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 411mania » Music » Album Reviews

John Mellencamp - Words & Music: John Mellencamp's Greatest Hits Review
Posted by Andrew Shillinglaw on 11.26.2004


October 19, 2004


If one looked up “steady” in the rock music dictionary, they would likely find a picture of John Mellencamp. He’s produced 16 solid records since 1979 under three different names (11 as John Mellencamp, three as John Cougar, and two as John Cougar Mellencamp).

His first stab at a greatest hits came out in 1997, the meager 14-track “The Best That I Could Do.” Seven years later his biggest hits have been collected on a more appropriate sprawling two-disc, 37-track compilation, complete with two new recordings and a bonus DVD with six music videos.

The only complaint with this rather sizable collection of tracks is that they are completely non-sequential. It is a minor complaint though, because while some other greatest hits collections that run sans chronology sound silly, this set instead sounds like a concert set list.

The two new tracks open up each disc, and they are actually worthy of inclusion on a best of collection. “Walk Tall” is Mellencamp’s two-cents on the current state of affairs in America today, while “Thank You” is an upbeat song thanking everyone for all the good in the world. The two tracks are pretty opposite in subject matter, but compliment each other nicely.

The 35 classic Mellencamp songs come almost equally from all of eras. Only his first two albums are ignored, and for anyone who’s actually heard them, they understand that those tracks won’t be missed. There’s also a little higher concentration of material from the 1980s (19 tracks), but since that was his most productive time commercially and critically this is expected.

All the biggest hits are here, some of which people might forget are Mellencamp songs. “Pink Houses,” “Lonely Ol’ Night,” “Small Town,” “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.,” “Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First),” “I Need a Lover,” “Hurts So Good,” Van Morrison’s “Wild Night” and “Jack & Diane” represent an incredibly strong selection of singles, as good as anyone’s from the same time period.

One of the few people Mellencamp wrote songs with was George Green, which was a very fruitful partnership. In addition to “Key West Intermezzo” and “Hurts So Good,” this collection includes “Your Life is Now,” “Human Wheels” (the first Mellencamp song I ever consciously heard), “Crumblin’ Down” and “This Time.”

While his voice and style have changed somewhat over the years, his songs have the ability to blend seamlessly from album to album. Recent cuts like “Peaceful World,” “Teardrops Will Fall” and “I’m Not Running Anymore” sound perfectly normal alongside “Jackie Brown,” “Rain on the Scarecrow,” “When Jesus Left Birmingham,” “Authority Song,” “Cherry Bomb” and “Pop Singer.”

One of Mellencamp’s biggest selling points throughout his career was his everyman quality. He wrote songs about real people, much in the vein of Bruce Springsteen. “Check it Out,” “Paper in Fire,” “What if I Came Knocking,” “Martha Say,” Just Another Day” and “Rumble Seat” are blue collar tunes at their finest.

Few songwriters have mastered the art of writing a love song without sounding mournful or overly sentimental. Mellencamp was able to do this on a number of occasions, particularly for “Love and Happiness,” “Hand to Hold on To,” “Get a Leg Up,” “Dance Naked, “Ain’t Even Done With the Night,” and “Again Tonight.”

The set closer is the beautiful “Now More Than Ever,” which is a love song of another kind. “Now more than ever, the world needs love,” he sings. “Not just a slogan, but the world needs love. Now more than ever, I can’t stand alone. Now more than ever.” It’s the perfect song to end the collection with, and even though it came out in 1991 it sounds uncannily relevant today.

John Mellencamp rarely comes to mind when people thing of brilliant artists, and that could be for several reasons. Maybe it’s his lack of flamboyance and everyman quality that allow him to remain out of the spotlight. Or maybe it’s because his songs are so natural and real that it doesn’t occur to listeners how good they are. “Words and Music” is the perfect reminder of that.

The 411: He probably doesn’t get all the credit he deserves, but for anyone looking for an awesome collection of songs, “Words & Music: John Mellencamp’s Greatest Hits” should satiate that desire.
411 Elite Award
Final Score:  9.0   [  Amazing ]  legend


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