?
Chart action per Billboard pop charts
Rumbleseat, #28 in 1986
Save Some Time To Dream. This is from his 2010’s lo-fi CD No Better Than This, the only album of his I actually own save for a greatest hits collection.
R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. (A Salute to ’60s Rock), #2 in 1986 – if a little cheesy, I got what Mellencamp was going for. And I appreciate the ocarina, which I associate with “Wild Thing” by The Troggs
I Need A Lover, #28 in 1979. It’s a very long intro
Cherry Bomb, #8 in 1988
Paper’s In Fire, #9 in 1987. Lisa Germano’s fine violin
Authority Song, #15 in 1984. He says it’s his band’s version of “I Fought the Law”
Lonely Ol’ Night, #6 in 1985
Jack & Diane, #1 for four weeks in 1982. I’ve become a sucker for this song for the past quarter-century because my wife’s cousin Diane married a guy named Jack a while before I met them. I was really fond of Jack, as he, my late FIL Richard, and I talked about baseball at length, especially from the 1950s and 1960s, every family reunion. Jack was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. When he died in 2021, dear Diane made sure some of Jack’s books were sent to me.
Rain On The Scarecrow, #21 in 1986. “Do you want to buy a farm?”