The Good: Well-written, Good vocals, Decent music, A good body of work
The Bad: You know, there aren't really any. Okay, "I Need A Lover."
The Basics: A fabulous collection of singles from John Mellencamp's extensive career, Words & Music John Mellencamp's Greatest Hits is a must-own for any fan of rock and roll.
John Mellencamp - and he has settled on his name - has established himself as an everyman artist who cares about the lower and lower-middle class and sings about their lives. He has an extensive body of work - some sixteen albums - which is encapsulated on Words & Music John Mellencamp’s Greatest Hits, a two-disc set that contains a total of thirty-five songs.
It was only when I began writing my review that I realized that there are no cons to this album or set of albums. This two-disc set is an exceptional collection of this artist and the truth is, it is a close-enough-to-perfect listening experience to warrant the five stars. The rest of the review will simply spell that out, but the bottom line - right here - is that if you like John Mellencamp, like him when you hear him on the radio, or enjoy working-class rock and roll, this album is a worthwhile investment and fairly essential to your c.d. collection.
The truth is, Words & Music John Mellencamp’s Greatest Hits is packed with so many wonderful, recognizable singles ("Pink Houses," "Cherry Bomb") and less-successful singles ("Teardrops Will Fall") that one is surprised when one gets near the end of the second album and "Jack & Diane" finally appears. There's a wonderful "Oh yeah! Duh." type moment in listening to this album the first time. And fortunately, Mellencamp does not weigh down the album with many new tracks that aren't part of his essential body of work. His new singles "Walk Tall" and "Thank You" are on the album and they fit his collection exceptionally well. That he did not use more than two new singles in the set works well. This is a collection with no fluff. Almost all of the songs are recognizable and popular, in short, actual greatest hits.
Listening to Words & Music John Mellencamp’s Greatest Hits one is overcome with the significance of John Mellencamp's musical legacy. From 1979's John Cougar, this collection features "I Need A Lover," which is arguably Mellencamp's worst single. Escaping the open misogyny of that track, the discs feature nineteen tracks from the 80s, thirteen tracks from the 90s, and four from the new millennium. In fact, only "Rough Harvest" lacks representation in the set (and "The Best That I Could Do," which was simply a prior singles collection). This illustrates Mellencamp's incredible staying power.
And it is Mellencamp's staying power illustrated here. All but two of the tracks were written or co-written by Mellencamp and the majority were produced or co-produced by Mellencamp as well. In short, this is an artist who is deeply involved with crafting his works. What he is selling is his vision and it works.
Unlike David Bowie, whose greatest hits illustrate a trendsetter and artist who was pushing the envelope usually ahead of the curve, John Mellencamp's greatest hits collection reveals a body of work that are timeless and refined, exploring the common struggles of life, love and longing. The way the collection is put together is cleverly revealing of Mellencamp's greatness. The songs are not chronological, not organized by popularity or commercial success. Indeed, if one who was unfamiliar with Mellencamp's works were to listen to Words & Music John Mellencamp’s Greatest Hits and attempt to put the singles in order of release, odds are they would find the task nearly impossible and would fail.
Why? Mellencamp's themes are universal and his style is distinctly his own. Once he hits American Fool, Mellencamp reaches a level of lyrical and musical consistency and quality that does not degenerate (for the record, only three tracks in the set precede the singles from American Fool). Does that mean Mellencamp stopped experimenting? No. His duet with India.Arie ("Peaceful World"), his cover of Van Morrison's "Wild Night," and the weird loops on "I'm Not Running Anymore" (think screaming monkey getting baffled) illustrate his willingness to try new things. But the result is still distinctly Mellencamp and it works rather well.
John Mellencamp's vocals are straightforward, masculine and comprehensible. He sings in a voice that the listener can almost always understand and he articulates his lyrics with purpose. So when he sings "der" (for "there") on "Check It Out," we know he is going for effect, slipping slang with intent.
Musically, the songs are largely straightforward rock and roll. Guitar, bass, drums, vocals. And Mellencamp makes it work.
Some of these sets come with a free DVD, which sadly only has five videos on it. Wonderful to get it free, disappointing it was not as extensive as the music portion.
Who will enjoy Words & Music John Mellencamp’s Greatest Hits? Anyone who likes rock and roll. Anyone who wants to hear the common man's song and wants to believe in the triumph of the good ol' boy. Who won't enjoy this set? I'm not sure. It's a comprehensive body from an artist who has managed to survive the "industry" and maintain his down-home personality.
The first disc is near perfect, with the best track being hard to define (I'm personally quite fond of "Lonely Ol' Night") and the weak link being "Pop Singer." The second disc continues the greatness with the best track being "Again Tonight" and the worst track being "I Need A Lover."
For other rockers with whom John Mellencamp is a contemporary, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Aladdin Sane - David Bowie
Break Every Rule - Tina Turner
Hotter Than July - Stevie Wonder
For other music reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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