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8 Most Country Songs on John Mellencamp’s Nashville Set List

Heartland rocker’s raucous Ryman Auditorium concert reveals his influence on today’s country music

John Mellecamp Ryman Auditorium

John Mellencamp's two-night stand at the Ryman Auditorium illustrated his influence on today's country music.

Beth Gwinn/Getty Images

While Jack White was raging across the street at the Bridgestone Arena and duetting with Loretta Lynn, John Mellencamp performed the second of a two-night stand at Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium, and the through-line between the aging — but still cigarette-puffing — heartland artist's catalog and the country music of today couldn't have been more apparent.

Long before Jason Aldean was singing about taking the tractor for another ride under the "Amarillo Sky" or Justin Moore was celebrating the tiny dots on the map in "Small Town U.S.A.," Mellencamp was writing world-wearied country rockers about a fading farming culture, the small-town lifestyle and, that tent pole of contemporary country, nostalgia. The increasingly Americana-leaning singer touched all of those bases during his sets at the Ryman. Here are the eight songs that best connected the dots.

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NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 27: Carlene Carter plays the Ryman Auditorium on January 27, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Beth Gwinn/Getty Images)

“Away From This World” and “Tear This Cabin Down”

In her gypsy shawl and leather pants, Carlene Carter, the tour's opening act, looked more like a rock goddess than the bona fide country girl she is. Performing on the stage where, she said, "my parents June Carter and Carl Smith met," the Carter Family progeny sang songs from her terrific 2014 album Carter Girl, lending Mellencamp an extra dose of country cred. It wasn't a random pairing, however: The headliner enlisted Carter for his 2012 touring musical Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, which he co-wrote with author Stephen King. Carter would return later in the show to sing two haunting selections from the musical: "Tear This Cabin Down" and "Away From This World," the latter of which Sheryl Crow recorded for the soundtrack.

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“Rain on the Scarecrow”

Mellencamp's biting narrative of the battle between family farmers and the banks breathing down their necks remains one of the most anticipated performances of his concerts. But "Rain on the Scarecrow" is most remarkable for the fact that it was a single: a story song about an actual farm (not the metaphorical one of Dylan's "Maggie's Farm") was released to radio. And it fared pretty well at that, coming just shy of cracking Billboard's Hot 100. While we won't go so far as to suggest it plowed the field for fluffier fare like Jason Aldean's "Big Green Tractor," Tim McGraw's "Down on the Farm" or Luke Bryan's "Rain Is a Good Thing," the song did further link Mellencamp with the country culture. In 1985, the same year that Scarecrow was released, Mellencamp joined Willie Nelson and Neil Young in organizing the Farm Aid charity concert, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

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NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 27: John Cougar Mellencamp plays the Ryman Auditorium on January 27, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Beth Gwinn/Getty Images)

“Cherry Bomb”

Much like "Jack & Diane," this Lonesome Jubilee cut is borne of nostalgia and nails all the buzz words so common on country radio: "weekends," "the sticks," "little country town" and even a random "girl." By the time Mellencamp wrapped up his first night at the Ryman with "Cherry Bomb," the crowd was champing at the bit to let loose with that "yeah, yeah, yeah" refrain, an affirmation that the arrogant rocker once known as Johnny Cougar (and Little Bastard on his LP producer credits) is right at home in country music's mother church.

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