Our top 10 John Mellencamp albums list takes a look at one of our favorite rock and roll artists of the past 45 years. John Mellencamp stands as one of the most successful solo artist in classic rock history. The man arrived on the scene in 1979 releasing his first heavily promoted major label album entitled John Cougar. John Mellencamp had previously released two weak albums entitled Chestnut Street Incident in 1976 on MCA records and Biography on Riva records in 1978. At the time Bruce Springsteen was one of the most popular artists in rock and roll. Countless singers and songwriters were inspired by him. Record companies were looking for the next Bruce Springsteen. It was easy to tell that John Mellencamp had been inspired by Bruce Springsteen. Just look at the title of his first album Chestnut Street Incident a title clearly resembling Bruce Springsteen’s “Incident on 57th Street,” song. And it wasn’t just song titles or album titles, we could easily hear that John Mellencamp was copying Bruce Springsteen in every area. But so were so many other artists at the time
The big difference between Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp was where they were both from. Bruce Springsteen was an East Coast New Jersey guy. John Mellencamp was from the heartland. Eventually it would be John Mellencamp’s decision to really find his own voice in where he was from which eventually separated him from the rest of the Bruce Springsteen imitators. It wasn’t until his third album or at least his third official album American Fool that John Mellencamp escaped the shadow of Bruce Springsteen in creating his own basic rock and roll sound.
John Mellencamp had a series of hit albums in the early 80s and created a great rock and roll sound based on pop rock songs that many people could relate to. In 1985, it was clear that Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 Born In The U.S.A. album inspired John Mellencamp to turn political himself. Scarecrow though was different from Born In The U.S.A. Scarecrow began John Mellencamp endearment to the plight of the American Farmer and the middle class. It was more narrowly focused on certain groups of people then Born In The U.S.A. which seemed to be focused on the Nation in general. It worked magnificently for John Mellencamp as critics and fans loved the album. John Mellencamp followed up Scarecrow with another brilliant socially charged album in The Lonesome Jubilee in 1987.
John Mellencamp followed up The Lonesome Jubilee two years later with the Big Daddy album 1989. That album was followed up by one of our favorite John Mellencamp albums of all time entitled Whenever We Wanted in 1991. A record that rock harder than any other John Mellencamp album ever released. In an era where grunge was taking over, Whenever We Wanted stood up pretty well to bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. It had the same edge as those albums that those bands were putting out although not as dark and not as depressing.
John Mellencamp would continue to release albums on a pretty steady basis throughout the 1990s. In 1993 he released the album Human Wheels which really stood out as his last successful commercial album. That album was followed up by Dance Naked in 1994 which featured the hit single “Wild Night,” which was a remake of the famous Van Morrison song. In 1996, John Mellencamp released the album Mister Happy Go-Lucky which found success in the single “Key West Intermezzo. “An album simply entitled John Mellencamp which sood as his 15th album was released in October of 1998.
In 1999, John Mellencamp released an album that was pretty much a collection of outtakes and alternate arrangements entitled Rough Harvest. John Mellencamp’s first album of the twenty-first century was released in 2001 entitled Cutting Heads. The album contained the great song “Peaceful World.” which is a duet with India Arie. His next album was entitled Trouble No More which was released in 2003 and basically was a covers album. John Mellencamp returned to politics and social issues in 2007 with the album Freedom Road which contained the song “Our Country,” which was used to sell Chevrolet trucks. An offer that Bruce Springsteen had turned down almost twenty years earlier when Chevrolet offered to pay big money to Bruce Springsteen use his song “Born in the U.S.A. to sell Chevrolet trucks in 1984. Nonetheless, times have changed and the popularity of the song “Our Country,” used in those Chevrolet commercials actually helped John Mellencamp sell some albums. Additionally no one’s really buying albums anymore so you can’t blame anyone for trying to make some money on the music.
John Mellencamp continue to release a steady flow of albums in the 2000s. One year after he released Freedom’s Road in 2007, John Mellencamp returnED with the album Life, Death, Love and Freedom in 2008. Two years later he released the album No Better Than This. In 2014, John Mellencamp released his 22nd studio album entitled Plain Spoken. His final album as of this writing so far in 2021 was the album called Sad Clowns & Hillbillies which was released in 2017.
With a twenty studio albums to his credit we had to be pretty choosy with which ten albums to pick for our top 10 John Mellencamp albums list. It wasn’t easy to do. We tended to focus mostly on his earlier albums which we spend a lot of time with in our youth. However many of the albums he released in a 2000 and 2010 were brilliant records that deserve repeated listens. We just don’t have enough room here to write about them. But we will get to them in one way or the other. We hope you enjoy our top 10 John Mellencamp albums list. This should bring back some great memories.
# 10 – Life, Death, Love and Freedom
We open our John Mellencamp albums list with the album Life, Death, Love and Freedom. This great album was released in 2008. It was produced by T-Bone Burnett. This was an album that John Mellencamp was very happy with stating that he believed it was one of the best albums he ever released during his career. Standout tracks on the album included the single “Troubled Land,” which made many best of lists. Also included in our picks was the album’s opening song “Longest Days,” and the great duet with Karen Fairchild entitled “A Ride Back Home.
# 9 – Mr. Happy Go Lucky
Continuing with our John Mellencamp albums list we turn to the great record Mr. Happy Go Lucky. The album was released in 1996 the album featured the hit single “Key West Intermezzo(I saw you first.),” This is probably a sentimental pick because we were happy to still have John Mellencamp around after he suffered a heart attack before this record was released two years earlier.
# 8 – Human Wheels
John Mellencamp’s Human Wheels album was released on September 7th 1993. The song featured the hit single “What If I Came Knocking,” which hit number one on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks. The second single entitled “Human Wheels,” hit number two on the Mainstream Rock tracks. However our favorite song from the album was the great track “When Jesus left Birmingham.” Human Wheels was a successful album on the US Billboard album charts where it became a top ten hit peaking at number seven.
# 7 – Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did
I’m almost 60 years old and yet I remember like it was yesterday buying this album when I was in high school. So of course there is sentiment in picking this one. I just fell in love with the song “Ain’t Even Done With The Night.” maybe it’s because it reminded me of Bruce Springsteen who I was a big fan of. I also really dug the album’s second single “This Time,”which I still believe is John Mellencampp’s most underrated single. It’s just a perfect pop song. There are many other great songs on the album including “Don’t Misunderstand Me,” “Make Me Feel, and side two opening track “To M.G” Will someone who’s never heard this album before in 2021 enjoy it? I don’t really know. But I think those of us who bought it when it first came out remember it fondly.
# 6 – John Cougar
After buying John Mellencamp’s album Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did, we all rushed out to buy his first one which was entitled John Cougar. This is the album that everybody feels is really John Mellencamp’s debut album. The album’s big hit was the track “I Need A Lover.” A song in which Pat Benatar also covered on her debut album in 1979. Most John Mellencamp fans fell in love with the album’s closing track “Taxi Dancer.”
# 5 – Uh-Huh
John Mellencamp’s 1983 album Uh-Huh served as the follow-up to his number one American Fool album released a year earlier. This is the transition album from John Mellencamp’s sparse rock and roll towards his more politically charged material that he would release two years later on the Scarecrow album. But for one more record John Mellencamp is going to have some fun. Uh-Huh contained three of his biggest hits of his career including the songs “Crumbling Down, Pink Houses and Authority Song,”
# 4 – Whenever We Wanted
Whenever We Wanted was one of John Mellencamp’s best sounding and hardest rocking albums. The record just hit you in the face from the album’s opening song all the way through the rest of album. The guitars sounded tight and fresh matched by a powerful rhythm section. The album was released on October 8th 1991. Four singles were released from the album including the very interesting lead single entitled “Get a Leg Up” which hit number one on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks charts. “Love and Happiness,” was another standout track.
# 3 – The Lonesome Jubilee
John Mellencamp’s album The Lonesome Jubilee served as the follow up album to his spectacular 1985 Scarecrow album. The Lonesome Jubilee album was released on August 24th 1987. It became a top 10 hit on the US Billboard top 200 charts peaking at number six. The album made heavy use of Lisa Germano on fiddle, Larry Crane playing mandolin and banjo while John Cascell played the accordion creating a sound that was very original and organic sounding. The album spawned some very big hits in the songs “Paper In Fire,” “Cherry Bomb,” “Check It Out,” and “Rooty Toot Toot.”
# 2 – Scarecrow
John Mellencamp’s Scarecrow was an album that we would have never expected from John Cougar. I don’t even think John Cougar expected to release an album like this. Yet John Mellencamp matured greatly over a very short period of time and released what many people believe was the album of his career. John Mellencamp’s Scarecrow album was released on August 5th 1985. It would become the second highest charting album of his career peaking at number two on the US Billboard top 200 albums charts.
Scarecrow has since sold 5 million copies alone in the United States. John Mellencamp was joined on the album by his longtime drummer Kenny Aronoff, Larry Crane on guitars Toby Myers on base and John Cascella playing the keyboards. Some fabulous guest appearances included Rickie Lee Jones on backing vocals on the song “Between A Laugh And A Tear,” and the legendary Ry Cooder to playing some slide guitar on the song “The Kind of Fella I Am.”
John Mellencamp’s Scarecrow album was fueled by the success of three hit singles that broke onto the Billboard Hot 100’s top 10. Both the songs “Lonely O’l Night,” and “Small Town,” hit number six on the Billboard Hot 100. The most famous song from the album entitled “R. O. C. K. In the U. S. A.” hit number two on the Billboard Hot 100.
# 1 – American Fool
We close out our John Mellencamp albums list with the legendary album American Fool. We placed this album in the number one spot for two huge reasons. The first reason being John Mellencamp’s only number one album on the US Billboard top 200 album charts. It also hit number one in Canada. The second reason is simply because it’s our favorite John Mellencamp album. How could an album that featured the songs “Hurts So Good,” “Jack and Diane,” “Dangerous,” “Thundering Gearts, and China girl not be your favorite John Mellencamp album. Just the song Jack and Diane home alone probably would have made this our favorite album.
All kidding aside this is the John Mellencamp album in which he just found his own original rock and roll voice. And it just works so perfectly. He didn’t sound like anyone else on this album. He sounded just like John Mellencamp we all love him for it. Drummer Kenny Aronoff is a monster on this record. The man really play the important role in The Sound of all the tracks. Additionally the great guitarist Mick Ronson appears on the record. John Mellencamp’s American Fool was the album that broken big time. The album was released on April 12th 1982.
Top 10 John Mellencamp Albums article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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