The Eighties Club
The Politics and Pop Culture of the 1980s
A Decade in the Life
of
John Cougar Mellencamp
Born 7 October 1951 in Seymour, Indiana, John Mellencamp was diagnosed with spina bifida, a birth defect corrected by surgery when he was six weeks old. As a teenager he was rebellious, and tended to get into trouble. At age 14 he formed his first band. At 17 he eloped with his pregnant girlfriend, Pricilla Esterline, and supported his family by working at odd jobs. When he was 24 he decided to move to New York City and try his luck in the music industry. Represented by Tony DeFries, David Bowie's manager, Mellencamp signed on with Mainman/MCA and recorded an album of cover tunes entitled Chestnut Street Incident -- only to learn after the record was finished that his name had been changed to Johnny Cougar. Two years later, Mellencamp signed with Riva Records and had his first Top 40 hit with "I Need A Lover" from the 1979 album Johnny Cougar. By the time the Eighties rolled around, Mellencamp was ready to break out of the Bruce Springsteen-clone role music execs had in mind for him, and would soar to superstardom on the strength of his own unique blend of pop, rock and folk music.


October 1980
Nothing Matters And What If It Did? peaks at US#37. The single "This Time" will climb to US#27 by December.
April 1982
As John Cougar, Mellencamp launches a major US tour, first in support of Heart and then as the headliner.
August 1982
"Hurts So Good," from the album American Fool, climbs to US#2, where it will remain for four weeks.
September 1982
American Fool tops the US album chart; "Jack And Diane" moves into the Top Ten, where "Hurts So Good" still resides, making Mellencamp the first male artist to have two Top Ten singles and the #1 album simultaneously. American Fool remains at the top for nine weeks, sells three million copies, and becomes the bestselling album of the year. (In 1996, the RIAA will certify that the album has sold five million copies.) In October, "Jack And Diane" reaches #1 on Billboard's Top 100, and stays there for four weeks.
January 1983
"Hard To Hold On To" peaks at US#9. Mellencamp wins Favorite Male Artist, Pop/Rock at the Tenth Annual American Music Awards. He wins a Grammy for Best Male Rock Performer ("Hurts So Good"), a Billboard Award as No. 1 Top Pop Singles Artist, and will also receive Cash Box Awards as 1982 Artist of the Year, #1 Male Pop Album Artist and No. 1 Male Pop Singles Artist.
November 1983
Officially changing his name to John Cougar Mellencamp, his album Uh-Huh climbs to US#9, while "Crumblin' Down" goes to US#9 on the singles chart. (He will drop "Cougar" from his name in 1991.)
February 1984
"Pink Houses" hits US#8.
May 1984
"Authority Song" peaks at US#15.
July 1984
Warner Bros. shows interest in a screenplay Mellencamp pens, entitled Ridin' The Cage. He produces Never Kick A Sleeping Dog, Mitch Ryder's comeback album.
September 1985
With Neil Young and Willie Nelson, Mellencamp organizes the first Farm Aid concert, held in Champaign, IL. The single "Lonely Ol' Night" is on its way to US#9.
November 1985
Recorded in Mellencamp's new studio, Scarecrow soars to US#2. It will sell three million copies in America. The single "Small Town" will climb to US#6 the following month.
April 1986
"R.O.C.K. in the USA" makes it to US#2.
June 1986
"Rain On The Scarecrow" stalls at US#21.
July 1986
Mellencamp performs at Farm Aid II, held at Manor Downs in Austin, TX.
September 1987
Mellencamp appears at Farm Aid III at the University of Nebraska's Memorial Stadium.
October 1987
The Lonesome Jubilee, Mellencamp's first album for Mercury, climbs to US#6 and UK#31. The single "Paper In Fire" makes it to US#9.
December 1987
Mellencamp performs "I Saw Mama Kissing Santa Claus" on the Special Olympics album, A Very Special Christmas. He also performs two free concerts at Chillicothe, OH.
January 1988
"Cherry Bomb" peaks at US#8 while Mellencamp goes to London to play at London's Hammersmith Odeon.
April 1988
"Check It Out" reaches US#14.
August 1988
After eight years of marriage, Mellencamp's second wife, Victoria, files for divorce. Mellencamp becomes a grandfather at age 37 when daughter Michelle, 18, gives birth to a baby girl.
November 1988
Mellencamp directs the video for Bob Dylan's "Political World."
May 1989
Big Daddy reaches UK#25; the following month it will peak at US#7. The single "Pop Singer" reaches US#15.


Nothin' Matters and What if It Did? (Riva, 1981)
Hot Night In A Cold Town
Ain't Even Done With The Night
Don't Misunderstand Me
This Time
Make Me Feel
To M.G. (Wherever She May Be)
Tonight
Wild Angel
Cheap Shot

"The late Seventies saw the search for 'The New Springsteen' take on Grail-like proportions. A strong contender must be John Cougar, not because of his musical or lyrical originality, but simply by his comprehensive assimilation of Springsteen's hallmarks."
Melody Maker

American Fool (Riva, 1982)
Hurts So Good
Jack & Diane
Hand To Hold On To
Danger List
Can You Take It
Thundering Hearts
China Girl
Close Enough
Weakest Moments

"Cougar's pop sensibility keeps it from being as pretentious as it could be. Too bad his likeability is repeatedly stomped on by cliches. As a whole, not so much a total bomb as another filler-heavy, predictable effort by a guy who can give at least a little bit more."
Creem

Uh-Huh (Riva, 1983)
Crumblin' Down
Pink Houses
Authority Song
Warmer Place To Sleep
Jackie O
Play Guitar
Serious Business
Lovin' Mother For Ya
Golden Gates

"Has the unsmudged force of modern sound around the snort of Cougar's superb band brawling through a rock'n'roll funhouse that everyone else has deserted."
NME

Scarecrow (Riva, 1985)
Rain On The Scarecrow
Grandma's Theme
Small Town
Minutes To Memories
Lonely Ol' Night
The Face Of The Nation
Justice And Independence '85
Between A Laugh And A Tear
Rumbleseat
You've Got To Stand For Something
R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A
The Kind Of Fella I Am

"Scarecrow consolidated the band's rugged, roots-rock thrash and the ongoing maturation of Mellencamp's lyrics. The album is largely about dreams and illusions in America and how the essential character of the nation was being twisted in a government-supported climate of corporate greed."
Rolling Stone

The Lonesome Jubilee (Mercury, 1987)
Paper In Fire
Down And Out In Paradise
Check It Out
The Real Life
Cherry Bomb
We Are The People
Empty Hands
Hard Times For An Honest Man
Hotdogs And Hamburger
Rooty Toot Toot

"Lonesome Jubilee uses fiddles and accordions to illustrate bleak portraits of America in recession."
The Virgin Encyclopedia of Eighties Music

"Song for song, The Lonesome Jubilee is Mellencamp's strongest album, the record where he captured his romantic, if decidedly melancholy, vision of working-class America."
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, AMG

Big Daddy (Mercury, 1989)
Big Daddy Of Them All
To Live
Martha Say
Theo And Weird Henry
Jackie Brown
Pop Singer
Void In My Heart
Mansions In Heaven
Sometimes A Great Notion
Country Gentleman
J.M.'s Question
Let It All Hang Out

"Continuing with the folk inclinations of The Lonesome Jubilee, John Mellencamp recorded his most ambitious and serious-minded album with Big Daddy."
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, AMG


After a sound system breakdown delayed a 1985 concert at Madison Square Garden, Mellencamp played for two hours and then offered a refund to anyone with a ticket stub.

In 1990, Mellencamp made his screen debut (as a singer) in Souvenirs. He would also appear in Falling From Grace (1992), a film he directed, and penned three new songs for the movie soundtrack.

In September 1992, Mellencamp married model Elaine Irwin, who had appeared in his "Get A Leg Up" video.

Mellencamp suffered a mild heart attack following a 1994 concert in Wantagh, NY. Diagnosed with a clogged artery, he had to cancel the rest of the tour.

In 1996, the artist dedicated the John Mellencamp Pavilion at Indiana University, having provided $1.5 million of the building's cost.

An art book featuring 75 oils painted by Mellencamp was published by HarperCollins in 1998.