A Brief History:
Born in Seymour, Indiana, on October 7, 1951, John Mellencamp became one of the most important figures in heartland rock, a subset of classic rock which embraced Midwestern values. He first recorded under the name Johnny Cougar and later as John Cougar and eventually under his given name. He first found success with “I Need a Lover” in 1978 and had his major commercial breakthrough with 1982’s chart-topping American Fool and hit singles “Hurts So Good” and “Jack and Diane.”
From 1982 to 1987, Mellencamp recorded four multi-platinum, top-10 albums, each yielding at least two top-10 hits, including “Pink Houses,” “Small Town,” and “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” Those years are represented on this page, which covers seven studio albums, some of which have devoted DMDB pages (click on links below). All have brief snapshots on this page.
The Studio Albums:
Under each album snapshot, songs featured on the The Best That I Could Do are noted. Song titles are followed by the names of writers in parentheses, the song’s length in brackets, and then the date the song charted and its peaks on various charts. Click for codes to singles charts.
A Biography (1978):
This was the third album recorded by John Mellencamp, then known as Johnny Cougar. It didn’t get released in the U.S. because of poor sales of his 1976 debut, Chestnut Street Incident. His second album, The Kid Inside, was recorded in 1977, but wasn’t released until after the success of 1982’s American Fool. The song “I Need a Lover” became a top-ten hit in Australia and was included on his next American album, John Cougar.
- I Need a Lover (1978, 28 US, 5 AU)
John Cougar (1979):
This was Mellencamp’s first album with Riva Records and his first to be released under the name John Cougar. The album included “I Need a Lover” and a re-worked version of “Taxi Dancer,” both songs initially featured on A Biography, which wasn’t released in the U.S. The single “Miami” hit #31 in Australia and “Small Paradise” hit #87 in the U.S., but neither song was featured on The Best That I Can Do.
Nothin’ Matters and What if It Did (1980):
Mellencamp (still going by the name John Cougar at the time) followed up the success of “I Need a Lover” with two more top-40 hits from this album. “This Time” hit #27 and “Ain’t Even Done with the Night,” featured on The Best That I Can Do, became Mellencamp’s first top-20 hit.
- Ain’t Even Done with the Night (1/31/81, 17 US, 44 AR, 15 CN)
American Fool (1982):
John Cougar hit the big time with American Fool, which hit the top of the Billboard album chart in the U.S. and gave him two top-10 hits as well as a top-20 hit with “Hand to Hold Onto,” the latter of which isn’t on The Best That I Could Do.
- Hurts So Good (4/24/82, 2 US, 1 AR, 3 CN, 5 AU, sales: ½ million)
- Jack and Diane (6/26/82, 1 US, 3 AR, 25 UK, 1 CN, 7 AU, sales: ½ million)
After the success of American Fool, Mellencamp came right back the next year with another multi-platinum, top-10 album featuring two more top-10 hits and another top-20 hit.
- Crumblin’ Down (10/15/83, 9 US, 2 AR, 9 CN, 42 AU)
- Pink Houses (10/29/83, 8 US, 3 AR, 15 CN, 69 AU)
- Authority Song (2/18/84, 15 US, 15 AR, 41 CN, 93 AU)
While it didn’t top the album chart (it peaked at #2), Scarecrow matched the five-million mark in sales he’d previously reached with American Fool. With three top-10 hits, this was his most successful album in terms of singles.
- Lonely Ol’ Night [3:45] (8/17/85, 6 US, 1 AR, 37 AC, 7 CN, 32 AU)
- Small Town [3:41] (9/14/85, 6 US, 2 AR, 13 AC, 53 UK, 13 CN, 80 AU)
- R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. [2:54] (9/14/85, 2 US, 6 AR, 36 AC, 67 UK, 7 CN, 18 AU)
The Lonesome Jubilee (1987):
For the fourth time, Mellencamp delivered a top-10, multi-platinum album with at least two top-10 hits.
- Paper in Fire [3:53] (8/15/87, 9 US, 1 AR, 86 UK, 3 CN, 13 AU)
- Cherry Bomb [4:49] (9/5/87, 8 US, 1 AR, 12 AC, 5 CN, 20 AU)
- Check It Out [4:20] (2/6/88, 14 US, 3 AR, 96 UK, 10 CN, 22 AU)
The Best That I Could Do: 1978-1988 (1997):
After 1996’s Mr. Happy Go Lucky, John Mellencamp left Mercury Records for Columbia. Naturally Mercury wanted to capitalize on the singer’s years with them and released a compilation. However, the set inexplicably opted to ignore the 1989-1996 years. The fact that they opted to have the set stop after 1987’s The Lonesome Jubilee makes some sense in that it marked the end of his multi-platinum days, but considering that all his 1989-1996 studio albums reached platinum status and produced a fair amont of hits as well, it seemed obvious that there should be a second volume.
Still, there’s no arguing with what’s here. There are nine top-10 hits, including his #1 hit Jack and Diane from 1982. Even then, though, with a running time just shy of an hour, there’s room for four or five more cuts and stay under the CD cap length. The most notable absences include “This Time,” “Hand to Hold Onto,” “Rain on the Scarecrow,” and “Rumbleseat,” all top-40 hits in the U.S.
The set also includes one new song, Mellencamp’s recording of the Terry Reid song “Without Expression.” It makes for an odd edition as it was recorded a decade after everything else on the compilation. An archival recording, B-side, live cut, or alternate version of a song would have made more sense.
- Without Expression (11/29/97, 25 AR, 14 CN)
Notes: The Japanese edition of the album included “Miami” and “Under the Boardwalk.”