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John Mellencamp

From Academic Kids

John Cougar Mellencamp (born October 7, 1951 in Seymour, Indiana) is an American singer and songwriter, known for a long and successful recording and performing career highlighted by a series of 1980s hits, including "Jack and Diane", and by his role in the Farm Aid charity event.

Mellencamp who has spina bifida, had a troubled childhood marked by several brushes with the law. He eloped with his pregnant girlfriend at seventeen and began performing with a band the following year.

At age 24, Mellencamp, determined to break into the music business, moved to New York City and signed on with agent Tony DeFries (at the time well-known for representing David Bowie). DeFries insisted that Mellencamp's first album, Chestnut Street Incident, a collection of covers and derivative originals, be released under the stage name Johnny Cougar, a move Mellencamp claims was made without his knowledge and against his will. The album was a failure, and Mellencamp lost his contract with MCA Records.

He signed to the tiny Riva Records label and recorded 1978's A Biography, unreleased in the US, but which yielded a hit in Australia ("I Need A Lover"). Riva added this song to the next album, John Cougar (1979) to minor success. Female rocker Pat Benatar recorded "I Need a Lover" and released the song as a single from her debut album In the Heat of the Night.

After one more album with Riva, Mellencamp signed with Mercury Records and released his breakthrough album, American Fool, in 1982 (see 1982 in music). The hit singles "Hurt So Good" and "Jack and Diane" sent the album to the top of the charts (the former being an unlikely radio hit with its lyrics referring to S&M).

With a major hit under his belt, Mellencamp insisted on changing his billing to John Cougar Mellencamp (compromising by keeping the stage name as well as his true last name) for the 1983 follow-up, Uh-Huh, which was another top-10 hit and spawned several hit singles, including the vivid Americana of "Pink Houses". Despite his popular success, Mellencamp fared less well with critics who tended to view him as a derivative heartland rocker in the mold of Bob Seger.

He rectified this in some quarters with the release of Scarecrow in 1985. The album's lyrics were socially aware, with several songs focusing on the plight of the American family farmer, and Mellencamp soon helped organize Farm Aid with Willie Nelson. Mellencamp, now fully asserting his power as a hitmaker, changed his billing to simply John Mellencamp and made waves by refusing to allow alcohol or tobacco companies to sponsor his tours.

His following LP, 1987's The Lonesome Jubilee was departure from his earlier material; it incorporated country and folk influences (see 1987 in music). It generated several more hit singles, including "Paper in Fire" and "Cherry Bomb". By 1993's (1993 in music) Human Wheels, Mellencamp's critical reception was solid and Dance Naked (1994 in music) spawned his biggest hit in years, "Wild Night" (a cover of Van Morrison's song, in the form of a duet with Me'Shell NdegeOcello).

After a 1994 heart attack, Mellencamp returned with Mr. Happy Go Lucky which blended heavier dance rhythms with his now signature folk-rock style with the aid of dance producer Junior Vasquez.

Mellencamp left Mercury after the 1994 disc. Issued a day before his 47th birthday in 1998, his self-titled debut for Columbia Records included the songs "Your Life is Now" and "I'm Not Running Anymore".

In 1999 Mellencamp covered his own tunes as well as those by Bob Dylan and the Drifters for his album Rough Harvest, one of two albums he owed Mercury Records to fulfill his contract (the other was The Best That I Could Do, a best-of collection) (1999 in music).

The early 21st century (e.g. 2001 in music) found Mellencamp teaming up with artists such Chuck D and India.Arie to deliver a more laid back record with Cuttin' Heads, spawning the single "Peaceful World". Audiences would associate this song with the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, although it had been written beforehand.

Trouble No More followed in mid-2003 (2003 in music), a quickly-recorded collection of rootsy bluesy covers of artists such as Robert Johnson and Lucinda Williams.

Mellencamp's sound is cited as a major influence by fellow midwesterners Sheryl Crow, Garth Brooks, Joan Osborne, and Kid Rock.

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