As an artist, John Mellencamp has come a long way. From his earliest days as Johnny Cougar (the name given him by David Bowie's former manager Tony DeFries), John Mellencamp has most often been dismissed as an artist who, despite the sort of common man concerns expressed in songs like "Jack And Diane" and "Hurts So Good," was just never taken all that seriously.
As much as he may have aspired to the loftier songwriting standards of his peers like Dylan, and especially Springsteen — and as much as those songs may have resonated with the sort of everyday Joes they were so clearly directed towards — from a critical point of view, the former Johnny Cougar was a guy who basically couldn't get himself arrested.
Which is something I'm sure really ate away at the "little bastard" way back then.
But when he finally responded, he did so in a big way. With 1985's Scarecrow, coming as it did on the heels of Springsteen's own big commercial breakthrough on Born In The U.S.A., Mellencamp served notice to the world that as both an artist, and as a great songwriter, he was certainly no mere "cornfed Springsteen," as some of his loudest critics had so long proclaimed.
He also put his money where his lyrics on that album about the plight of the American farmer on that album were, by getting directly involved in Willie Nelson's Farm-Aid benefit concerts. Mellencamp remains a Farm-Aid board member to this day.
Although with that album he did finally gain some long sought after respect, Mellencamp's recorded output since Scarecrow has been spotty at best. For every great, but overlooked record like Human Wheels, there have been just as many missteps like Dance Naked.
Last year's Freedom's Road however, signaled a clear return to both artistic and commercial form. And even though a song like "Our Country" may deliver mixed messages through its widely seen use in those truck commercials, there's no mistaking the message found elsewhere on the album in songs like "Ghost Towns Along The Highway." That the country is in some deep shit rings loud and clear in the songs on that album.