John Cougar – “I Need A Lover” – (1979)

This was John Mellencamp – er, John Cougar’s first big single and it was released off the album that shares its title with the song in 1979. It peaked at #28 on the Hot 100 in 1979 but continued to receive airplay throughout the 80s and still to this day. It is associated with the 80s to me because I associate John Mellencamp with the 80s. What’s interesting about this song is the instrumental intro that runs for about two and a half minutes. If you’ve ever heard radio DJs talk over the usually short intros of songs and stop talking just as the lyrics begin (this is called “hitting the post”). Well, this song is their worst nightmare. Try to fill 150 seconds – exactly – with random gibberish. It’s not easy.

John Cougar – “Hand to Hold On To” – (1982)

This was the third track and the third single from American Fool and considering that it followed up both “Hurts so Good” as well as “Jack & Diane” it really never stood a chance. It flew under the radar in 1982 and still does. I’ve heard it on the radio, but not with the same frequency we get other Mellencamp hits. It’s still decent and very early-80s-Mellencamp.

John Cougar Mellencamp – “Cherry Bomb” – (1987)

The Lonesome Jubilee was Mellencamp’s fifth album in the 1980s. “Cherry Bomb” is very similar to “Jack and Diane” in that it’s a nostalgic song about past relationships. But unlike songs like “Pink Houses” this one is upbeat, generally, and happy. I just realized that almost every John Mellencamp song is fundamentally the same: a longing look back at some slice of Americana.

John Cougar – “Hurts So Good” – (1982)

This was a serious contender to make the list and at the last second I substituted “Pink Houses” in for it. I like this one better… but man, if there was ever a music video that can really ruin a song for you, this is it. Why is he wearing a leather shirt, bandana and chaps? Man, the 80s were weird.

John Cougar – “Jack and Diane” – (1982)

This is one of the biggest songs of the 80s – I chose “Pink Houses” for the countdown because this seemed too obvious, but in reality this was a far bigger hit and far more important in 80s music and the career of John Mellencamp, who at this time was going by John Cougar. It was his biggest hit – a #1 for four weeks in the fall of 1982. Jack and Diane became defining characters of the 80s. Everyone knows who they are and everyone knows about the Tastee-Freez. This song oozes nostalgia about American youth – a theme throughout most of the Mellencamp catalog.