The soundtrack of the 1980s wouldn’t be complete without including John Mellencamp songs into the mix.
Spanning over 45 years, Mellencamp’s musical career has included many hits that remain in regular rotation on classic rock stations.
He sings about topics that touch us on a personal level. Whether it’s being a rebellious teenager or navigating adulthood during difficult times, John Mellencamp speaks to the heart of many of us.
We did some digging to find out more about this American rocker and the songs we consider seven of his greatest.
John Mellencamp’s Story
Born in Seymour, Indiana, on October 17, 1951, John Mellencamp’s midwestern upbringing has been used as the inspiration in a lot of his songs.
His interest in music began at age 14 when he joined his first band Crepe Soul. They played local gigs with John being the frontman on vocals. An admitted rebel during his high school years, John focused more on his music and friends than he did his education. But he did graduate high school, and soon after, eloped with his pregnant girlfriend.
John remained in Indiana while attending Vincennes University and working various blue-collar jobs to support his family. During this time, he wrote songs and continued to play music with a couple of local bands. He graduated in 1974 and decided to move to New York City to begin his career in music.
Mellencamp’s first album Chestnut Street Incident was released in 1976 under the name Johnny Cougar. His manager insisted on not using his real last name because it didn’t seem “marketable.”
Mellencamp Hasn’t Wasted His Days
He would release three more albums, the latter two under the name John Cougar, before making his big breakthrough in 1982 with the album American Fool. The following year, he released the album Uh-Huh, and became known as John Cougar Mellencamp, after breaking away from his previous management.
Three years later, he joined forces with Willie Nelson and Neil Young on the first Farm Aid concert benefitting struggling farmers. The event has continued yearly since then, with Mellencamp remaining involved as a Board Member with Nelson, Young, and others.
By 1991, John was able to break away from his earlier “Cougar” days and simply be known as John Mellencamp. He continued producing Top 10 hits and critically-acclaimed albums over the next few years.
In 1994, John had a mild heart attack and had to take a break from music while recovering. His heavy cigarette smoking and poor diet contributed to his health issues. But two years later, after significant lifestyle changes and feeling healthier, he released his 14th album, Mr. Happy Go Lucky.
John Mellencamp has had continued success since the 1990s. He’s released a total of 23 studio albums. His next one, Strictly a One-Eyed Jack, will be released this year and will feature three songs with Bruce Springsteen. In fact, Wasted Days, the first single from the new album has already done well on the charts.
While he is currently single, John has had three marriages over the years and has five children. He resides in Bloomington, Indiana, seemingly staying true to his midwestern roots.
Now, let’s take a look at seven of John Mellencamp’s greatest songs from his nearly 50-year career.
About the Song: This is a theme song for anyone who has ever been rebellious against authority. As a teenager, John Mellencamp had his fair share of run-ins with the law and other authority figures. You can hear the angst oozing from Mellencamp’s vocals throughout the song.
I call up my preacher I say, "Give me strength for round 5" He said, "You don't need no strength, you need to grow up son" I said, "Growin' up leads to growin' old and then to dyin' Ooo, and dyin' to me don't sound like all that much fun"
First Appearance: Authority Song is a track on Mellencamp’s 1983 album Uh-Huh.
#6 Ain’t Even Done with the Night
About the Song: Everyone remembers the first time they fell in love and the awkwardness that often comes with it. This soulful song hits on that experience in a very tender way. Even people experienced in love can still find themselves wondering if they’re “doing it right.”
Mellencamp released this tune during his “John Cougar” days. He wanted to create a song with an R&B feel to it. That sound comes across in this piece, aided by a drum track from an old Motown record.
Well, our hearts beat like thunder I don't know why they don't explode You got your hands in my back pockets And Sam Cooke's singin' on the radio
First Appearance: This song was included on Mellencamp’s fourth studio album release in 1980, Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did.
#5 Cherry Bomb
About the Song: Here we have a nostalgic song about younger days when dancing, loving, and hanging out were all you needed. As a teenager, John Mellencamp hung out at the Last Exit Teen Club, located in a church basement. In the song, Mellencamp changed the club name to Cherry Bomb.
When the single was released, it topped music charts in the US, Canada, and New Zealand.
That's when a sport was a sport And groovin' was groovin' And dancin' meant everything We were young, and we were improvin'
First Appearance: This international hit was released in 1987 on Mellencamp’s ninth studio album, The Lonesome Jubilee.
#4 Crumblin’ Down
About the Song: A lot of John Mellencamp’s songs touch on personal experiences either from his own life or those around him. Crumblin’ Down is a collaborative piece he wrote with his longtime writing partner George Green. The lyrics describe frustrations experienced in life, especially when it comes to other people’s opinions of you.
According to Mellencamp, it’s also a political song written during the Ronald Reagan administration. He saw the poor in America struggling when the walls were crumbling around them due to Reagan’s economic policies.
Some people ain't no damn good You can't trust 'em, you can't love em No good deed goes unpunished And I don't mind being their whipping boy I've had that pleasure for years and years
First Appearance: This song was included on Mellencamp’s seventh album Uh-Huh, released in 1983.
#3 Pink Houses
About the Song: Pink Houses seems to be a commentary on life in America. While some people strive to achieve what many would call success, others seem content with what little they may have. What appears insignificant to some, may be everything to someone else.
The song had been used by Senator John Edwards during his two presidential campaigns. Mellencamp also performed Pink Houses during the 2009 Obama Inauguration celebration at the Lincoln Memorial.
Aw, but ain't that America for you and me Ain't that America somethin' to see, baby Ain't that America home of the free, yeah Little pink houses for you and me
First Appearance: Pink Houses was included as a track on the 1983 album Uh-Huh.
#2 Hurts So Good
About the Song: This is a great rock song about getting older and thinking back to your younger days. Not exactly a nostalgia song, but rather one about accepting where you are as an adult. It also touches on the concept that as adults, we often come to learn that love “hurts so good.”
This song became a big hit when it was released, remaining on the Top 10 Billboard chart for 16 weeks. It also earned Mellencamp a Grammy Award in 1983 for Best Rock Vocal Performance.
When I was a young boy Said put away those young boy ways Now that I'm gettin' older, so much older I long for those young boy days
First Appearance: The song appeared for the first time in 1982 when it was included in Mellencamp’s fifth studio album American Fool.
#1 Jack and Diane
About the Song: John Mellencamp is known for his songs about growing up in small-town America. And Jack and Diane is a classic example of such a song. Listening to it, you can’t help but think back to your younger days when life seemed more carefree. The line “hold on to 16 as long as you can,” resonates in the hearts of most people who hear it.
A little-known fact about this song is when Mellencamp wrote it, he intended it to be about an interracial couple. Still being a rather controversial and taboo topic in 1982, his record company urged him to change the lyrics. Begrudgingly, John changed the lyrics to be better received by the general public at the time.
A little ditty 'bout Jack & Diane Two American kids growing up in the heart land Jack, he's gonna be a football star Diane's debutante, back seat of Jacky's car
First Appearance: Jack and Diane is a track on the 1982 album American Fool.
John Mellencamp’s Honorable Mention Song
We would be remiss to not mention John Mellencamp’s 1987 hit song Paper in Fire. This tune shows incredible maturity in his songwriting and musical style from his earlier songs. It has a southern rock sound and also includes an electric fiddle and accordion in the mix. It just barely missed making our top seven.
Which John Mellencamp Song is Your Favorite?
John Mellencamp seems to have a song suited for every musical taste. His lyrics are touchingly deep and often allow the listener to reminisce and feel as if the words are reflecting their own life. What do you think of our list? Are we missing your favorite John Mellencamp song?