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John Mellencamp & Bruce Springsteen, 'Wasted Days'

John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen have both assembled discographies stretching back to the 1970s, and each spent the '80s dominating pop radio with hits that remain inescapable. But they've never actually recorded in the studio together until now.

"Wasted Days" wastes little time getting to the point, as Mellencamp opens the song with a series of questions, including "How many summers still remain?" and "How many minutes do we have left?" To say a sense of imminent mortality hangs heavily over "Wasted Days" would be an understatement, as the singers grapple with lives lived well past middle age — not to mention a world in existential crisis. Still, as bleak and mournful as the song gets, it also carries an implicit message about making the most of the years, months and minutes we've got left.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)