First it was Johnny Cougar. Then just John Cougar. Then it was John Cougar Mellencamp. Then just John Mellencamp. Rarely has a musical artist gone through so many moniker changes over the course of a career (right up there with Sean Combs-Diddy-P Diddy-Puff Daddy). But regardless of the name changes, Mellencamp’s unique style of heartland rock has been a constant force, his songs evoking indelible images of the American Midwest. None more so than “Jack & Diane,” which started a long string of No. 1 hits for the rocker beginning in the early 1980s, and remains his most successful song to date.
Interestingly enough, the song itself feels like something of an anomaly—a song whose success was a surprise even to Mellencamp himself. Recorded in 1982 for the album American Fool (when Mellencamp was going by “John Cougar”), the song’s sparse arrangement and sometimes clunky feel are an indicator of how much struggle went into even making “Jack & Diane” presentable to the public. Mellencamp himself admitted that he was ready to dump the tune completely—that he loved how it played on solo guitar, but he was never happy with how it translated to the band format. Even the handclaps on the recording were only meant to be a timekeeper to help the players stay on beat, and were ultimately left on the recording because the song itself loses momentum without them.
Even so, something about the song—perhaps the highly relatable story of young love– obviously resonated with music fans. The single shot to Number 1 on the charts and remained there a month. And while Mellencamp went on to chart many more times, “Jack & Diane” remains one of his most recognized and best-loved tunes. Have a listen.