John Cougar Mellencamp was a pop sensation in the 1980s and is known as one of rock’s most enduring acts.
In Mellencamp's early career, he recorded several demos of his songs and eventually moved to New York City to launch his career. In 1976, he landed a manager, Tony DeFries, who worked with the likes of David Bowie. DeFries decided to change Mellencamp’s last name to Cougar, believing that it make him more appealing to the record-buying public. Mellencamp was not pleased with this decision and would later return to his birth name.
After losing his original manager and being dropped from his record label, Mellencamp’s fortunes soon improved. In 1979, he had his first hit, “I Need a Lover,” off his John Cougar album released that year. His next effort, Nothing Matters and What If It Did had two successful singles, “This Time” and “Ain’t Even Done With the Night.”
Mellencamp’s biggest career breakthrough came in 1982 with the chart-topping album American Fool. His ode to a young couple in middle America, “Jack and Diane,” reached the top of the pop charts. For “Hurts So Good,” another hit from the album, Mellencamp won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance.
The following year, Mellencamp had another hit with Uh-Huh. The album had three successful singles, “Crumblin’ Down,” “Pink Houses” and “Authority Song.” After years of being panned by critics, Mellencamp started to win them over with such recordings as Scarecrow. The plight of the family farmer was a subject especially close to his heart, having been one of the co-founders of Farm Aid, an organization dedicated to supporting American family farms. Working with Willie Nelson and Neil Young, Mellencamp helped organize the first Farm Aid concert in 1985 and has worked actively on the charity’s behalf ever since.
Mellencamp continued to mature as an artist with his next recording, The Lonesome Jubilee, which featured some experimentation with a more folk rock sound. Three tracks from the album—“Paper in Fire,” “Cherry Bomb,” and “Check It Out”—reached the top 20 of the pop charts.
With Dance Naked, Mellencamp made a triumphant return to the pop singles charts with a duet with Meshell Ndegéocello. Their hit, “Wild Night,” was a cover of a song by Van Morrison. That same year, Mellencamp had to cancel his tour plans after suffering a heart attack. This health crisis led to some changes in his lifestyle.
Trying out some hip-hop beats, Mellencamp worked with dance music producer Junior Vasquez on Mr. Happy Go Lucky. He later experimented with the blues for 2003’s Trouble No More.
After a few years away from the recording studio, Mellencamp returned with Freedom’s Road, which reached as high as No. 5 on the album charts.
In 2008, Mellencamp was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His 2008 album, Life, Death, Love and Freedom, was released to stellar reviews and a strong showing on the album charts.
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