Rolling Stone Magazine: John Mellencamp Digs Through His Archives for New Box Set

By David Browne - Article photo by Kurt Markus

John Mellencamp admits he wasn't stoked about compiling On the Rural Route 7609, his new four-disc retrospective. "I didn't have any interest in doing a box set - I know what happens with them," he says, "You go to the hits and you skip the rest." But the rocker saw an opportunity to turn casual fans on to his deep cuts - so each disc intersperses hits with lesser-known album tracks in non-chronological order. "People will discover that I have songs besides 'Pink Houses,'" he says. But it's not like Mellencamp, 58, is living in the past: In August, he'll release a new album, the T Bone Burnett - produced No Better Than This. And in 2012, he'll premiere Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, the musical he co-wrote with Stephen King. An LP of music from the show - featuring Elvis Costello and Rosanne Cash - is also in the can. In the meantime, Mellencamp reflects on some key tracks from On the Rural Route:

"Pink Houses" 1983

" I could have written a better last verse for that," Mellencamp says of his 1983 hit. "We recorded in this broke-down house," he says. "The engineer was in the kitchen, the band was in the living room. I walked in, played it a couple of times, and bam! We were amateurs, but we were the best amateurs in the country."

"Authority Song" (demo) 1983

The Bobby Fuller Four's 1965 hit "I Fought the Law" was the inspiration for this 1983 single. "I've always had the cavalier attitude that if it's out there, it's fine," he says. "If I read something in a book or hear something on a record, then it's part of my vocabulary." The version here is a solo acoustic demo found in a box with more than 50 cassettes of home recordings.

"Peaceful World" (acoustic version) 2001

"All of these songs start in the same place, as folk songs," Mellencamp says - and there's no better example than this meditative acoustic number, which took on new meaning after 9/11. But the cut brings back unpleasant memories; To Mellencamp's disgust, a record exec criticized the song because it featured an African-American singer (India.Arie) and the lyrics tackled racism in the U.S. "When I heard that, I said, 'I can't be with Columbia anymore. Get me outta here.'"

"To Washington" 2003

Mellencamp added new anti-Bush lyrics to this traditional folk tune for his 2003 covers set, Trouble No More, released in the run-up to the Iraq War. "It was not received very well," he says. "When the song came out, everyone was really gung-ho on revenge. Quite clearly in my mind what they were doing was wrong But I was surprised by the reaction."

"Some Day the Rains Will Fall" 2010

The newest tune on the box set is an outtake from his upcoming LP, cut in the same Sn Antonio hotel room where Robert Johnson recorded in 1936. although the hotel is now a Sheraton, Mellencamp says the room's vibe is unchanged." Can you imagine if you were able to walk into the room where Hemingway wrote his best work?" he says. "That's the feeling."