Yeah, yeah, I know I would have a perfect excuse and even marginal justification to call him Johnny Cougar in this context, but I'm in a relatively respectful mood this afternoon, oddly enough. After all, John Mellencamp - by whatever name his manager may have cooked up for him along the way to super-stardom - had already become a solid, semi-serious rock artist by even the 1982 release of his breakthrough LP, American Fool. Certainly, some of the tracks on that album (including his first massive pop hit, "Hurts So Good") still contained some of the silliness and tough-guy posing that had marked his earliest work. But there was also plenty of quickly maturing songwriting to be found on this record, the deeply overplayed status of "Jack & Diane" notwithstanding. Overall, even at this relatively early stage of his career (which seems less early when you consider it was somehow his sixth studio album), Mellencamp already routinely delivered at least two or three entirely worthy deep album tracks on each of his recordings. That's a lot better than most '80s artists could do over their entire careers, so there's something to be said for insisting on addressing the man by his proper name.
The specific topic of today's mini-treatise happens to be a surprisingly strong track from American Fool whose charms I'd largely forgotten over the course of swiftly passing time. Essentially, "Thundering Hearts" serves as a tidy tutorial of the array of rock genres Mellencamp had begun to master in time for his stunning '80s rise. These styles obviously include heartland rock and arena rock but also subtle yet key elements of punishing hard rock, power pop and roots rock. Therefore, the resulting powerhouse rocker displays a deceptive complexity not necessarily reflected by the nostalgic, good-time lyrics. However, in a purely musical sense, Mellencamp and his seasoned band provide a lively confluence of power rock riffing, sparkling hooks and a hanging-out-by-the-lake, laid-back exuberance that's perfectly suited to rock and roll of any era. When the near-gospel vocals and progressive rock-leaning coda come in toward the end of the song, the listener either becomes bewildered with all the genre-hopping or just flat-out surrenders to the passion of the moment. Though the calendar and the weather across America right now are generally about as far away as one can get from the kind of endless summer Mellencamp celebrates here, I gotta say I'm inclined to go with the latter.
- Sample or download "Thundering Hearts" here.
- Compare prices on John Mellencamp CDs here.
- Top John Mellencamp Songs of the '80s
- Top Americana Music Artists for John Mellencamp Fans
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Columbia