This song is about finding a low-maintenance lover who knows when to go away and won't require a commitment. The song is tinged with loneliness, however, as Mellencamp seems to going crazy sitting at home all alone, watching TV to see what's happening out in the world. Seems he's going crazy with our without a lover.
Mellencamp wrote this song, and it was his first hit. At the time, he was known as "John Cougar," which had recently been changed from "Johnny Cougar," the name given to him by his manager, Tony DeFries.
Released as Mellencamp's first single, it had a huge impact on his career, which was waning at the time. His first album, Chestnut Street Incident, was released in 1976 and sold poorly. His next album, A Biography, was issued in 1978 only in the UK, Germany and Australia, and included this track. The song did well in Australia, charting at #5, so it was included on his next album, John Cougar (which was released in America), with "I Need A Lover" also issued as a single in the States. The song climbed to #28 in December 1979 and earned Mellencamp another album. The singer says that at the time, he was worried that he was already washed up.
Pat Benatar recorded this on her first album in 1979. Her producer, Mike Chapman, heard Mellencamp perform the song at the Los Angeles club The Whisky a Go Go when he was the opening act for the British band The Jam. Benatar's album sold well, and as the credited writer on one of its 10 tracks, Mellencamp got a welcome infusion of cash from the royalties.
On the album version of this song, which runs 5:35, there is a 2:29 intro before the vocals come in. Most of this intro was excised from the single release, which runs 3:44.
Mellencamp got his first taste of fan adulation when he went to Australia to promote his album. "When I landed, there were kids - a bunch of screaming girls, and some guys with a haircut just like mine - waiting for me," he said in his Plain Spoken DVD. "I couldn't even get picked up in Bloomington, where I lived, if I was hitchhiking, but in Australia I had the #1 album and the #1 single in the country. I couldn't even take it seriously - it was a joke. I thought it was an isolated incident."
He realized that hit songs gave him power, and if he could keep them coming, he could call the shots, which is exactly what he did: after becoming a top-selling artist, he started using his real name and doing things on his terms.
"I figured out after the 'I Need A Lover' experience, that I had to go over everybody's head," he said. "I had to go above the rock critics' head, I had to go above the record company's head, and I had to make records that they would play on the radio that were undeniable hits. I didn't know how to do that. I got lucky with 'I Need A Lover,' but how do I do that again? I had no idea. The only way I knew I was going to survive was to become so radio-friendly that there was no way anybody could stop me from moving onward."
MTV was still three years away, but Mellencamp made a video for this song, directed by Bruce Gowers. This was because his record company promoted him in Europe and Australia where TV shows often broadcast music videos. It was just a performance clip, and Mellencamp didn't think much of it, but by the time MTV launched, his videos - still directed by Gowers - got more refined. "Hurts So Good" and "Jack & Diane" proved very popular on the network and made him a video star.
Jeremy from San Diego, CaI remember hearing that this song was written about a friend of his who had just got back from Vietnam...
Barry from Sauquoit, NyIt's always been a mystery to me why this song and the album didn't hit it big. Every song on that album is good, it's one of the very few CDs that I play and don't program out a single track. I love this site!!!
Dave from Easton, PaGreat tune! I had heard that the intro on this song wasn't originally supposed to be as long as it is. Mellencamp has said that the opening riffs sounded so good that they just kind of got into a bit of a jam session beforehand. This song is, for me, one of those that if it comes on while traveling down the highway, the volume goes all the way up!
Camille from Toronto, OhA fabulous, rebellious anthem.
Jonnie from St. Louis, MoIn 1967 when I started my career in Radio, I created the name "Jonnie Cougar" and had it Registered as a Copyrighted Name with the U.S. Copyright/Patent Office. I even drove a brand new Mercury Cougar XR7 Hardtop. I established the "Cougar" name and it became well known in the Radio and Records Industry. In 1969 I moved to KAAY Radio/Little Rock and subsequently adopted the signature which has been with me since then "Jonnie King". When John Mellencamp came on the scene as "Johnny Cougar" many told me I should initiate legal steps toward him or his label. I decided against that since my new identity was already long-established and I wanted to cause no problems for anyone at all. Both John and myself have done fine through the years, and although I have met many, many artists in my 40 years in the Industry, John Mellencamp and I have never crossed-paths. I've always wanted to meet him though...to share the story about our 'common namesake' past ! John, here's wishing you the best of everything good and continued success.
Alexander from Aguascalientes, MexicoThis is a great great song!! I could swear it is also a tribute to the early Bruce Springsteen's sound. It reminds me of Jungleland, for example, from the album "Born to run".