That’s quite a legacy for a man whose first album was released (without his knowledge) under the name Johnny Cougar, sold just over 10,000 copies, and prompted his label to drop him.
In response, Mellencamp delivered a follow-up album that he recorded in just two weeks, with few instruments and little attention to the production. You want the format, he was saying, I’ll give you the format. That album was 1984’s Dance Naked.
But John Mellencamp has carved out quite the career in the four decades since his debut. In fact, he’s released five more albums than Springsteen in three fewer years, and spanned a variety of styles along the way.
He was unhappy with the suits’ lukewarm response to his previous album, the excellent Human Wheels, so he aimed to deliver the sort of mindless rock-n-roll record they preferred.
John Mellencamp released 1993’s Human Wheels 17 years into his successful career. It’s been 22 years since. I’m a casual Mellencamp fan at best, but from a distance I view this record as a turning point for him.
He had certainly released his share of hits before Human Wheels. In fact, the seven albums prior to this one went platinum, and five of them went 3x or 5x platinum. But the songwriting and production on this record was on a different level, or at least a level that more directly connected with me.