Fan Blogs His Favorite 10 JM Songs: What Do You Think?

Connecticut-based music blogger Errol Ame showed a true fan's understanding and appreciation of John’s work in his “TOP TEN” post, which was inspired by his random ipod shuffle-play of “Rodeo Clown.”

In a lengthy and personal reflection, Errol revisits his initiation to John’s work via “I Need a Lover”—which he first heard when he was a junior in high school—and “Hurts So Good.” He's particularly appealing when he reveals his sense of letdown when John accepted a major music industry award in the early 1980s in a white T-shirt (it was a black-tie event!) and said "something to the effect of 'I know you you people think I’m stupid but thanks anyway'" before walking off and robbing Errol of a coveted chance to impress his parents with his music taste.

Errol also cites another parents-annoying Mellencamp Moment in John's memorable Thanksgiving, 1987 concert in New York at Madison Square Garden. "Now I remember feeling uneasy about telling my parents that I was going to a concert on Thanksgiving but I had to go," he writes. "As it turns out, I went with a whole bunch of people including many of the people I worked with in Dan’s supermarket including Mary, Audrey and my best man John. We had a blast and Mr. Mellencamp put on a fantastic show."

I can vouch for Errol's credibility, as I, too, was at the show, and it indeed was fantastic. As for his "Top Ten" song choices, well, you pick 'em. He had my favorite "Minutes to Memories" at No. 7, and if he wants to put "Cherry Bomb" up at the top ("This is the perfect sing-along song that I think was ever created"), that's all right by me.

Click HERE to read Errol's complete list.

--jim bessman


This week’s I-Pod shuffle landed on “Rodeo Clown” by Mr. John Mellencamp and it put me on the track of trying to come up with my favorite songs from this talented guy from Bloomington Indiana. This man’s career has now entered its fifth decade and he has shown no sign that he will ever stop doing what he loves best-writing songs that matter deeply to him. I think John has come to a point in his career where he will do what he wants to record and if people buy it-fine, but if they don’t purchase it-that’s fine as well. Now if one were filming a movie about becoming a “rock” star, is there any better choice to follow the life and times of John Mellencamp? It’s a Cinderella story whereby the record companies/or “suits” played the mean step-mother, forcing John to use “Cougar” as a last name because that was the “cool” thing to do but in the end it is John drinking champagne from that glass slipper. But what happened in between that time was a massive explosion of force, swagger, revolt and good old home town cooking that catapulted him to stardom on his own merits where by just like a snake sheds its skin, he left the Cougar behind him and ultimately battered down the doors of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as John Mellencamp. And oh by the way, contrary to his outward appearances, I believe he had fun along the way.

I remember hearing “I Need a Lover” for the first time and wondering who this rocker that I need to know is. It was my junior year in high school, I was knee deep into Van Halen while trying to soak in all the cool rock & roll that I could find and in walked this guy named John Cougar. During the same time, Pat Benatar had the same song out but I was always partial to John’s version-mainly because of the very awesome rocking introduction to the song which lasts two minutes and thirty seconds. Then when I heard-“Hurts So Good”- I was hooked on to the bandwagon and followed his career through most of the 1980’s as he became a favorite of mine. I clearly remember watching a music award show with my parents back in the early 1980’s (not sure which one-Grammy’s or American Music Awards or “whatever”) with “visions of grandeur” because John Cougar was nominated and in my mind-there was no way he was going to lose, so I finally could show my parents that our generation had its “Elvis”-Ok that is a little carried away-but you get the picture, right? Well here it is a “black-tie” event and the person reads his name as the winner-here it is-what I was waiting for all day and night- a great acceptance speech from one of my “idols” and my parents are going to see that I follow real cool artists. As the camera shows John making his way up to the stage I’m wondering where is his tuxedo? (Ok maybe not the rock and roll way, I get it but…). He comes up basically in a white T-shirt, walks up to the microphone and says something to the effect of “I know you people think I’m stupid but thanks anyway” and walks off the stage. What?…What just happened?…. Did I just get punched in the face? I didn’t even look over to my dad as I knew there would be this scowl across his face that I was not about to live down. I arose from the couch and went straight to bed, full of the same “piss & vinegar” that John displayed to a national audience.

During the period from 1983- 1990, his albums became-“John Cougar Mellencamp”- and in my opinion he was at the height of his career during this time. I absolutely love “Uh-Huh” from top to bottom and what else can be said about “Scarecrow”-arguably the best album of the 1980’s decade. Then came my favorite-“Lonsome Jubilee”- released in August 1987 and at that time John had really let his hair down, no really I mean his hair was the longest it had ever been. Another thing I remember about Mr. Mellencamp was that during that year-1987-he had this huge tour and the only night he was playing Madison Square Garden was Thanksgiving night. Now I remember feeling uneasy about telling my parents that I was going to a concert on Thanksgiving but I had to go. As it turns out, I went with a whole bunch of people including many of the people I worked with in Dan’s supermarket including Mary, Audrey and my best man John. We had a blast and Mr. Mellencamp put on a fantastic show. As the 1990’s approached, I kind of followed the “hair bands” and then of course the “grunge” scene but always kept an eye out on his stuff. As he became older, his music, in my opinion, went in the right direction-like fine wine-it just gets better and he keeps evolving making him relevant still to this day. I recently saw John on an interview show with Michael Kay and to me his appearance is basically still the same-he seems to have just awakened from a sleep, his words can sometimes cut to the bone but again every once in a while there is a smile. His last album-“Life, Death, Love and Freedom”- was a dark gloomy work but after giving it some listen, it gets better. (T-Bone is the producer so you know there is no “Shiny Happy People” coming from him). Mr. Mellencamp has earned his way to the top of being mentioned as one of the all time American artists in the history of this country. (You see Mom & Dad, I was right..) He is a living legend and continues to raise awareness (with his lyrics) on bold topics, especially on race. He has been there (with Willie and friends) from the very beginning to “Aid” the American farmer and continues to do so. His library is so extensive and he has amassed many hits in the Top 40 (although recently he has said that he is through with being a “rock star” which is fine because is a “star” in his own right) and it is really hard to pinpoint ten songs but I will try. Here goes:

10. Down and Out in Paradise-When John has something to say, he says it and does not hold back. This is off of “Jubilee” when Ronald Reagan was the President and this song is a clear message that there was a whole segment of the population that was down and out while everyone else lived in “paradise.” Politics aside, this song has such a funky groove and makes parts of your body move that you never could. The “stop & go” bends and breaks through out this song is incredible and I can picture someone doing the “robot” dance to this track. By this album, the fiddle and other different “country music” instruments became part of his repertoire and it fit perfectly. Great song.

9. A Ride Back Home- This duet with Karen Fairchild (Little Big Town) is what I mean about how John has grown as an artist as this song only comes through his life experiences, this doesn’t appear on any of his first seven albums. Now if this reminds you of Robert Plant & Allison Krauss well you can thank Mr. T-Bone Burnett as he was the producer on “Life, Death, Love and Freedom.” John’s vocals are phenomenal and Karen’s voice is the perfect offset to his lower pitch. This is a song to sing around the camp fire. The video is very cool, it was shot in his hometown of Bloomington.

8. Love and Happiness- When John wants to “rock and roll” like the Stones (one of his biggest influences along with Dylan and Guthrie) he can make some of the best songs. This has the heaviest guitar work since his “Uh-huh” days but the really cool thing is the blazing trumpet solo in the middle of the song. It’s hard to avoid the hard hitting lyrics as John always seemed to stick up for the “middle” American people and the struggles they had/have. “…If you are a young couple today, forget about buying a house…” I believe he steers to the “left” so during his formative years he a lot to write about the “right” and his views on their policies.

7. Minutes to Memories- How great are the lyrics to this song? I love the line that states-“…He said an honest man’s pillow is his peace of mind…”This is song about life and how it comes at you whether you are ready or not. It tells a story of how an older man told him things but at the time he was too young and thought that he knew better than the old man. As they years went on and when he had his own son he realized that the old man was right and he was trying to convey that message to his son. “…You are young and you are the future…so suck it up and tough it out…and be the best you can…” Words to live by. Awesome song.

6. Rodeo Clown-This song used to pop up in my I-Pod shuffle a lot and it grew and grew on me and sure enough it became one of my all time favorite songs. I love the chorus and the music behind it sounds a lot like something that the Rolling Stones would perform-“…she changed direction with the gas fires burning…racing for protection, what could she possibly find…” This is a perfect song if you know people who can play the acoustic guitar, get a few of them, and sing this song around a camp fire as this is an addicting song complete with great musicianship. Think about a rodeo clown with red eyes? Seems to indicate that the clown should be happy and clear of any worries but the lyrics paint a very different story- it was written in 2007and again it seems he was tired of things going to the right.

5. The Americans-Being from the North East corner of the U.S. it’s hard for me (and I believe others) to relate to what the Mid-Westerner is going through when he or she is growing up but the one thing that is clear is that I can relate to the lyrics-“…I’m an American…I’m an American…I respect you and your point of view…” I love the part with about a minute and 25 seconds left when the drums are used as emphasis to the lyrics-“…they call me the land of opportunity…”-and when he says the word-“opportunity”- the drums give it that extra punch. This is another great song to sing around the campfire-love the way he sings-“and I wish-(but he pronounces it weee-sssh) you good luck with whatever you do…” It makes me want to play acoustic guitar right now.

4. Crumblin’ Down-When I first bought “Uh-huh”I remember being in my bedroom with the door closed and blasted this song as loud as I could. I wanted everyone to hear this very cool song. Talk about a rocking tune? In my opinion, this was the loud brash young Mellencamp that was there to tell you that he was coming to the party whether you like it or not. It has the “edge” that is needed to be a rocker-I know he doesn’t think of himself as a rocker now-but back then this was the “bomb.” (No not Cherry yet, that’s still to come). I use to mimic him in my bedroom and wanted that swagger that just surrounded him but I was always too nice, always doing the right thing and behaving-maybe that’s why I am drawn to rock and roll-because it takes me to places that I can dream about. You see what music does to me? This song is like getting a blood transfusion, it has to make you want to rock and roll. Love it.

3. Paper in Fire-I can’t think of a better song to start off the amazing “Lonesome Jubilee.” I remember when I first heard this song, it knocked me out. There is no other way to listen to this song but LOUD!!! “…she had a dream and boy it was a good one…so she chased after her dreams with much desire…”-and when the drums come in to accentuate “well her dreams burned up… like Paper in Fire…” This song is just too much for me to take; I have to keep hitting the rewind button and try to dance around in circles. Folks this is great stuff right here, doesn’t get much better than this. It has that “country” flavor as you can hear the fiddle but it also has this blast of rock and roll that has to get you to move. I can still remember the way he performed this at The Garden back in 1987 on Thanksgiving night-the band was jamming all over the place where it seemed all the musicians were doing their own thing but were playing together so naturally-this is one of the “tightest” songs you will ever hear. The musicians are working on all cylinders.

2. Pink Houses-This song will forever take me back to “The Record Store” on 86st street in Bay Ridge Brooklyn. Every time I hear the opening notes, I think back to the salesman on the floor who was dancing around the place like there was no one else in the store. He told everyone in the store that the album had just come out and at that moment I was blown away on how great this song sounded blasting throughout the entire place (and if you remember that store, it was pretty big with tons of albums-I wonder what they did with all those albums when they closed-I wish that store was still there). I immediately purchased the album right on the spot, and headed right home to do my own dancing around my room as I had it just as loud as that guy in the store. This is pure perfection folks.

1. Cherry Bomb-This is the perfect sing along song that I think was ever created. It is impossible not to sing along with John as he belts out the story of “yesteryear” and how quickly life goes by and how we all now say “do you remember when?” Believe you me-all you youngsters out there with soon enough be in the same club-“The Cherry Bomb.” I can remember like it was yesterday how we all loved to hang out in Brooklyn on 3rd avenue in Bay Ridge as we all “hit the clubs” and our favorite “watering holes.” We should have a reunion. Those were the days. Now fast forward to today and I have teenage boys-whew where has the time gone? “…17 has turned 35…I’m still surprised we’re still living…got a few kids of my own…”And I agree with John-I hope my kids are not laughing too hard when they hear me talking like this to you.