Johnny Cougar/John Cougar/John “Cougar” Mellencamp/John Mellencamp made three — three — albums before the sort-of-self-titled John Cougar, which most people think of as his first album. There’s nothing really unusual about that — lots of artists’ careers have false starts — but this is “From The Stacks,” and I have two out of three of those albums in my stacks.
His first album, Chestnut Street Incident, was released in 1976 on the MCA label. There’s a weird connection to Bowie here: Mellencamp was managed by MainMan’s Tony DeFries, who was Bowie’s manager, and the album was produced by DeFries. It’s not very good, consisting mostly of cover songs. My version is the ’80s UK re-release, which has an alternate cover. The original cover was easily as mediocre as the contents, though it’s obviously much more collectible.
Next up for Johnny Cougar was The Kid Inside, which MCA refused to release and then dropped Mellencamp from the label (it probably didn’t help that Chestnut Street only sold 12,000 copies). In 1983 Tony DeFries tried to cash in on his former client’s fame and released the album. If you look in the lower righthand corner you can see the MainMan logo.
The third album prior to John Cougar was titled A Biography, and it was only released in the UK and Australia (I think). It did well in Australia, though, which might have saved Mellencamp’s career. A Biography is notable for containing “I Need A Lover” and “Taxi Dancer,” both of which showed up on John Cougar. I don’t have a copy of this one, which is why you don’t see it here. If any of you UK readers happen across a used copy for cheap, please let me know. I’d even be willing to swap you for a doodle or a hand-written Why It Matters tale of liquor, lust, and primer-grey Camaros.