The United States recession in the early eighties shaped the lyrical content of albums like Scarecrow and The Lonesome Jubilee which are considered by many to be Mellencamp’s best work. Over time, Mellencamp’s involvement with Farm Aid helped endear him to the heartland of America. Mellencamp has continued to release albums of substance and soul over the course of a forty-year career. He was recently called an “old school cowboy,” by his close friend Christie Brinkley. In essence, that perfectly described Mellencamp. He has been an artist that has defined the mainland of the United States. He has written about poverty, desperation and forgiveness across all racial lines. And he has also written some simple fun kicking rock and roll tunes. These are not his ten best songs, these are simply ten Mellencamp songs that we have chosen as a representation of his brilliant career.
# 10 – I Need A Lover
John Mellencamp’s single “I need A Lover,” appeared on the singer’s first U.S official released album entitled John Cougar. That record was released in 1979. Mellencamp had already released two other albums on independent labels (Chestnut Street Incident, and A Biography) that had seen limited release until Mellencamp had become a household name As most Mellencamp fans already know, the song” I need A Lover,” was a bigger hit for Pat Benatar than Mellencamp. However, John Mellencamp’s version included a pretty exciting extended instrumental introduction before the vocals set in.
# 9 – Paper In Fire
John Mellencamp’s 1987 album The Lonesome Jubilee was the follow-up record to his ground breaking 1985 album Scarecrow. The maturity Mellencamp discovered on Scarecrow blossomed even further on the Lonesome Jubilee record. The musical growth was evident instantly on the album’s opening track “Paper In Fire.” Lisa Germano’s electric fiddle groove, and John Cascella’s accordion, created a fresh sound that resonated throughout the record.
# 8 – Rain On The Scarecrow
John Mellencamp’s 1985 Scarecrow album was a complete departure from Mellencamp’s previous 1980’s rock records. The social issues that Bruce Springsteen formulated on 1984’s Born In The U.S.A may have served as an inspirational template for the Scarecrow record. Many artists were inspired by Springsteen’s work and Mellencamp’s topical shift seemed to be more than just a coincidence. But that being said, Mellencamp created a sound on the Scarecrow album that would alter the curse of his career and establish himself as one of the strongest advocates for the rescue of the American Farmer. “Rain on the Scarecrow,” was the opening track and set the tone for an album’s worth of the deepest material John Mellencamp had written at that point in his career.
# 7 – Peaceful World
The great soulful groove oriented track “Peaceful World,” was released on John Mellencamp’s 2001 album Cutting Heads. The songs featured a Mellencamp duet with Inida Arie.Drummer Steve Jordan contributes immensely to the track. Jordan’s signature loud snare drum becomes the driving force behind the songs soulful groove.
# 6 – Our Country
Many rock fans argue that rock music deserves no place in commercial advertisements. However the placement of Mellencamp’s “Our Country,” was done very tastefully. In an era in which radio began to ignore rock music, the placement of “Our Country,” in an automobile commercial helped Mellencamp reach an a much larger audience than ever would have been possible. That’s a good thing, because “Our County,” is one of the most heartwarming patriotic songs ever written.
# 5 – Love and Happiness
The great song Love and Happiness was released on John Mellencamp’s 1991 album, Whenever We Wanted. The album is probably the most underrated record of John Mellencamp’s career. It is easily the hardest rocking record the singer has ever done. While Get a Leg Up was the hit, we have always loved the great guitar work on the album’s opening cut “Love and Happiness.”
# 4 – Small Town
No song has ever depicted the pride of those who grew up in middle America like Mellencamp’s “Small Town.” John Mellencamp who was raised in Indiana set the bar for hometown feel good songs when he released Small Town in 1985 on the Scarecrow album. The song “Small Town,” was a huge hit for the artist as it reached the Number six position on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1985.
# 3 – Jack & Diane
If we were to come up with a list of the top 10 most memorable guitar hooks in rock music history, Jack & Diane would easily make the cut. Not much to say about this one, because the song simply speaks for itself. A brilliant recording that was released on Mellencamp’ breakout album American Fool in 1983. Jack & Diane was also one of the most played videos on MTV in the early 1980’s.
# 2 – Hurt So Good
With the release of “Hurts So Good,” in 1983, John Mellencamp finally found his voice. After struggling over the course of his first two albums to distance himself from the shadows of Springsteen, Mellencamp turned to straight ahead rock and roll with a dirty mid-western accent that proved enormously successful. What can’t be lost is the contributions of drummer Kenny Aronoff. Rock and roll is all about groove and great drummers. Kenny Aronoff’s playing proved to be an essential element in the development of the John Mellencamp sound.
# 1 – Pink Houses
Any one of the songs in our Top 10 John Mellencamp Songs list could have landed at the No.1 spot. An truthfully there are a few dozen more that we did not list that could have also landed in the No 1 spot. Mellencamp had delivered such an amazing body of work to his fans that it became very difficult to create this list. However, this is all in fun and in essence simply just a tribute to the man. The song “Pink Houses,” defines the essence of John Mellencamp. The song was released on his 1983 album Uh Huh! The song reached the Billboard Top 10 in 1984.
Updated Nov 10, 2020