“American Dream” (Chestnut Street Incident, 1976)
John Mellencamp’s debut, credited to his early punk nickname Johnny Cougar, was so hyped that there was no way it could possibly live up to expectations. Interspersed between some odd cover choices (Orbison and Elvis I get, but the Lovin’ Spoonful and The Stooges.) are his early stabs at songwriting, the best of which is the swaggering opener. Defined by his cocksure vocals and concrete details, “American Dream” introduces a young artist already staking his claim to small-town life as an inexhaustible subject.
“Rumbleseat” (Scarecrow, 1985)
One of the best and catchiest songs on Mellencamp’s best and catchiest album was never officially released as a single. Overshadowed by massive hits like “Lonely Ol’ Night” and “Rain On The Scarecrow,” “Rumbleseat” is a hopeful account of life lived far away from any city, as Mellencamp turns the fold-out backseat common to so many hot rods and jalopies into a metaphor about class and freedom. “I’ll be riding high with my feet kicked up in that rumbleseat,” he exclaims. The song is a fine showcase for Mellencamp’s crack band — in particular, superdrummer Kenny Aronoff and Toby Myers, who make the song swing.
“Deep Blue Heart” (Cuttin’ Heads, 2001)
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