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The Best That I Could Do (1978-1988)

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With simple, unaffected lyrics and uncomplicated song structures, the music from John Mellencamp’s first 12 years is as rough-hewn and solid as a country church. Which is not to say it lacks sophistication — his best tracks on The Best That I Could Do show the influence of the Stax/Volt singles he listened to in his youth. But by keeping one foot planted squarely in his native Seymour, Ind., Mellencamp put the pop in populism and artfully bridged the realms of town and country. B