Going strictly by the numbers, ‘Small Town’ is tied for John Mellencamp’s fifth-biggest hit.
The first is 1982’s ‘Jack & Diane,’ his only song to reach #1 on the Billboard charts. ‘Hurts So Good,’ from the same album (American Fool) reached #2. The amusingly titled ‘R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. (A Salute to 60s Rock),' from 1985's Scarecrow, made it to #2 as well.
Mellencamp’s Van Morrison cover ‘Wild Night,’ a duet with Me’Shell Ndegéocello, made it to #3 in 1994.
Following his record label’s tepid reaction to what might be his best album, 1993’s Human Wheels, John Mellencamp decided to go in a different direction.
1994’s Dance Naked is a bare-bones rock record. Recorded over two weeks, with most of its songs captured in one or two takes, its best-known track is a cover of the Van Morrison song ‘Wild Nights.’
John Mellencamp’s Human Wheels, my #3 album of 1993, was the roots rocker’s 12th studio release. And he’s recorded 12 more since, during a career that has now spanned more than 40 years.
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.
John Mellencamp released my favorite of his albums, Human Wheels, in 1983. Despite that record’s excellence, his label was reportedly unhappy with the result because it didn’t “fit the format.”
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.
At first blush, today’s Montauk Madness matchup has a student vs. master dynamic. Early in his career, John Cougar was viewed as a poor man’s Bruce Springsteen.
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.