Musician Review: John Mellencamp

I first heard of John Mellencamp back in the mid-1980s, when he was still recording under the name John Cougar Melencamp.  The first song I heard by him that grabbed me with “Paper in Fire,” from his 1987 album, The Lonesome Jubilee.  The next song I heard was “Cherry Bomb,” which I liked at the time.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I can enjoy “Cherry Bomb” even more, simply due to the fact that I can better understand the nostalgia factor of the song.  The next single from the album was “Check it Out,” and admittedly, I didn’t care much for the song at the time.  I like it a little better now, but it’s still not one of my all-time favorite John Mellencamp songs.

During the time that “Paper in Fire” was on the charts, I started getting some exposure to some of his older material that was getting recurrent play on the radio and on MTV.  I probably did hear some of it at the time it was originally released, but it didn’t make much of an impression on me at the time.  These songs included: “Jack and Diane,” “Hurts So Good,” “Pink Houses,” “SmallTown,” and “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.”  I would later hear “I Need a Lover” in the mid-1990s.  What seemed to attract me to most of these songs was the simplicity of the musical arrangements.  Many of these songs have a nostalgic theme to them, and this nostalgic theme is better suited with a simpler arrangement.

In 1989, John released his next album, Big Daddy.  The lead-off single was “Pop Singer,” and it’s one of John’s songs that I really do not like.  I’m sure that the music video for this song never really helped my opinion of it.  To me, “Pop Singer” just isn’t one of John’s stronger songs.  This was followed by the single, “Jackie Brown,” which returned to the more simple arrangements that I was used to hearing.  Also, the topic of “Jackie Brown” is much more relatable to a listener than the topic of “Pop Singer.”

In 1991, John Cougar Mellencamp started recording under the name John Mellencamp, and released the album Whenever We Wanted.  I never cared much for the lead-off single, “Get a Leg Up.”  The follow-up single, “Again Tonight,” was a better song, in my opinion.  In 1993, John Mellencamp released the album, Human Wheels, and the biggest single was the title song.  I actually liked this song a lot; in my opinion, it was one of John’s strongest songs since “Paper in Fire” and “Cherry Bomb.”  In 1994, John released the Dance Naked album.  The lead-off single was a cover of Van Morrison’s “Wild Night,” which was done as a duet with Me’shell NdegeOcello.  While this song got way too much airplay at the time, and I got rather sick of it, it’s actually a very well done cover.  Once the airplay for the song died down and I didn’t hear it as much anymore, I really came to appreciate it.  I really didn’t like “Dance Naked,” which was the next single; personally, I thought it was rather boring.

In 1996, John Mellencamp released the album Mr. Happy Go Lucky.  The lead-off single was “Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First).”  In some respects, it was a different sound for John, but it still had the simplistic sound that John is able to pull off.  “Just Another Day,” the follow-up single, isn’t a bad song.  It’s actually an enjoyable listen, but I don’t think it’s quite as strong as “Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First).”

The last album I really know anything about is John’s 1998 self-titled release.  I remember hearing the song “Your Life is Now,” but in the long run, it didn’t leave much of an impression.  The only other thing I know about him is the Words & Music greatest hits album he released in 2004, and the new song, “Walk Tall.”  Overall, I have to say that “Walk Tall” didn’t leave a lasting impression with me.

I think John Mellencamp was at his best musically in the early-to-mid 1980s.  That was definitely the era when he was the most popular; if you ask people to name one of his song, they’re likely to give a title from this era, with the main exception being 1994’s “Wild Night.”  I think John Mellencamp is a talented musician and songwriter, but it seems he’s moved in a direction musically that I’m just not that personally interested in.


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