01/10/2005 at 01:00 AM EST
The artist formerly known as John Cougar, 53, has released a two-disc retrospective, Words & Music; John Mellencamp's Greatest Hits
"I NEED A LOVER" (1979) This was the first hit record I ever had. The song went to No. 1 in Australia and I went down there to do some press. I got off the plane and there must have been 5,000 or 6,000 kids screaming. That trip gave me a taste of what it was like to be the Beatles.
"JACK & DIANE" (1982) We didn't want to have drums through the whole song, but you have to put something in that keeps time. The Bee Gees, who were recording next door, were using a new drum machine. I asked, "Could I borrow that thing? I want to keep time with that hand-clap sound it makes." We intended to take the claps out, but I turned them off and it sounded worse. So they stayed.
"HUTRS SO GOOD" (1982) I had been playing in bars all over the place. I wrote the song about what I was seeing going on between men and women. We started playing it long before we recorded it. I knew we had something because people were singing along.
"PINK HOUSES" (1983) I was driving down the interstate near Indianapolis. I saw a black guy sitting in his front yard and he waved at me. I don't know why. I remember thinking he looked content living in his little pink house. A week later it was a song.
"POP SINGER" (1989) When I wrote it, I was pretty much Britney Spears
. I was everywhere and I couldn't stand it. I was going through a divorce and I was very tired of the pop-music thing. —OLIVER JONES