Though credited to John Cougar, 1982’s American Fool marks the moment when John Mellencamp began to assert his true identity as an artist. This is a scrappy version of classic rock ‘n’ roll, built around storytelling lyrics and guitar-centered tunes that harkened back to Dylan and the Stones. The playful “Hurts So Good” became the album’s first hit, but it was the small-town-romance theme of “Jack & Diane” that truly defined the album’s sensibility. Mellencamp’s raspy, Indiana-accented vocals breathe life into his tales of Middle American dreams, ambition and heartache. Tracks like “Hand to Hold Onto” and “Can You Take It” offer plenty of radio-friendly punch and attitude. Going deeper, “Weakest Moments” is indicative of the working-class balladry that would turn up on later albums. The album’s title cut — added to the remastered version of the album — is a good-natured declaration of independence. More than anything, it’s this sense of personal freedom that makes American Fool such a fun listen — for the first time, John is taking off his Cougar disguise and getting real.