You don’t have to be so exciting: the best of John Mellencamp

When starting this list I thought I’d trouble extending past ten songs; then I looked at the titles on Whenever We Wanted and a couple of those late nineties records that actually charted well — as late as 1996! Who was his record company paying off? I actually heard “Key West Intermezzo,” pompous name and all, on heavy rotation that fall.

The former Johnny Cougar can be proud, though. With the exception of Springsteen, he outsold every heartland rocker in the eighties and well into the new decade. Tom Petty and Bob Seger didn’t score as many top ten hits, nor did they record an album that became such a part of the subcultural conversation as 1985’s Scarecrow did. It’s hard to remember how much MTV loved Mellencamp through the grunge era. Credit to Mellencamp’s band. “Rangy” is the adjective: lean, thin, powered by Kenny Aronoff, which should stop the conversation. Conventional wisdom says he improved; I say he was fully formed from the “I Need a Lover” daze, and the more seriously he took his considerable songwriting skills the more he overlooked his band, without whom his considerable songwriting skills mean shit.

1. Hurts So Good
2. Get a Leg Up
3. Rain in the Scarecrow
4. Jack and Diane
5. Paper in Fire
6. Jackie Brown
7. Wild Nights w/Meshell Ndgeocello
8. Check It Out
9. Rumbleseat
10. Play Guitar
11. Ain’t Even Done with the Night
12. Again Tonight
13. Human Wheels
14. I Need a Lover
15. Justice and Independence ’85
16. Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)
17. Troubled Man
18. Hand to Hold On To
19. Lonely Ol’ Night
20. Minutes to Memories

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