"I'm a Bob Dylan fan," Mellencamp said. "'Like A Rolling Stone.' I was, like, a sophomore in high school and I was, like, 'Wow!' You know, you would pull your car over. Then finally, I got the $3.95 together and bought it. I didn't have to pull the car over anymore."
Mellencamp's carefree days didn't last as long as he had planned. His high school sweetheart gave birth to their daughter, Michelle, just six months after Mellencamp graduated from high school.
A few years later he got a record deal, and because his new manager didn't think anyone would buy an album from a guy named "Mellencamp," he was given his former stage name, "Johnny Cougar."
It was under that name that he released his first megahit: "Jack and Diane."
"Some guy who did some research on old tapes of mine found that originally Jack was black and Diane was white, and I forgot all about this," Mellencamp said.
Mellencamp recently rearranged the song and is playing it on his current tour. He said people may not even recognize his iconic ballad when they hear the new version.
"All of the pop silliness has been taken away and it's just been stripped down to the story," he said. "I was really surprised with what a sad story I had written at such a young age."
Two years before dropping "Cougar" from his name, Mellencamp teamed up with fellow singing legends Willie Nelson and Neil Young to create Farm Aid, which has raised $37 million for family-owned American farms.
"Both Neil and Willie are terrific songwriters," Mellencamp said. "Neil in particular. I mean, his influence on any songwriter that cares about folk music and folk-rock music, Neil has to figure into it. And of course Willie has been an American classic songwriter from the first song he wrote."
Mellencamp has loved collaborating with other artists. In 1994, he and Me'Shell NdegeOcello had a hit when they recorded a remake of Van Morrison's "Wild Night" on Mellencamp's album, "Dance Naked."
When they were just messing around in the studio, he told her to play the bass part of "Wild Night."
"She says, 'I don't know that song,'" Mellencamp remembered. "And I said to her, 'You don't know "Wild Night" by Van Morrison?' And my band started playing it, and she started playing along."
A couple of weeks later an engineer was listening to the recording.
"He goes 'Hey John, you might want to take a listen to 'Wild Night,'' I said, 'What are you smoking?'" Mellencamp said.
But Mellencamp asked NdegeOcello to come back to the studio to officially record the song together.
"That's how that record was made," he said. "It was an accident."
The conscious decision to team up with NdegeOcello was no accident.
"If you noticed, most of my duets are interracial and it was done for a reason," he said. "It was my way of saying, 'Look at what people could do if they don't judge each other.' We should be able to sing together, dance together, make love with each other, get married to each other, and become you know, human beings."
"No Better Than This" is in stores now. Visit John Mellencamp's website for tour and concert information.