Monday’s Music Moves Me – Freebie Focus on John Cougar Mellencamp

It’s Monday so it’s time for the Monday’s Music Moves Me (4M) blog hop! Last week we used a 4th of July theme and my holiday post included the song, R.O.C.K. in the USA by John Cougar Mellencamp. And during this past week, I’ve just been in a Heartland Rock kind of mood.  Heartland rock is a genre of rock music that is exemplified by the commercial success of singer-songwriters Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, Tom Petty, and John Mellencamp. It is characterized by a straightforward musical style, a concern with the average, blue-collar American life, and a conviction that rock music has a social or communal purpose beyond just entertainment.

Heartland Rock speaks directly to me. So I decided to do my 4M Freebie post on John Cougar Mellencamp. The following is a little background info on this artist and showcases some of my favorite songs by him. At the end is an extended playlist in case you want to groove all day on the ever-relatable John Cougar Mellencamp.

image sourced my last.fm

John J Mellencamp (born October 7, 1951), previously known as Johnny Cougar, John Cougar, and John Cougar Mellencamp and now simply as John Mellencamp, is an American musician, singer-songwriter, painter, and actor. He is known for his catchy, populist brand of heartland rock, which emphasizes traditional instrumentation.

Mellencamp rose to superstardom in the 1980s while honing an almost startlingly plainspoken writing style that, starting in 1982, yielded a string of Top 10 singles including “Hurts So Good,” “Jack & Diane,” “Crumblin’ Down,” “Pink Houses,” “Lonely Ol’ Night,” “Small Town,” “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.,” “Paper in Fire,” and “Cherry Bomb.” He has amassed 22 Top 40 hits in the United States. In addition, he holds the record for the most tracks by a solo artist to hit number one on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, with seven, and has been nominated for 13 Grammy Awards, winning one. Mellencamp released his latest album, Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, on April 28, 2017, to widespread critical acclaim.

Mellencamp is also one of the founding members of Farm Aid, an organization that began in 1985 with a concert in Champaign, Illinois, to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on their land. Farm Aid concerts have remained an annual event over the past 32 years, and as of 2017 the organization has raised over $50 million to promote a strong and resilient family farm system of agriculture.

Mellencamp is critically acclaimed and widely respected throughout the industry. Johnny Cash called Mellencamp “one of the 10 best songwriters” in music. Said longtime Rolling Stone contributor Anthony DeCurtis: “Mellencamp has created an important body of work that has earned him both critical regard and an enormous audience. His songs document the joys and struggles of ordinary people seeking to make their way, and he has consistently brought the fresh air of common experience to the typically glamour-addled world of popular music.”

The late Billboard magazine editor-in-chief Timothy White said in 2001:

John Mellencamp is arguably the most important roots rocker of his generation. John has made fiddles, hammer dulcimers, Autoharps and accordions lead rock instruments on a par with electric guitar, bass and drums, and he also brought what he calls ‘a raw Appalachian’ lyrical outlook to his songs. Mellencamp’s best music is rock ‘n roll stripped of all escapism, and it looks directly at the messiness of life as it’s actually lived. In his music, mortality, anxiety, acts of God, questions of romance and brotherhood, and crises of conscience all collide and demand hard decisions. This is rock music that tells the truth on both its composer and the culture he’s observing. (Source: Wikipedia)

WHY SO MANY NAMES IS WHAT I WANTED TO KNOW:

To make a long story short: For starters: After about 18 months of traveling back and forth from Indiana to New York City in 1974 and 1975, Mellencamp finally found someone receptive to his music and image in Tony DeFries of MainMan Management. DeFries insisted that Mellencamp’s first album, Chestnut Street Incident, a collection of covers and a handful of original songs, be released under the stage name Johnny Cougar, insisting that the bumpy German name “Mellencamp” was too hard to market. Mellencamp reluctantly agreed, but the album was a complete failure, selling only 12,000 copies. Mellencamp confessed in a 2005 interview: “That (name) was put on me by some manager. I went to New York and everybody said, ‘You sound like a hillbilly.’ And I said, ‘Well, I am.’ So that’s where he came up with that name. I was totally unaware of it until it showed up on the album jacket. When I objected to it, he said, ‘Well, either you’re going to go for it, or we’re not going to put the record out.’ So that was what I had to do… but I thought the name was pretty silly.” (Wikipedia)

He parted ways with that manager and Rod Stewart’s manager Billy Gaff took an interest in him and signed him to the Riva Records label. It was in 1979 when he started going by John Cougar with the release of his self-titled album. In 1980, his album Nothin’ Matters & What If It Did yielded two Top 40 singles, “This Time” (No.27) and “Ain’t Even Done With the Night” (No.17). In 1982, he released his breakthrough album, American Fool, which contained the singles “Hurts So Good,” an uptempo rock tune that spent four weeks at No. 2 and 16 weeks in the top 10, and “Jack & Diane,” which was a No. 1 hit for four weeks. A third single, “Hand to Hold on To,” made it to No. 19. “Hurts So Good” went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance at the 25th Grammys.

With some commercial success under his belt, Mellencamp had enough clout to force the record company to add his real surname, Mellencamp, to his stage moniker. The first album recorded under his new name John Cougar Mellencamp was 1983’s Uh-Huh, a Top-10 album that spawned the Top 10 singles “Pink Houses” and “Crumblin’ Down” as well as the No. 14 hit “Authority Song,” which he said is “our version of ‘I Fought the Law’.”

It was his 1991 album, Whenever We Wanted, that was the first with a cover billed to John Mellencamp—the Cougar was now gone forever. Whenever We Wanted yielded the Top 40 hits “Get a Leg Up” and “Again Tonight,” but “Last Chance,” “Love and Happiness” and “Now More Than Ever” all garnered significant airplay on rock radio.

And from that point on, through today, he goes by John Mellencamp. Wowsa!

Most recently: In December 2015, Mellencamp began recording a duets album with Carlene Carter (daughter of June Carter), who was his opening act for all shows on the Plain Spoken Tour (promoting his 2014 album) and would join Mellencamp for two songs during his set. “We really enjoyed singing together on tour,” Carter told The Advocate. “Our voices clicked really good. John got the idea to do an album together. I was blown away.” The result was Mellencamp and Carter’s duets album, titled Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, which was released this year on April 28, 2017. “We wrote a couple of songs together, and she wrote some and I wrote some,” Mellencamp told USA Today.

Here are just a few of my favorite John Cougar Mellencamp songs, from various versions of his name incarnations, in no particular order:

Crumblin’ Down – “Crumblin’ Down” is the lead single from John Mellencamp’s 1983 album Uh-Huh. It was a top-ten hit on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Mainstream Rock charts. “Crumblin’ Down” was the first single released by Mellencamp to include his real last name: previous releases were credited to “John Cougar.”

It was written by Mellencamp and longtime writing partner George Green. According to Green, the song attempts to answer the question of what to do when success eventually fades, and “the big-time deal falls through.” The song touches on Mellencamp’s fame as well as the frustrations of losing one’s livelihood: the lyrics were inspired, in part, by Mellencamp’s cousin losing his job as an electrical engineer.

Here’s the video that received heavy play on MTV:

 

Cherry Bomb –  “Cherry Bomb” is a 1987 hit song released as the second single from Mellencamp’s ninth studio album The Lonesome Jubilee.

The song was a success in the U.S., reaching #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, #12 on the Adult Contemporary Chart and becoming a top ten hit on the main Billboard Hot 100 chart, where it reached #8.

“Cherry Bomb” is a nostalgic song that reflects back on Mellencamp’s teenage years hanging out in clubs with his friends. In a 1989 BBC radio interview, Mellencamp said: “Cherry Bomb is just a name of a club that I made up. The real name of the club was The Last Exit—The Last Exit Teen Club actually was the name of the place. It was a place that we went as kids. The whole world seemed to exist there. Everything that was important happened down in the basement of this church is what it was.”

 

Paper in Fire – another 1987 hit from The Lonesome Jubilee album. The song was a success in the U.S., reaching #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, and becoming a top ten hit on the main Billboard Hot 100 chart. It also topped the Canadian Singles Chart, and charted on various European singles charts.

The inspiration for the song was revealed in a 1989 interview with the BBC: Mellencamp said: “‘Paper in Fire’ deals with a lot of biblical things – paper in fire, in fact, is hell, and is referred to in the Bible as hell. ‘A man will be cast into paper in fire.’ It’s in there, believe me, it’s in there. That’s where that term came from.”

The line “we keep no check on our appetites,” from the song’s final verse, was cited in the 1963 movie Hud, which is one of Mellencamp’s favorite movies and has inspired many of his songs.

 

Rain on the Scarecrow – “Rain on the Scarecrow” was co-written by John Mellencamp and George M. Green for Mellencamp’s eighth studio album Scarecrow. Released in September 1985, it peaked at #2 on the U.S. chart.

About the album: The overall theme of the album is the fading of the American dream in the face of corporate greed. Rolling Stone wrote that songs such as “Face of the Nation,” “Minutes to Memories” and “Small Town” have a “bittersweet, reflective tone.”

In his 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit, Mellencamp said: “With Scarecrow, I was finally starting to find my feet as a songwriter. Finally, for the first time, I realized what I thought I wanted to say in song. …I wanted it to be more akin to Tennessee Williams, John Steinbeck, Faulkner, as opposed to the Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan.”

 

Check It Out – “Check It Out” is a 1987 song by John Mellencamp released as the third single from his album The Lonesome Jubilee in 1988. The single was a top 20 hit, reaching number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The music in this song is fantastic and I love the electric violin especially. Here is the live performance from a concert on December 11, 1987 at the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, Indiana:

 

Pink Houses – “Pink Houses” was released on the 1983 album Uh-Huh on Riva Records. It reached #8 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in early 1984. “Pink Houses” was ranked #439 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Recorded in a farmhouse in Brownstown, Indiana, the song was inspired when Mellencamp was driving along an overpass on the way home to Bloomington, Indiana from the Indianapolis airport. There was an old black man sitting outside his little pink shotgun house with his cat in his arms, completely unperturbed by the traffic speeding along the highway in his front yard. “He waved, and I waved back,” Mellencamp said in an interview with Rolling Stone. “That’s how ‘Pink Houses’ started.”

The song also served as a scathing critique of Yuppies and Reaganomics and the overall “Greed is good” atmosphere of the time.

Its Use in Politics: In 2004, the song was played at events for Senator John Edwards’ presidential campaign. The song was also used at events for Edwards’ 2008 presidential campaign.

“Pink Houses” along with “Our Country” was played by Senator John McCain at political events for his 2008 presidential campaign. Mellencamp contacted the McCain campaign pointing out Mellencamp’s support for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and questioning McCain’s use of his music; in response, the McCain campaign ceased using Mellencamp’s songs.

In January 2009, Mellencamp played “Pink Houses” at We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial.

In 2010, “Pink Houses” was used by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) at events opposing same-sex marriage. At Mellencamp’s instruction, his publicist sent a cease and desist letter to NOM stating that “Mr. Mellencamp’s views on same sex marriage and equal rights for people of all sexual orientations are at odds with NOM’s stated agenda” and requesting that NOM “find music from a source more in harmony with your views than Mr. Mellencamp in the future.”

Love it!

 

Small Town – “Small Town” is a song released on the 1985 album Scarecrow. The song reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Mellencamp wrote the song about his experiences growing up in a small town in Indiana, having been born in Seymour, Indiana, and living in Bloomington, Indiana, which, at the time of the release of the song, was much smaller. The music video has references to both towns.

“I wrote that song in the laundry room of my old house,” Mellencamp told American Songwriter magazine in 2004. “We had company, and I had to go write the song. And the people upstairs could hear me writing and they were all laughing when I came up. They said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ What else can you say about it?”

Here John Mellencamp performs “Small Town” at Farm Aid III held on September 19, 1987 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp founded Farm Aid in 1985 and serve on the board of directors. The three agreed that family farmers were in dire need of assistance and decided to plan a concert for America. Farm Aid III was held in Lincoln, Nebraska at Memorial Stadium. Artists including Emmylou Harris, Steppenwolf, Vince Gill, Lyle Lovett, John Denver, Lou Reed, Joe Walsh, and many more performed).

 

And here’s a few of his earlier songs: “The singles were stupid little pop songs,” Mellencamp told Record Magazine in 1983:

Ain’t Even Done with the Night – One of Mellencamp’s earliest of hit songs, from the 1981 album Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did. It was his fourth studio album, under his pseudonym of John Cougar. It includes the moderate hits “Ain’t Even Done with the Night,” which reached #17 on the Billboard Hot 100 as the album’s second single.

Here’s a live performance of Ain’t Even Done with the Night in 1981, with some odd costuming, in my opinion:

 

This Time – “This Time” is the lead single, also from the 1981 album Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did. The song peaked at #27 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The woman on the album’s cover and in the music video for “This Time” is actress Edith Massey, a member of the Dreamlanders troupe who often appeared in the films of John Waters. Massey was chosen because, as Mellencamp told Rolling Stone in late 1980, “I was looking for a typical heavy woman to convey a lower-middle-class way of living.”

 

A decade later, this next song is a powerful social commentary from Mellencamp’s 1991 album Whenever We Wanted. This, his 11th album, is the first to be credited simply to Mellencamp’s given name (i.e., without the “Cougar” name).

The album includes the hits “Get A Leg Up” (#1 for three weeks on the Album Rock Tracks chart), “Now More Than Ever” (#3 on the Album Rock Tracks chart), “Last Chance” (#12 on the Album Rock Tracks chart), and “Again Tonight” (#1 for two weeks on the Album Rock Tracks chart). “Get A Leg Up” (#14) and “Again Tonight’ (#36) also cracked the Billboard Hot 100. (You can see these videos in my full playlist below).

Regarding the styling of the album: After his previous two albums (The Lonesome Jubilee and Big Daddy) featured such non-traditional rock instruments as the accordion and violin, Mellencamp said that on Whenever We Wanted he wanted to put those instruments “back in their cases” and return to a harder-edged sound. Mellencamp further elaborated on the album, saying: “It’s very rock ‘n’ roll. I just wanted to get back to the basics.”

Love and Happiness

 

Finally, here is one of Mellencamp’s newly released songs from his 23rd studio album, Sad Clowns & Hillbillies (released April 28, 2017):

Easy Target – Politically-charged “Easy Target” was dropped (premiered) on the eve of Trump’s inauguration (January 19, 2017) on Yahoo’s The Katie Couric Interview. It is John’s reflection on the state of our country.

Ahead of the performance, John Mellencamp sat down with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric to discuss the inspiration behind the song, the Trump inauguration, and his views on a divided country. An outspoken artist, Mellencamp continues his journey to convey the truth through this passionate and plain-spoken song.

As for the album’s cover art:

The artwork on the front cover of Sad Clowns & Hillbillies was taken from a 2005 Mellencamp painting called “Twelve Dreams.” This marks the first time since 1991’s Whenever We Wanted that Mellencamp has displayed one of his paintings on an album cover.

Without further ado, here is “Easy Target”:

 

JOHN MELLENCAMP INTERVIEW: CBS SUNDAY MORNING

Mellencamp was interviewed earlier this month by Jane Pauley and aired on CBS Sunday Morning (July 2, 2017). Thanks Alana (Ramblin’ with AM), for the reminder! This is a fantastic interview and gives great insight into John Mellencamp the man. Take a few minutes and check it out:

 

Didn’t get enough? Below is a comprehensive playlist of Mellencamp songs (30 of them, including some of his newest material) that I really enjoy so if you want to listen to a big long block of John Cougar Mellencamp today, here’s your ticket:

 

Monday’s Music Moves Me (4M) is a blog hop hosted by X-Mas Dolly, and co-hosted by JAmerican Spice, Stacy Uncorked and Curious as a Cathy.  Be sure to stop by the hosts and visit the other participants.

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J is for Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Joe Walsh, Journey, Joan Jet, Judas Priest, James Taylor, John Cougar Mellencamp, John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix!

J

DISCLAIMER THAT APPEARS AT THE BEGINNING OF ALL A-Z 2015 PAGES:

Welcome to the A-Z Musical Tour of My Life! I have wanted to put something like this together for a long time now and the A-Z Challenge just seemed like the perfect opportunity. I’ve compiled stories, trivia, research, music videos and live concert footage on all the bands and musical artists who have been important to me over the years, especially during my youthful years in the 60s and 70s. At first glance, the posts may seem long – and some of them are due to the number of videos included – but it’s really laid out in a way that will enable you to scroll through and read, see or hear just what you want and then either move on to the next A-Zer or linger and listen to the great music that you’ll find here. By all means, bookmark my blog so you can come back! In addition to individual songs, there are some full albums here for those who may want to enjoy some music while they’re surfing or working. I hope you find that the stories are entertaining, the information educational and the trivia interesting. It would be a tremendous honor if you would bookmark the A-Z Musical Tour of My Life as a resource for great music and music information! Now, let’s get started with…

J is for Jefferson Airplane – I could’ve started this post with Jimi Hendrix, but frankly, I’m burned out on Jimi. So I’m going to start with another great band from the Love Generation. Who remembers the 1973 movie “Go Ask Alice”? It was an anti-drug testimonial based on the book of the same name, who’s author is still in question as it is authored by “Anonymous.” Go Ask Alice book cover  Supposedly it was a real life diary of a girl named Alice who gets addicted to drugs. The title of the book, and hence, the movie, was taken from a line in Jefferson Airplane’s song White Rabbit: “Go ask Alice when she’s ten feet tall” which is referencing the Alice in Wonderland Adventures when Alice eats a piece of mushroom and grows very large. I read the book, saw the movie and LOVE Jefferson Airplane! Here’s Jefferson Airplane performing White Rabbit on the Smothers Brothers show in 1967:

Another one of my favorite Jefferson Airplane songs is Somebody to Love. I remember the first time I was able to hold the note as long as Grace Slick does and I was over the moon excited. That’s a really loooong note! See for yourself. Here’s Jefferson Airplane performing the song on American Bandstand in 1967:

J is for Janis Joplin – speaking of books, did you ever read any of Janis’ biographies? Her life was fascinating. A hard, tough life. Even after she found fame. She was a very tortured soul. And that torture found release in her music. I recently saw the musical play Love, Janis at Zach Theatre in Austin. Based on the book written by her sister, Love, Janis is an intimate and revealing look into the life of this rock queen through the many letters Janis wrote to her family while she was becoming a superstar. The musical was OUTSTANDING. MIND-BLOWING. EXPLOSIVE. It was so good, I went to see it twice. The woman who portrayed Janis SOUNDED JUST LIKE HER! It was as if it was Janis performing on that stage, not Mary Bridgit Davies.

I’m posting this as a tribute to my Aunt Mary, who loved this song. Wish you were still here with us Aunt Mary! This one’s for you:

Janis performing Piece of My Heart Live in Germany, 1968:

This is a really fantastic interview with Janis Joplin on the Dick Cavett show on July 18, 1969:  http://youtu.be/CmgSzbdL1So?list=PL19843243B5510C82

Click here for Part 2 of the Dick Cavett appearance as she performs To Love Somebody and Try (Just a Little Bit Harder).

Here’s Summertime: 

And of course, we have to hear Mercedes Benz! I LOVE her giggle at the end!

J is for Journey: No matter how old you are, at some point you life has to have been touched by Journey. The group was described by Allmusic as having cemented a reputation as “one of America’s most beloved (and sometimes hated) commercial rock/pop bands.” Over the years, Journey songs have been heard or referred to in numerous films, television shows, video games, and even on Broadway. The band’s songs have been covered by multiple artists and adopted by sports teams. Most notably, “Don’t Stop Believin’” was heard in the final episode of The Sopranos, adapted by the television show Glee, sung by the Family Guy cast, adopted as the unofficial anthem of the 2005 and 2010 World Series champion baseball teams, performed by The Chipmunks in their 2008 album Undeniable, and sung by the cast of the Broadway musical Rock of Ages. (I saw Rock of Ages last year at the Long Center in Austin. GREAT show. Rockin’ it was indeed!)

Don’t Stop Believin’  Music video by Journey performing Don’t Stop Believin’ Live in Houston, TX. (C) 2005 Sony Music Entertainment .

I saw Journey in concert, back in 1980. They were on tour with the Rolling Stones. It was a good show but it would’ve been so much better had it not rained throughout their entire performance in the outdoor arena. I’d love to see them again, but next time either inside or under sunny skies!

Just the Same Way  Music video by Journey performing Just The Same Way. YouTube view counts pre-VEVO: 82,112 (C) 1979 SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT

Feeling that Way   Music video by Journey performing Feeling That Way. (C) 2011 Sony Music Entertainment

Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’  Music video by Journey performing Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’. (C) 1979 Sony Music Entertainment

Any Way You Want It  Music video by Journey performing Any Way You Want It. YouTube view counts pre-VEVO: 1,546,426 (C) 1980 SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT

Lights  Music video by Journey performing Lights. (C) 1978 Sony Music Entertainment

Wheel in the Sky   Music video by Journey performing Wheel In the Sky. (C) 1978 Sony Music Entertainment

J is for Joe Walsha former member of Barnstorm, the James Gang and the Eagles, Joe Walsh has a stellar reputation as a guitarist among his musician peers: “Walsh has been praised by many of the best rock guitarists, including Led Zeppelin’s former guitarist, Jimmy Page who praised Walsh by saying “He has a tremendous feel for the instrument. I’ve loved his style since the early James Gang.” Cream’s former guitarist, Eric Clapton said that “He’s one of the best guitarists to surface in some time. I don’t listen to many records, but I listen to his.” The Who’s guitarist Pete Townshend commented that “Joe Walsh is a fluid and intelligent player. There’re not many like that around.”” (Source: Wikipedia)

My very favorite Joe Walsh song is one of his earlier works (when he was with his band Barnstorm), Turn to Stone:

Probably most known for his song Rocky Mountain Way, he also had a hit song In the City that was in the 1970s cult classic movie The Warriors. Here’s the music video with clips from that movie.

Here’s Rocky Mountain Way from his 1973 performance on the Midnight Special:

A bit of trivia: Walsh had often joked about running for office, announcing a mock presidential campaign in 1980 and a vice presidential campaign in 1992. Walsh ran for President of the United States in 1980, promising to make “Life’s Been Good” the new national anthem if he won, and ran on a platform of “Free Gas For Everyone.”Though Walsh was not old enough to actually assume the office, he said that he wanted to raise public awareness of the election. In 1992 Walsh ran for vice president with Rev. Goat Carson under the slogan “We Want Our Money Back!”

Here’s Joe performing Life’s Been Good from the Strat Pack Concert at London’s Wembley Arena.

Joe Walsh (James Gang) doing Funk #49 in Sweden:

Life of Illusion:

J is for James Taylor – American singer-songwriter and guitarist, mainly acoustic, is a five-time Grammy award winner. He achieved his breakthrough in 1970 with Fire and Rain, which climbed to #3 on the charts and then in 1971 his song You’ve Got a Friend  hit #1. The song was written by Carole King and both received Grammys, he for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and she for Song of the Year. Here’s the duo doing You’ve Got a Friend in the early 70s:

His breakthrough hit Fire and Rain:

I saw James Taylor in a wonderful amphitheater in Baltimore one fabulously temperate Fall evening and I came away from that concert thinking to myself that if James Taylor and I had grown up in the same neighborhood, we would’ve been great friends. His heart and soul spoke to me. The way he related to his audience and fans was so loving. He seemed so incredibly down-to-earth … and I’m just naturally drawn to down-to-earth people. Here’s sweet James Taylor in 1979 singing How Sweet It Is:

Taylor’s song Carolina On My Mind, a tribute to his growing up years in Chapel Hill, NC, has a special place in my heart. My parents retired and left their home of 35 years and retired to the coast of North Carolina back in 1990. I was working at a classic rock radio station at the time and put together a mix of song snippets that had meaning for our family. Two of James Taylor songs were included: You’ve Got a Friend and Carolina on My Mind. Every time I hear that song I think of my parents’ going-away party and how, surrounded by friends and family, I played the song mix over the restaurant speakers and there wasn’t a dry eye in the place (even the waitresses were teary-eyed)! Here’s James doing Carolina On My Mind, which happened to be the first recording by a non-British artist released by Apple Records.

Something in the Way She Moves – He starts this performance off with some unexpected humor:

Sweet Baby James – I found a great version of this song on a YouTube channel by SparkTV. This is James performing “Sweet Baby James” on BBC back in September 1970. This performance is from a show called “James Taylor in Concert: Sings James Taylor.” This song was written for his nephew James back in 1969 while he was traveling back to North Carolina.

There’s an eerie connection between James Taylor and my next J artist. “On December 7, 1980, Taylor had an encounter with Mark David Chapman, who would assassinate John Lennon just one day later. Taylor told the BBC in 2010 “The guy had sort of pinned me to the wall and was glistening with maniacal sweat and talking some freak speak about what he was going to do and his stuff with how John was interested, and he was going to get in touch with John Lennon. And it was surreal to actually have contact with the guy 24 hours before he shot John.” The next night Taylor, who lived in the next building from Lennon, heard the assassination occur. Taylor commented “I heard him shot—five, just as quick as you could pull the trigger, about five explosions.”

J is for John Cougar Mellencamp

“John Mellencamp (born October 7, 1951), also known as John Cougar Mellencamp, is an American musician, singer-songwriter, painter, and actor. He is known for his catchy, populist brand of heartland rock, which emphasizes traditional instrumentation. He rose to superstardom in the 1980s while “honing an almost startlingly plainspoken writing style that, starting in 1982, yielded a string of Top 10 singles”, including “Hurts So Good,” “Jack & Diane,” “Crumblin’ Down,” “Pink Houses,” “Lonely Ol’ Night,” “Small Town,” “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.,” “Paper in Fire,” and “Cherry Bomb.” He has sold over 40 million albums worldwide and has amassed 22 Top 40 hits in the United States. In addition, he holds the record for the most tracks by a solo artist to hit number one on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, with seven, and has been nominated for 13 Grammy Awards, winning one. Mellencamp released his latest album, Plain Spoken, on September 23, 2014, to widespread critical acclaim.

Mellencamp is also one of the founding members of Farm Aid, an organization that began in 1985 with a concert in Champaign, Illinois, to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on their land. Farm Aid concerts have remained an annual event over the past 30 years, and as of 2015 the organization has raised over $48 million to promote a strong and resilient family farm system of agriculture.”  (Source: Wikipedia)

I couldn’t keep track of whether he was to be called John Cougar or John Mellencamp. Apparently the stage moniker Johnny Cougar (John Cougar) was forced upon him by his then manager back in the early days but he never liked it and was totally against it. After he gained commercial success – and a new manager – he added his legal surname to his work, becoming John Cougar Mellencamp. Then later he dropped the Cougar altogether and now is simply John Mellencamp.

Whatever his name, his music rocks! Here are my favorite John Cougar Mellencamp songs:

Crumblin’ Down

Cherry Bomb

Small Town – Live at Farm Aid 1987:

Lonely Ol’ Night

Rain on the Scarecrow

R.O.C.K. in the USA

Paper in Fire

Pink Houses

J is for John LennonCertainly John Lennon needs no introduction. December 8th 1980 is etched in history as the day John Lennon was shot and killed outside his home in New York City by the young man obsessed with John and the book Catcher in the Rye. Here’s “The Day John Lennon Died,” a 2010 documentary with a look at Lennon and his death through archival footage and interviews.

My favorite John Lennon songs, besides Imagine, are Whatever Gets You Through the Night and Mind Games:

Whatever Gets You Through the Night – with Elton John on keyboards and vocals. John Lennon credited his collaborator as “starring” Elton John.

Mind Games:

Watching the Wheels – In the lyrics, John writes about how he wasn’t interested in fame anymore and devoting himself to his family (his wife Yoko Ono and his son Sean) was what made him happy. The song makes a statement that taking it easy and spending time with loved ones is anything but crazy. Working way too hard in an attempt to be ultra-productive is, in the end, quite unfulfilling.

Imagine – Here’s a great video with this song that moves all who hear it:

If only!

J is for Joan Jett – Often referred to as the “Queen of Rock ‘n Roll,” Joan Jett is a powerhouse of talent. She “is an American rock guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer and occasional actress, best known for her work with Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, including their hit record “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”, which was No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 from March 20 to May 1, 1982, as well as for their other popular recordings including “Crimson and Clover”, “I Hate Myself for Loving You”, “Do You Wanna Touch Me”, “Light of Day”, “Love is All Around” and “Bad Reputation”. She has three albums that have been certified Platinum or Gold, and has been a feminist icon throughout her career. She is considered by the Toronto Sun as the Queen of Rock ‘n Roll.”

I also adore her for her work with PETA and Farm Sanctuary!

My favorite Joan Jett song is I Hate Myself for Loving You:

I Love Rock ‘n Roll – music video from 1982:

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts cover rendition of Tommy James and the Shondells’ Crimson and Clover hit #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1982:

Joan Jett isn’t just a musician. She also has film, stage and television to add to her resume. She made her acting debut in 1987, co-starring with Gena Rowlands and Michael J. Fox in the Paul Schrader film Light of Day. You can read so much more about Joan Jett’s life and works at her Wikipedia page.

J is for Judas Priest – “Judas Priest is an English heavy metal band formed in Birmingham, England in 1969. The band has sold over 45 million albums to date. MTV ranked them the second “Greatest Metal Band” of all time.

Despite an innovative and pioneering body of work in the late 1970s, the band struggled with indifferently-produced records, repeated changes of drummer and a lack of major commercial success or attention until 1980 when they adopted a more simplified sound on the album British Steel, which helped shoot them to rock superstar status.” (Source: Wikipedia)

Their hit from that album, Living After Midnight, was being played on the radio, but it wasn’t until their 1982 release of the Screaming for Vengeance album that put the band on my radar. The hit “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” was a song that always had me reaching for the volume knob and cranking it up. It reminds me of a bunch of us cruising around in my brother’s van taking road trips with this song blaring to the max.

‘Living After Midnight’ – describes my life in the early 80s, where we didn’t even THINK about going out until 10 or 11pm (now, most nights I’m going to bed before 10:00!) We’d stroll into the bars around midnight and that’s when the party started. We’d rock all night long and roll home as the sun was rising. Ah, those days. If only life could be as simple as it was back then…

Music video by Judas Priest performing Living After Midnight. (C) 1980 Sony Music Entertainment UK Limited:

I never have been a huge heavy metal fan but I have to give props to Judas Priest for their contribution to the genre. In addition to their sound, Judas Priest, and in particular lead singer Rob Halford, are heralded as being revolutionaries in heavy metal fashion. “Halford wore a leather costume on stage as early as 1978 to coincide with the promotion for the Killing Machine (Hell Bent for Leather in the USA) album. In a 1998 interview, Halford described the leather subculture as the inspiration for this look. Shortly after appropriating the leather look, Halford started appearing onstage on a roaring motor bike. Soon, the rest of the band followed. It was not long before other bands appropriated the leather look.” (Source: Heavy Metal Fashion, Wikipedia)

J is for Jimi Hendrix – Alright, alright, I guess I have to include Jimi Hendrix. I mean, it would be sacrilege not to, after all. Having worked at a classic rock radio station for years and forever listening to classic rock stations, I get so burned out on Jimi Hendrix. I mean every single block of music seems to include a Hendrix tune. Not too long ago, I had the music channel blasting in my house and I was working around doing whatever. I can’t recall which Hendrix song came on but it was literally hurting my ears. I had to go shut it off. And at that very moment I stopped and said to myself, “Holy shit, I’m getting old. I just turned off Jimi Hendrix because it hurt my ears. It’s all downhill from here…”

So for all you Hendrix fans out there, this is for you:

Jimi Hendrix (November 27, 1942 – September 18, 1970) – Born Johnny Allen Hendrix, he was an American guitarist, singer, and songwriter. Although his mainstream career spanned only four years, he is widely regarded as one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of popular music, and one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes him as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.”

Need I say more??

All Along the Watchtower

Foxy Lady – at Miami Pop, 1968:

Hey Joe

Star Spangled Banner – live at Woodstock, 1969:

Purple Haze

Voodoo Child

Who are your favorite J bands or artists? Who would you have chosen to include here? Who did I forget??