A pre-fab pop singer turned heartland rocker turned rootsy moralist, John Mellencamp has had almost as many career turns as names.

He started out as Johnny Cougar – a made-up moniker given to him by early manager Tony DeFries – then became simply John Cougar and then John Cougar Mellencamp and then finally began recording under his actual given name. Amazingly, that was 15 years later, and nine albums into his career.

By then, Mellencamp had already scored a No. 1 single with "Jack and Diane," while releasing five consecutive multi-platinum Top 10 albums. More importantly, he had also matured into a songwriting style dominated by darker themes focusing on a rural culture in peril, presented amid bucolic musical accompaniment from violins, dulcimers and accordions.

Still restless, Mellencamp returned to a more straight-ahead rock sound in the '90s, setting aside a down-home formula that had – over his most recent three-album run – earned him roughly 10 million albums sales in the U.S. alone. Platinum sales continued, but he kept trying on new hats. That culminated in a series of well-received late-career ruminations on life, mortality and sin that helped him return to the Top 20 in the '00s.

Mellencamp sometimes struggled to reach the high ground that he now sought to share with artists like Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen. And his career seemed to briefly go off track as the new millennium loomed. But his best work provided a voice for forgotten communities riven by change, even as his career remained ever idiosyncratic, as the following list of John Mellencamp Albums Ranked Worst to Best proves.

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