17 Songs That Reference Jack and Diane
A Little Ditty About Jack and Diane
Can you believe that it's been over 35 years since the little ditty about Jack and Diane was released? What other song in rock history is so iconic that even decades later it still inspires other songs to reference it in their own lyrics?
"Jack and Diane" by John Cougar Mellencamp is a teen anthem about cherishing youth while you still can. Jack and Diane are doing the best they can to make it in a world that's pushing them to grow up quickly. In the years since the song hit the top of the music charts, it has also sparked a number of pop, rock, country, and novelty tunes that reference its teen lovers.
Make a “Jack and Diane” throwback playlist to celebrate this classic as well as your favorite tunes that give it a nod in some way. In addition, commemorate those magic teenage years through music and consider what eventually becomes of the young couple "long after the thrill of living is gone."
What do you think happened to Jack and Diane, characters in the iconic rock song?
1. "Jack and Diane" by John Cougar Mellencamp
Holdin' on to sixteen as long as you can
Change is coming 'round real soon
Make us women and men ... .
Jack and Diane are two young and carefree teens appreciating the simplicity of late adolescence before life gets suddenly more difficult. This anthem of American youth describes two teenagers coming of age in middle America, exploring their independence and sexuality before the responsibility and predictability of adulthood sets in. Everyone eventually learns that true "adulting" isn't as fun as being on the cusp of it.
Some reports indicate that "Jack and Diane" was originally about an interracial couple, and the record publishers allegedly insisted that the singer modify the lyrics.
Other people assert that the famous tune alludes to Diane going to the city to terminate the couple's unwanted pregnancy. (To me, that requires a lot of creative interpretation! She could be at college in the city, for all we know.)
John Cougar Mellencamp, who has gone by various versions of his name, eloped with his pregnant high school girlfriend when he was 18, becoming a father six months after graduating. Because teen pregnancy tends to repeat itself across generations, he became a grandfather at only 37 years old.
2. "I Go Back" by Kenny Chesney
Hearing the song "Jack and Diane" prompts the narrator in this 2004 country song to wax nostalgic for his first love. Like a time machine, the classic rock ditty instantly transports him back in time to when he drove his high school girlfriend out to the levy in his truck. It was probably playing on the radio at the time.
For young lovers, time seems to stand still, and then poof ... it's gone. The narrator comments that we all have a song that is somehow stamped in our memories. For him, "Jack and Diane" is one of them. What song takes you back? If you like songs about memories then here is a playlist that will jog yours.
3. "I Was Jack (You Were Diane)" by Jake Owen"
Did you have a Jack or a Diane love interest in your youth? In this 2018 country song, the narrator addresses his long-ago high school girlfriend and compares their past relationship to that of the iconic young couple in John Cougar Mellencamp's classic tune.
Hearing "Jack and Diane" makes him feel like it was only yesterday, and he wonders whether his old girlfriend reacts in the same way that he does to hearing the song:
Do you turn it up, do you sing along
Every time you hear that song?
Like we did then
Like we did when ...
Do you close your eyes? Does it make you laugh?
Do the memories take you back?
He hopes that wherever she is now, she recalls him fondly when the song comes on.
4. "American Dream" by MKTO
Oh, no! This 2014 pop song turns the nostalgia of "Jack and Diane" Americana on its ear. Whereas the rock classic salutes Jack's dreams of being a football star and gives a nod to "two American kids doin' the best they can," this uptempo pop song is about underdogs who "escape from nowhere USA."
This tune's teens seek change and want to make their mark on the world by fleeing to California. They soundly reject the American dream of two kids and a life in favor of having their own lives. Then, they throw cold water in the face of gushy sentimentality with this bit of honesty about the famous fictional couple (say it ain't so!):
This ain’t the same summer song that you used to know
‘Cause Jack left Diane thirty years ago
The world is spinning too fast for you and me
So tell me whatever happened to the American dream.
5. "28 Days" by LFO
In the midst of conflict with his girlfriend, the young man in this 2002 pop song asks, "What would Jack and Diane do?" The narrator is a wannabe rock star who will be separated from his girlfriend for the next 28 days. She is upset because he'll be gone yet again and doesn't approve of his wild lifestyle while on the road. Although he wants to be with her, at the same time he wants to pursue his dreams: "you got your life and I got mine." What Diane put up with this from Jack?
6. "No Such Thing As A Broken Heart" by Old Dominion
With a shout out to John Cougar Mellencamp's "Jack and Diane," this 2017 country song is about living life to the fullest even though you may face hardships. The song's narrator encourages you to keep chasing the dream and love like there's no such thing as a broken heart.
He wonders what challenges his parents faced as a couple and how they made it through. His thoughts also turn to the famous fictional couple from Mellencamp's classic rock song:
I wonder if Jack and Diane ever made it
After the drums and the guitars all faded?
Was the best they could do good enough
Or did the heartland just swallow 'em up?
What do you think happened to the couple? Did their love survive?
Did you have a "Jack" or "Diane" in your youth?
7. "Drivin' Around Song" by Colt Ford (featuring Jason Aldean)
If you grew up in a small town like I did, then you know that on weekend nights, driving around town is the thing to do. It's like a parade with no point. This country song from 2013 celebrates the favorite pastime of the small "Jack and Diane town" where you work for the weekend and on Fridays and Saturdays, you drive around real slow with big dreams in your pocket.
If you spend weekends cruising town, why not add some of these songs about home and hometowns to your driving around playlist?
8. "Ain't Always Pretty" by Logan Mize
Singing about the mundane details of everyday life in this 2016 country song, the blue collar narrator appreciates that sometimes the little things in life are what matters most. He appreciates being able to have someone to laugh with at the county fair and share a seat with at the corner pub. The narrator likes the way his partner sings and enjoys sharing a front porch swing with her. They share a life of simple abundance:
Like Jack and Diane just singin' our ditty
Life goes on, it ain't always pretty, but you are.
9. "My Lips Your Kiss" by Blackjack Billy
Somebody throw some water on the guy in this rockin' country 2017 song. He's trying to convince the girl he's attracted to that she belongs with him. The problem is, he's getting a little overheated doing it.
The guy makes a quick reference to "Jack and Diane" and her riding around shotgun in his old truck. He wants to hold hands for awhile then press his lips to hers, put his hands on her hips, and see where that leads. Dude, what happened to dinner first?
10. "Why Don't I Miss You?" by Bowling For Soup
Have you ever had a failed relationship and couldn't explain why it ended? That's the gist of this 2006 rock song. The narrator recalls getting his high school girlfriend's name tattooed across his heart. (I bet he doesn't regret that.)
They were crazy in love at the time and went through a lot together:
Two young kids like Jack and Diane
Falling at the speed of light
And burning up never felt so right.
Voted "Most Likely to Succeed," the young couple had plans to take over the world, however, their dreams fizzled out and so did they. Now, his "Diane" is always on his mind (certainly every time he looks at that tattoo). Oddly, however, he finds that he doesn't miss her. She's just a chapter from yesterday, and the page has turned.
11. "We Were That Song" by Brett Kissel
This catchy 2017 country tune features a narrator who totally identifies with the ditty, "Jack and Diane." He makes the case that he and his former girlfriend were just like the characters in the classic song—utterly smitten high school lovers who never quite made it to "forever" status:
We were the let go, we were the heartbroke
We didn't know that it would end this way
We were the almost, yeah but not quite
We were the steel guitars that cry
And the line about loving and leaving
And lonely in the might-have-been
12. "Eden Is Burning" by John Cougar Mellencamp
Is this 1998 rock song truly the followup to "Jack and Diane"? Mellencamp clearly seems to describe it that way in the video introduction above.
As an adult couple, Jack and Diane have gone to see a movie with comic Richard Pryor, known for tragically setting himself ablaze while in a drug-induced psychotic state. One of them turns to the other and admits that although they had love on their side, nothing lasts forever. Then they ask, "How could have I been wrong about you?" The burning of Eden symbolizes the death of their innocence and the end of the belief that young love can last.
13. "You Were Right" by Built to Spill
Being right isn't always what it's cracked up to be. This angst-filled 1999 tune uses lines from famous rock songs then throws them back in your face as right or wrong.
It's about being able to relate your life to popular music. Among the famous lyrics it features is the line from "Jack and Diane," "life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone."
14. "Diane" by Cam
Okay, so there's technically no mention of Jack in this country song from 2017, but I'm convinced that he's actually the husband these two women have unwittingly been sharing. (Oh, Diane! That scoundrel!) Cheating happens to the best of spouses and to the worst of them.
A mistress places a call to a wife (Diane) when she discovers that the man she's been dating is married. She asks to meet Diane so that she can apologize for sleeping with Diane's husband:
Oh, I promise I didn't know he was your man
I would have noticed a gold wedding band, Diane
I'd rather you hate me than not understand
Many people describe this as a song that flips the script on Dolly Parton's classic "Jolene." For other country songs about cheating click here.
15. "Buckingham Blues" by Weird Al Yankovic
Leave it to Weird Al Yankovic, the jackwagon of songwriters, to generate this novelty song. It was timely back in 1983, describing the lives of Prince Charles and Lady Diana to the tune of "Jack and Diane." Knowing what we know now, however, this parody just seems a little sad.
16. "Homer and Marge" by Weird Al Yankovic
Weird Al Yankovic strikes again. He was a cameo character on "The Simpsons" several times, playing himself. In 2017, he introduced this parody of "Jack and Diane" to describe the animated television show's main characters, Homer and Marge Simpson:
Little ditty 'bout Homer & Marge
Her heart was as big as his stomach was large
Oh yeah, they say, "Love goes on
Long after the grilled cheese sandwich is gone."
17. "One Day At A Time" by Deana Carter
The woman in this 2005 country song describes her BFF in high school. Together they were Thelma and Louise, pretending there were no rules and belting out every word to "Jack and Diane." Her friend was a wild card and they had planned to head to Hollywood together to make it big.
Unfortunately, the friend turned around and headed back home, marrying the hometown football star. That's the way many small towns work. They're like boomerangs.
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